Hey, who turned on the lights?
Our poor shadows — they get no love. Let’s face it, unless you’re an entertainer at kid parties making shadow puppets with your hands or you’re an ancient Greek keeping time with a sundial, you probably don’t give a second thought to your poor, lonely shade who only wants to follow you around all day. That’s all about to change though, because Hudson Soft has become obsessed with them in their upcoming Wii game, and you might just get obsessed too.
[image1]Amidst all the flashy presentations at Konami Gamers Night for other games that will put you in the shoes of your favorite hip hop star or a sweaty masked brawler with your head stuck in the armpit of another sweaty masked brawler, Lost in Shadow lacked the over-the-top hype to draw the big crowds. And true to its name, the game’s demo kiosk was tucked away in a corner instead of out on the main floor. But those who got a chance to play it were definitely intrigued by this unconventional platformer.
The intro opens with a young boy chained at the top of a tower. He is approached by a mysterious figure who strikes at the chains with some kind of blade — but the boy is not released. Instead, his shadow is freed and sent down to the bottom of the tower. The shadow’s goal (and yours, as the player) is to climb back up through the tower’s many levels full of traps and puzzles to free his poor body from whatever evil something-or-another is keeping him trapped there.
A disclaimer: don’t be fooled by the initial blandness of the screenshots. Our eyes are naturally drawn to objects that jump out at us. In the case of LiS, that tendency is not a beneficial one, as your first reaction might be: "Wow! Pipes and girders! Where do I sign up?" (Hopefully the sarcasm came through just now.) But the real action goes on in the background, where the boy’s shadow traverses the shadows of said pipes and girders.
[image2]LiS uses the whole shadow concept in some ingenious ways, and we only got a chance to play the first couple worlds (the full game promises at least four or five, if not more). The key thing to remember is that you’re never platforming on objects; you’re platforming on their shadows. As the light shifts or the object’s position shifts, the shadow will shift correspondingly. The game plays around with perspective and optical illusions for puzzles; I was reminded right away of the garden maze puzzle in God of War III where you constantly have to shift your perspective to a different angle to progess.
You have the help of a "Spangle" (just saying it is giggle-inducing), a fairy-like thing that you control with the Wiimote’s pointer. The Spangle can manipulate the real-world objects so that their shadows move to more useful positions. For instance, say you’re running up against the shadow of a vertical pipe. Whip out your… um… Spangle, use it to rotate the pipe, and voila!, now that towering shadow wall is just a tiny stepping stone!
Later levels even have areas where you can move the light source. Is there a gap in front of you that’s too big to jump over? Try shifting the light all the way to the left or right, and the platforms’ shadows will collapse closer together, making for an easy jump. You can similarly shift the light up and down to make the platform shadow on which you’re standing rise or lower.
[image3]Scattered throughout the levels are "memories", which when found make your shadow heavier by .1 or .2 grams. These served no purpose in the rough preview build, but when I asked about it, I was cryptically told the famous maxim that the human soul weighs 21 grams. The impression I got was that getting heavier through these memories will increase your health, but only time will tell their true purpose. [True ending? ~Ed. Nick] Regardless, the memories are collectables extraneous to your quest and will provide good fodder for completionists who explore every nook and cranny of their games (e.g. yours truly).
There is some combat in the game, but what was shown at Gamers Night was extremely bare-bones. Basically, you just press B to swing a sword at things directly in front of you. That’s it. Some stronger enemies take more hits to kill, but there weren’t any fancy special moves or anything beyond a simple swipe on display. That may be for the best, though, as the strength of the game is clearly in the very clever puzzles.
Lost in Shadow has all the makings of a sleeper hit, just like ICO. It’s underhyped and doesn’t stand out much compared to the competition. But the gameplay is simple, engaging, and most of all, innovative. It’s set to hit the Wii this fall alongside a lot of other higher-profile games, so let’s hope Lost in Shadow doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.