Game of the Week: Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet
Game reviewers are, for the most part, pretty phlegmatic when it comes to each other's opinions. While everyone in the comments threads is going nuts over a controversially low score, our peers roll their eyes in sympathy, even if they disagree. We've all been there, right?
Sometimes, though, it's the other way around. While readers maintain a respectful discussion of a game's merits and demerits, your humble reviews editor's instant messenger lights up with the incensed lobbying of angry contributors. How could we get it so wrong?
Generally, critics accept that a difference of opinion is just that. So what's the difference between these two scenarios? It's hype - or, more specifically, the source of hype.
Games in scenario A tend to be those where the hype is thrust upon us: the big titles that are the focus of sky-high expectations, from both publishers and gamers. We have to admit that we're participants in this cycle, helping to build the games (and your expectations) up before we knock them down. But the profile of the games rarely leaves us any choice, and by the time the review rolls around, we're intimate enough with them that - to us - the anti-climax doesn't come as a surprise.
In scenario B, the games are usually the sort that have little or no marketing budgets behind them and that we've taken it upon ourselves to hype up. They tend to come from small independent developers and have artistic aspirations. We love to adopt these games, appoint ourselves their champions, stake our reputations on them and then wait for the reflected glory and street cred to roll in.
If you underrate one of these games, you're breaking the reviewers' secret pact and making us all look bad. Scab!
So it was this week, with our review of...
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet
OK, I'm overstating things for effect. Simon Parkin is far too well-loved to be pelted with rotten fruit by his friends and colleagues just for being sceptical about this coolly pretty cave-crawling adventure, the latest entry in Xbox Live's Summer of Arcade.
But a few voices were raised in surprise and dissent. And although I'm cheekily portraying them as poseurs, the truth is that these arguments are born of genuine passion. I'm certainly not suggesting that Shadow Planet's defenders are bandwagon-jumpers who don't really think it's brilliant - they do, and they built the bandwagon in the first place.
It illustrates how some reviews can come down to a very subtle difference of perspective. Simon peered between Shadow Planet's beautiful visuals and solid mechanisms and, where he wanted to find character, soul and sophistication, found nothing to sustain his interest.
"It's a game for players that appreciate a pure, mechanical approach to game making," he wrote in our Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet review. "What's left is the nucleus of a Metroidvania game, mechanically functional and regularly interesting, but a shadow of its inspiration nonetheless."
For the game's proponents, that simply isn't a problem. In fact, they might say that its minimalism and purity, the way it boils a complex, inscrutable style of game down to an effortlessly elegant core, is what makes it so remarkable.
I'm with Simon, broadly speaking, but it's a fascinating division of opinion - and one that's very much in the eye of the beholder. You're strongly encouraged to download the trial and see which side of the fence you might fall on.
Oh - and how come a 6/10 claims game of the week, you ask? Choose one of the following answers:
- There's absolutely nothing else out this week, so it wins by default.
- I'm trying to look cool.
- I'm trying to shut Kristan Reed up.
- All of the above.