Platform: Nintendo Wii
# of Players: 1
ESRB Rating: E 10+ (Everyone 10 +)
Ethereal, innovative, methodically paced yet wholly rewarding, Hudson's Wii exclusive Lost In Shadow is one of those artistic gems that should appeal to gamers across a few different genres. The dreamlike visuals and puzzles that revolve around light and shadow play will draw in fans of games such as ICO or echochrome or the original Price of Persia, the platforming elements are fun and challenging for young to older players and the overall innovation and intriguing story will please fans of games with more than flashy graphics going for them. While it isn't quite perfect, it's amazingly well designed and has a way of keeping you hooked in as you traverse back and forth through some pretty trippy stages that play with your perceptions.
You play as a young boy who's had his shadow separated from his physical body by an evil wizard-type and cast down from a huge tower into a strange land. With memories torn away in the process, you're aided by a helpful fairy (with the too-cute for the game name), "Spangle" who accompanies you along the lengthy journey from beginning to end. The main goal is the journey to recover and reunite with that body while trying to survive encounters with a number of shadow demons as they try and hinder your progress. In the game world, you'll need to pay attention to how and where shadows are cast as you or Spangle manipulate objects in the real and surreal versions of the game world. On paper (or in this case, in the virtual world), describing the game without visual aids is a bit tricky, so check out the videos in this review for a general idea of what I'm babbling about.
The best way to enjoy the game is to throw ANY expectations you have out the window and enjoy the experience as a completely separate and unique game world, allowing yourself to sink into the story as it plays out. Granted, you should be playing nearly every game in this manner, but this game in particular demands that extra care. Controls are well-done, albeit slightly loose. You'll definitely need to be used to letting up on the analog stick at the right moment when pulling off some of the trickier jumping sections. If you try and approach LIS solely as a "traditional" side-scrolling platform game, you'll definitely enjoy those elements is has, such as leaping over trap doors, scouring stages for all the keys needed to move onward as well tracking down as the many hidden crystals that drop hints and help boost your health once located.
On the other hand, if you ignore the game's overall structure or focus and are merely looking for another quick fix in the Mario vein, you may find yourself stuck in an area (even with the helpful hints the game doles out almost constantly) thanks to that linear thinking. The game gently forces you to use your head and look at everything on screen, as most puzzles require seeing what's in every plane after the initial getting used to looking at just the backgrounds. Shadows are your pathway through a good chunk of the adventure, but you'll also enter into a few situations where light comes into play and things change up a bit. The game has a solid yet familiar pattern of repetition that's never too intense (as in faster paced, adrenaline-soaked action game). Yet there's something truly compelling here that will keep players who dial into the vibe glued to the TV for extended stretches.
The mandatory tutorial explains the basics, easing you into the main story via a great pre-credit sequence which ends as you get to see a great shot of some of the massive area you'll be exploring. There's a nice (and very light) RPG-like element to the game in terms of the weight your shadow gains as you successfully complete tasks, allowing you to survive against enemies out to stop your progress. While you'll be avoiding combat at the beginning, you'll soon get a weapon that allows you to fight off the red-eyed evil things flying and crawling around. Combat isn't the game's focus nor strong point, mind you. It's intentionally simplified and a bit awkward (as was the combat in ICO) so that you're focusing more on getting rid of baddies as quickly as possible so you can get back to the platforming and puzzles.
There are also "boss" areas here, featuring some nicely done maps that involve running away as quickly as possible and not missing a platforming beat while a massive, creepy shadow blob comes tumbling after you, all arms and legs flailing away. It can be damaged and eventually dealt with, but I'm sure the first time some players see the thing, they'll want to run away from the TV. That would, of course, be a bad thing for your on screen character, by the way. Other bosses and tougher creatures can be taken care of through creative puzzle solving, but the game isn't open-ended enough to allow for multiple solutions for getting rid of some creatures. Granted, this isn't a knock against it at all - I'm just noting it here for those who somehow think EVERY game has to have that sort of element in order to make it successful.
Everything here looks and sounds fantastic with the excellent color palette blending in muted, hazy hues with eye-catching effects. I play all my Wii games on a standard-def TV, so I've no issues with the graphics at all not being HD polished and super shiny. Although the game is presented as a side-scrolling affair, the game world is in full 3D and there are occasions where the engine shows this off to spectacular effect. Some of the cinematic cut scenes as well as areas where cast shadows are creatively used on multiple planes will make you nod in approval or smile at how clever the dev team was for using these moments so perfectly. What's important to realize is the impact of the stylized graphics and WHY the game is "2D" in the first place. The dreamlike quality of the presentation and languid pacing coupled with the hefty amount of backtracking might seem like bad things, but again, LIS has a way of holding your attention once you "get" what its trying to do (and does so well).
As noted above, the game is pretty long for a platformer/adventure - expect to clock between 15-20 hours on your first attempt (less, of course, if you use a walk through). It took me around 18 hours to finish the game and I intend to play it again once I free up some more time (too many great games coming to catch a breath). One thing I'm hoping (even in this currently awful economy) is that enough Wii owners pickup the game and support Hudson so that we can see some sort of follow-up, a PS Move version (with Move support and tricked out in 3D) or perhaps a portable version at some point down the road. Lost in Shadow isn't a "sleeper" at all in my opinion - it's an extremely well-made "core" title that shows the Wii is quite capable of games that are artistically and emotionally inspired that can be enjoyed by anyone with the capacity to know a great game experience when they see and play one.