Lost in Shadow Review
Poor pacing almost derails this imaginative platformer, but a variety of clever puzzles in the second half of the game make it worth sticking with to the end.
- Hopping on shadows forces you to view the world in new ways
- Clever puzzles make excellent use of the core mechanics
- Rousing boss fights provide a dose of excitement
- Tons of content that is largely good.
- Uneven pacing leads to long stretches of boredom
- Basic combat is a drag.
Lost in Shadow is a prime example of the idea that you can have too much of a good thing. The majority of this thoughtful twist on side-scrolling platformers is bursting with imaginative puzzles and heart-racing boss fights and is held together by a visual gimmick that forces you to view the world in an entirely new way. But a third of this lengthy adventure is mired in pointless battles and mundane puzzles, and it takes all of your determination to push past the mediocrity to reach the transcendent sections later on. Having to put up with so many bland moments sounds immediately off-putting, and it can be difficult to trudge through the uninspired middle hours when the end is nowhere in sight. But Lost in Shadow’s finer moments are so rewarding that anyone who perseveres will be treated to an experience that stands tall next to just about any other game in the genre. There’s no doubt that had those forgettable portions been left on the cutting-room floor this would be a must-play for any fan of puzzle platformers. But Lost in Shadow instead mixes the sublime with the ordinary–a very good game in serious need of a trimming.
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The adventure begins with your character, a young child, at his lowest point. He’s tossed from the top of a tower to the cold rocks down below, separating his corporeal body from his shadow. Playing as his shadow, you must brave the dangerous enemies and obstacles spread throughout the tower as you make your way back to the roof to fight the monster that started this misery. The story stays in the background for the most part, allowing the bleak world to paint a feeling of desperation, but there are some clever touches that supply worthwhile motivation. There are scattered memories hidden about that supply an insight into your situation. The message may be a brief remark about the painful nature of existing as a shadow or a wish that this would all end soon, and these help you establish an emotional connection to the world.
Controlling a shadow feels different that controlling a more conventional character. The levels are laid out in typical side-scrolling fashion, but instead of leaping across platforms, you jump on the shadows they cast. The initial sections force you to adjust to this strange perspective, and once the basic foundation is laid, there are all sorts of clever twists to keep you on your toes. In addition to your standard jump, you have a few more tools for interacting with the environment. The first is adjusting the angle of the light. At times, a light bar appears onscreen, and by moving the slider, you control where shadows are cast. In its simplest form, this lets you shift a platform to the side so you can make a jump, or raise it up so you can climb on a ledge, and this premise is expanded as you go deeper into the game. During one section, you swing a lightbulb in the foreground that sways back and forth with dwindling momentum. You have to time your jumps when the shadow platforms are reachable, and figuring out the timing provides excitement and challenge.
Other times, you have to directly manipulate an object in the foreground. Rotating a pillar or wheel lets you reach previously inaccessible places, but this technique has one minor flaw. The only way to know which objects can be manipulated is by pointing at the screen while holding down B. More often than not, when you’re seemingly stuck with no clue how to move on, your best chance of success is to slowly scan the environment until you find an object you can interact with. Shifting objects to create shadows you can stand on is always impressive to behold, but the pacing slows down when you have to scan the screen. For half of the game, the puzzles are built around these two concepts, and ministages within levels contain a third technique that relies on perspective distortion rather than shadow creation. In these sections, you rotate the entire screen in 90-degree chunks. It’s a marvel to see the world swing around you, causing platforms and ladders to materialize out of nowhere. A wide variety of puzzles types incorporate these three basic moves, but variations on these themes stretch on for around 15 hours, which causes the initial excitement to fade away as by-rote advancement becomes the norm.
Thankfully, things pick up later in the game when you finally learn a new move. Halfway through Lost in Shadow you gain the ability to run along the foreground in certain spots, and this meshes so wonderfully with the shadow hopping that the game reaches impressive heights. Whereas you become accustomed to staring at the backgrounds in the first half of the game, once you learn this new technique, you have to take in the foreground and background at the same time, opening the door for some fascinating sequences. There are traps and dangers lurking all around, and you have to push the boundaries of your spatial reasoning to figure out how to continue. It’s a shame it takes more than a dozen hours before Lost in Shadow reaches its potential, but the ending portions are so good that it’s worth going through the less impressive early parts to get there. However, even when the game is at its best there are still a couple of problems. First of all, there is no map. This makes sense initially since discovery is such a large part of the game. But the big levels require a lot of backtracking, so if a map kept track of where you have ventured, it would save a lot of trouble when you’re trying to find the one place you haven’t been. Second, the checkpoint system is far too punishing. You can lose 15 or more minutes of your hard work if you die, which is as deflating as it gets.
There’s a bit more to Lost in Shadow than solving puzzles. You pick up a sword early in the adventure, and from that moment until the very end, you have to dispose of the annoying enemies who stand in your way. The combat is not fun in the slightest. You have a three-hit combo and that’s it. No special moves, no block, and no dodge. And though the sluggish controls are fine for the slow-paced platforming, they aren’t quick enough to let you move out of the way of a fast attack. Thankfully, although dealing with the normal enemies are a chore, there are moments when the combat really shines. Some enemies can be killed only by environmental hazards, and figuring out how to finish them off is just as engaging as any other puzzle in the game. Furthermore, the boss fights are about avoiding confrontation. Sprinting through levels with a demonic beast on your tail is the only time your adrenaline kicks in, and it’s challenging fun to wind your way through these levels at a breakneck speed.
Uneven pacing is the biggest flaw in this otherwise enthralling adventure. Lost in Shadow can stretch on for more than 30 hours, and the majority of the experience is quite well done. The first few hours are new and exciting, brimming with all sorts of possibilities as you figure out this crazy shadow world. And the second half, after you learn your final technique, is bursting with mind-bending puzzles that are a pleasure to overcome. But there is a roughly 10-hour stretch smack-dab in the middle of your journey that is never out-and-out bad, but has so many predictable puzzles and tedious battles that it’s a serious chore to get through. It’s hard to give Lost in Shadow a wholehearted recommendation, because it requires such a serious commitment, so make sure you don’t rush in expecting uninterrupted fun. But if you do stick with Lost in Shadow, you’ll be treated to a memorable game whose good moments far outshine the bad.
By Tom Mc Shea