And then there are the visuals. It looks lovely, if painfully beholden to Fumito Ueda for its pastel-hued aesthetic. There's taking inspiration and there's taking liberties, and far too often A Shadow's Tale feels like it's cynically exploiting the enduring praise earned by Team ICO to feather its own nest. This is cargo cult game design, copying the look and feel of previous games with painstaking precision, but the magic it hopes to invoke never materialises.
A large part of the problem is that there's no story. Or rather, there is, but it's so opaque and minimalistic that there's nothing to cling to, doled out in tiny chunks so that even halfway through the game you're still not sure why any of this is happening.
ICO's genius lay in the fairy-tale simplicity of its hand-holding concept, tapping into a universal human response. Even Limbo, a more recent adherent to the less-is-more school of eerie platform gaming, knew well enough to drape its stylised world in familiar Hansel and Gretel cloth. A boy looking for his sister makes sense, even in a stark black and white fantasia. A boy cut off from his shadow might make a poetic image, but it desperately needs context to take flight and A Shadow's Tale is too busy being self-consciously mysterious to supply it. The whole game feels like it was created simply to look pretty, rather than evoke genuine empathy or engagement.
With nothing to ground the fanciful notions, the cracks in the game's exquisite façade start to show. Checkpointing is crude, relying on "shadow corridor" sub-levels to activate, and replaying or retracing your steps is a common problem. Boy himself is well animated, but prone to some truly horrible jagged edges, while his reaction times and movements are never quite as fluid and graceful as the genre demands.
Foreground objects sometimes obscure the action, or the game will pick a camera view designed to show off the environment rather than support the gameplay. There's no single problem that comes close to being a game breaker, but there are dozens of minor annoyances that accumulate over time, eventually overwhelming the attraction of the borrowed graphical style.
The fact is that the Wii is not short of whimsical hand-drawn platformers. A Boy and his Blob has a more interesting gimmick, and does more innovative things with it, than A Shadow's Tale. LostWinds and Nyx also tread a similar path, and feel more suited to their WiiWare home than A Shadow's Tale does as a boxed disc. The Wii, quite simply, does not need a Diet ICO.
There's nothing sadder than a great idea wasted, but it's no longer enough to simply come up with a concept and let it do the heavy lifting for the entire length of a game. The best ideas need to grow, expand and evolve as the levels pass by, but A Shadow's Tale never takes that next step and unfortunately proves to be as insubstantial as its hero.
A Shadow's Tale is available from 15th October, exclusively for Wii.
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