HIGH The beginning of the housing area, when playing as a shadow is well-realized.
LOW Tedious, repetitive levels—and far, far too many of them.
WTF Did the devs really think this much switch-flipping was good gameplay?
As a critic, there's nothing I hate more than seeing a fantastic premise that fails to deliver. There are far too many inspiration-free games on shelves, so when one comes along with a glimmer of genius, I want it cultivated into brilliance. These sorts of projects don't need the biggest budgets or the most bullet points to win favor, but they do need to stay focused on the vision that attracted me in the first place. As long as that shines through, all else will fall into place.
With Hudson's Lost in Shadow, things do not fall into place.
The game begins well: a boy is kept prisoner at the top of a tall tower, and his shadow is severed from his body. This detached shadow is tossed an incredible distance to the bottom of the spire, and its goal is to reunite with its physical form. Taking cues from this idea, Lost in Shadow's gameplay hook is that since the player controls a shadow, this shadow can only interact with other shadows.
For example, rather than climbing onto a ledge, the player climbs onto the shadow of the ledge. When crossing a bridge, nothing actually happens on the bridge; the activity occurs on the silhouette behind it. It's a novel idea and I was sold on the game immediately. However, there's quite a difference between an idea and the implementation.
My biggest issue with Lost in Shadow is that its strongest asset—being a shadow—is barely utilized. To be fair, I was impressed a few times by very specific scenes. For example, once when the camera angle was just right and the sense of controlling a flat shadow in a three-dimensional world was on full display. Another memorable time was when the light source in an area was tilted to simulate a sunset, and my shadow elongated to a ridiculous degree, enabling a leap to a seemingly out-of-reach handhold. Unfortunately, clever bits like these are entirely too few and far between.
In general, the bulk of the game consists of bog-standard platforming that would've been right at home in the 16-bit era. Most levels are a series of locked gates, switches and ladders, and the developers usually position the camera to display the game in what essentially amounts to a 2D perspective. There is nothing especially clever or entertaining about completing these sections, and most of the designs are quite artificial-feeling and "gamey." The shadow is supposed to be climbing a mysterious tower, yet I never got that sense. Instead, my impression was that each area was a handful of arbitrary old-school obstacles with little regard for holistic cohesion. Saw blades, rotating platforms, trapdoors… players have seen all this tired stuff a million times over.
Combat is just as simplistic as the level design. The shadow boy has a sword and can perform a three-hit combo, but that's about the extent of it. There was no blocking, dodging, or parrying in the time I played. Taking out the generic red-eyed shadow-monsters is as straightforward (and dull) as dashing forward, doing a combo, and running back to avoid retaliation. I was surprised there were no shadow-based abilities, and cheap hits are common, although the shadow's life bar is usually large enough to absorb the damage and tank on through.
I wish I could say that the visuals and artistry save the experience, but they don't. One of Lost in Shadow's biggest problems is that the Wii is too underpowered to do it justice. The color palettes and textures are crude, giving each area a visually bland, washed-out appearance. The developers layer an ill-advised "fog" effect on top of all this, further degrading the graphic distinction. This situation is bad enough, but when most of the game is portrayed in 2D fashion, the player has to contend with not only these issues, but the visual clutter of objects taking up space in the foreground while the action happens in the background. It is both graphically boring, and a mess.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that I did not complete the game. After putting in around five hours, the samey lifelessness of Lost in Shadow had worn me down and obliterated every shred of enthusiasm I had left. Apparently, I was nowhere near the end.
Lost in Shadow is the epitome of one-note gameplay with endless switches to flip, gates to open, and ladders to climb. I could only tolerate a handful of levels at a time before I became mentally numb and needed to shut the game off. I had hoped that by taking it in sections, I would be able to pace myself and complete the game for this review, but a little online research and word of mouth suggests that the average playtime is between fifteen and twenty hours. I simply couldn't imagine wasting that much time on something that gives back so little. For game as tedious, repetitive and contrived as this one is, the developers would have been far better off releasing it as a DLC title and trimming at least three quarters of it away.
As much as I may admire the concept, I really can't recommend Lost in Shadow to anyone except those who crave simplistic, repetitive gameplay and an unnecessarily bloated running time.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Wii. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains animated blood and mild fantasy violence. Despite those call-outs, this is a very safe game. The player stabs enemy monsters that disappear in a puff, and since every character is a shadow, there is no graphic detail or gore at all. Very basic, very harmless stuff here.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: You won't have any problems. There is no spoken dialogue in the game, all communication happens via text on screen, and there are no audio cues necessary for play. It's totally accessible.
Currently, he's got about 42 minutes a night to play because adulting is a timesuck, but despite that, he's a happily married guy with two kids who both have better K/D ratios than he does.
Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody at the office is looking, and his favorite game of all time is the first Mass Effect -- and he thought the trilogy's ending was Just Fine, Thanks.
Follow Brad on Twitter at @BradGallaway