Sunday, October 10, 2010

Lost In Shadow Hands-On

After looking at many Lost In Shadow screens and a few haunting gameplay movies since the game was announced, I finally had the great opportunity to get some hands-on time with the game at Hudson's New york Comic Con booth this past weekend. The game is not only visually striking, it's also highly innovative and absolutely recommended for gamers of all stripes thanks to the blend of platforming, adventure and later, combat against an assortment of shadow creatures. There's a good deal of depth here from the great use of the 2D plane in 3D environments to how well the visuals convey a certain emotional impact through light, color and yes, shadow usage.

As you can imagine, shadows come into play as soon as the game begins and while jarring at first, once you grasp how the game works, something inside your head clicks and it's pretty much off to the races as you're sucked into the ethereal world on display. You play a young boy who's shadow has been separated from his body by a mysterious wizard of sorts. Aided by a helpful fairy-like creature, you're tasked with exploring a massive tower and its surrounding environments as you try and reclaim your body while avoiding enemies and traps. Even though you're a shadow of your former self (heh) and can only interact within shadowed areas (at first), there's still a great deal of danger that propels (and compels) you to press onward, seeking out the three hidden keys that unlock the exit to the next level.

Speaking of levels, the game's level of challenge whacks your perceptions in the head by forcing you to look at two or more different planes simultaneously AND the shadows cast by objects within those planes in order to figure out where to go next. I'd say that most gamers (casual or core) aren't used to looking at shadows in what they play unless they're picking apart graphics for flaws or playing games where they're used as part of a particular gameplay mechanic. Here, you're in shadow much of the time and objects both in the foreground and background can help or hinder your progress, especially where puzzle elements are concerned.

For example, you need to use that helpful fairy to move physical objects in order to transform their shadows into stairs, platforms or crawlspaces. Controls are spot on and navigation is mostly through the 2D plane, but the game's fully 3D engine makes for some fantastic moments where you'll want to stop and simply admire how well thought out the visuals are. Shadows extend far into some backgrounds and some areas take on an expressionist look as light plays off multiple surfaces, creating a fantastic illusion. The platforming elements are pretty straightforward run and jump stuff, but again, paying attention to the environment really helps when you get stuck. Maps contain gates to alternate areas where you need to manipulate the environment to create shadows in certain places so you can find an exit and later on, you'll learn to "materialize" your character so he can use real-world objects for brief periods.

Trap doors, spikes, crawlspaces and lighted areas where no shadows and nothing to reflect them mean injury or worse are the first set of hindrances, but soon enough, you gain a weapon that allows you to face off against the shadow creatures that begin popping up. You'll do battle against red-eyed insect-types and a few other creatures and I saw at least one "boss" battle where a massive shadow blob needed to be fought off for an entire level by running away to activate switches in order to "burn" it with light. The great thing is the game isn't 100% linear as you'll see in the second level where multiple pathways can only be accessed by gaining new items or powers that require a trip backward once they're acquired.

Weight also comes into play in that your shadow's life force is measured in grams, which are gained by reading hints onscreen, touching certain icons and defeating enemies. There's a "level up" system as well that allows you to use new abilities, but this isn't a RPG at all. In a way, it's tough to peg the game under a specific genre, but that's what makes it such a recommended experience for nearly any and all who can hold a controller (and don't mind a bit of gloom at the start with a hopeful outlook to it as you progress).

Visually, while the game's color palette and use of shadow enemies may initially remind some of Fumito Ueda's Ico, it also reminded me of a far less grim (and a lot more colorful) version of Limbo, this summer's Xbox Live Arcade hit where players needed to use their heads as much as their reflexes. The heavy emphasis on puzzles and the introduction of weapon usage and different enemies as the game progresses also lends the game an "old school" charm while the exploration elements should please adventure game fans. If you've still got a standard definition TV set, use those pricey Wii component cables or don't mind that the game isn't running in a fancy HD resolution, you'll find that the painterly art style grows on you. Sound design also plays a part in the game's impact with some nicely moody music and simple but solid use of sound effects from what I was able to hear.

With a January 4, 2011 street date approaching, my only concern about such a unique game being released so early in the next year that it may be overlooked by some who think great games only hit stores during the pre-holiday avalanche or after a huge ad campaign followed by a midnight launch party. However, given the level of originality and pure visual appeal here, I can see Lost In Shadow being remembered as one of the best Wii games to date once it's released and more gamers get to experience it. Hudson absolutely has a winner here and it's definitely a game that's going to be remembered by those that embrace it and spread the word on how truly special it is. back with more updates on Lost in Shadow soon - stay tuned...

Lost in Shadow Gallery 1
Lost in Shadow Gallery 2

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