the artistry and psychology of gaming


Lost in Shadow

Lost in Shadow

When I first heard about this game, I found the premise to be fascinating.  For those who do not know, you’re a shadow and have to interact with the shadows in your environment.  2D puzzle-platformer?  Right up my alley!  It’s even made by Hudson, the company behind Bomberman, Adventure Island, and Princess Tomato in Salad Kingdom.  They can do 2D platformers and puzzle solving with the best of them.  What I got, however, was something less than stellar.


The Platformer

Let us begin with the most important part of any game: playing it.  One of my biggest complaints here is that the controls were stiff.  It isn’t something you notice until you try to take down a bigger monster.  You swing your sword, executing a 3-hit combo, then you need to move away from the enemy quickly before you get hit.  The problem is that running is insufficient, since you’re too slow, and jumping doesn’t always happen.  If you hit jump while you’re fighting, you’ve got a 50/50 chance that your character will even jump.  Factor in the hit detection, which is buggy at best, and you’ve got yourself an awkward combat system.  The other big problem with combat is that your sword isn’t nearly as long as you think it is, so you have to get really close to the enemies to actually hit them.  That wouldn’t be such a problem, but even with the many HP Max ups (called Memories in this game), most enemies can kill you in 2-3 hits.  What makes this even worse is the fact that the red orbs that refill your health refill very little at a time and you’ll very rarely see more than 4 from any given enemy.  This means that you’re constantly hurting for health and don’t really have anywhere to get more.  Dying sends you back to the beginning of the stage with the exact same amount of health you entered it with.  Now, you can also gain experience from enemies by way of collecting purple orbs.  Thankfully, dying doesn’t take away your experience, so you’ll eventually get through tough enemy encounters, even if you have to die repeatedly for hours until your level is high enough to take them out comfortably.  Eventually, I was able to get used to the game, but the controls could definitely use improvement.

The Puzzle Game

Okay, so the platforming is less than solid, but it’s a hybrid genre, so there’s hope, right?  Well, that’s what I thought, but I was sorely disappointed.  The puzzle elements are intriguing to begin with, but they get stale in a big hurry.  You can move light sources, bat at a light bulb like a cat, and even move certain real world objects to change the shadows.  The problem is that the game never really does much of anything with the idea of playing with light sources.  Once you gain a new skill, you just use it to solve the same puzzles over and over until it becomes profoundly dull.  The only really interesting parts of the game (at least as far as puzzles are concerned) were the Shadow Corridors, which were puzzle intensive and allowed you to rotate the entire level 90 degrees at certain spots.  This isn’t the kind of rotation that makes the walls into the floor and ceiling.  This is like if you have your palm facing up with your fingertips pointing away from you, then rotate your hand so that your palm is still up, but your fingertips are now facing to your left or right.  It is akin to spinning a plate, if that analogy serves you better.  The problem with this is that the rotation is performed by pressing left or right on the control cross, and the direction of rotation isn’t terribly intuitive.  Most puzzles throughout the game rest firmly upon the “press buttons and see what happens” school of thought.  I’m not saying that every puzzle has to be incredibly deep, but if you’re marketing a game as a puzzle-platformer, either make sure both elements are done well, or just stick with one or the other.


I know a game in which you play as a shadow isn’t going to be bright and colorful, but the backgrounds were pretty ugly in most areas.  The beginning was colorful enough, and you can see that just by looking at the cover of the game.  The problem is that once you reach the tower (in which the vast majority of the game takes place), get ready for a rusty pile of steam punk ugly.  I don’t know who the plumber was for this tower, but if I had to judge by the number of rusty pipes in this game, I’d say that said plumber is now a billionaire.  Remember Crash Man’s level in Mega Man 2?  Well, picture that, but with more pipes and you’ve got the aesthetic down pretty well.  Now, I’ll admit that different areas have different background colors, but the range is from rust orange to industrial green with one nice blue-purple area thrown in for good measure.  On top of that, there’s a mild to thick white haze flowing through each level.  Yes, Hudson, you did a good job of recognizing that steam punk is in style right now.  I’ve got a big problem with games that spend more time and effort making it “artistic” than good, especially when the art isn’t particularly aesthetically pleasing (Shadow of the Colossus, I’m looking at you).  One thing that I can say that I enjoyed about the graphics was the shadows themselves.  The shadows look great, even if the enemies didn’t have a huge variety.



It was a nice change of pace in this modern gaming world to see a story with very few words and more emphasis on the game itself.  The story itself was just off-the-wall ridiculous, though.  A story doesn’t have to be completely serious to be good.  Take a look at something like the Katamari series or Psychonauts.  The difference with them, though, is that they aren’t trying to be taken seriously.  This game tries to play its story off as dark and serious.  Without too many spoilers, the basic premise is that your shadow was cut off of you (not too bad yet) and you’re trying to reclaim this tower.  The tower’s purpose is to allow the shadows of the dead to climb to the sky (wait… what?).  The reason the shadow of a living young boy was used is because the weight of one’s shadow is equal to the weight of one’s soul.  Yes, that’s literal weight.  Your life bar is the weight of your soul in grams.  Now, reread this paragraph.  A shadow is just the part of the world that isn’t lit, usually created by the obstruction of light by an opaque object.  It’s not some mystical thing that is directly tied to the soul.  Now, I’m willing to suspend disbelief for a video game.  The idea of a shadow being cut from a young boy to save a tower isn’t any more ridiculous than a plumber getting sucked through a pipe into Boo-Boo Land to rescue a princess from a fire-breathing turtle (in fact, I think it to be less so).  However, when you start trying to add parameters exclusive to physical objects (i.e. weight) to something intangible (i.e. a soul or shadow), the cable is severed and my disbelief descends like an airborne anvil.


The style of the game is a bit of a mixed bag.  To make your soul heavier, you collect memories, each of which has its own text.  The problem is that almost every single one of these memories tries to be dark and moody, but winds up being emo and whiny.  This could have been a great way to tell a story, by giving bits and pieces as you go along, like the scans from the Metroid Prime Trilogy, but the potential was completely wasted.  Many just give gameplay tips that have already been given to you via tutorial.  Some even go so far as to cop out and say “Too blurry to read,” or the like.  That’s fine for maybe one of them, but I found at least four that said that same exact thing.  They might as well say “Our creative budget has run out.  We can’t think of anything to put here.”  One thing the designers did do very well was the theme of isolation.  The idea of being a shadow and fighting shadow creatures, while having to stare at the physical world to which you no longer belong gives the game a hopelessly lonely feeling that stays with you.  When you reach the residential area and see the empty town with wash lines in use and discarded bicycles, but no sign of remaining human life does really well to drive this home, too.  Since the designers decided not to make the game just a level based chain of Shadow Corridors, the rest of the game should have focused more on this idea, and perhaps the presentation would have excelled.  Overall, though, the good is outweighed by the whining memories and absurd story that tries to take itself seriously.


There isn’t too much to say for sound.  The sound effects were decent, including the monsters, sword swings, etc.  The music isn’t really music at all.  I’m not saying that the music had to be in your face (hard-driving rock or techno wouldn’t really work here), but it’s just background noises.  Waaaaaawwwwwaaaaaawwwaaaaa isn’t music.  It’s just something you hear in visual medium when someone’s going through a drug induced stupor, concussion, or fever dream.  The thing about the aforementioned altered states, though, is that they are temporary.  This weird sound goes on throughout the entire game.  You can make real music and still make it convey themes, even ones such as isolation.  I’m just thankful that there weren’t any in game voices, since they would have likely been even more grating.


All in all, it isn’t necessarily a terrible game.  It’s just kind of boring, repetitive, and shallow.  The designers had a fantastic premise to work with, but they blew it.  It just seems like they were afraid to really experiment with what was put in front of them.  It’s a shame, really, since I thought this game would at least be intellectually stimulating.  Right before I stopped playing this game for good, I actually almost fell asleep with the controller in my hands.  In 23 years of gaming, I’ve never once come close to that.  If it were from a no-name developer, it wouldn’t make the game any better, but it just doesn’t make sense coming from a company like Hudson.  So, while it wasn’t the worst game I’ve ever played (not by a long shot), it certainly wasn’t everything it boasted, so I just had to call it out.

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