|Title||Lost in Shadow|
|Release Date||January 4, 2011|
|Age Rating||ESRB: E10+|
It is fitting that as I write this review, I am overcome by great melancholy and just a touch of despair, as those are themes that are fully expressed by the obscure Wii platformer, Lost in Shadow. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is a game which could have easily revolutionized how people saw the Wii. Released in 2011, when games were still being released with some regularity for the hit or miss Nintendo system, Lost in Shadow was just shy of greatness. Literally the last game released by the now defunct developer Hudson Soft, it managed to exude strength in terms of presentation and gameplay, but faltered in terms of plot.
Lost in Shadow is a game focused on melancholy, but it also throws in great helpings of mystery and wonder as well. The game begins quickly, with a bound and helpless boy confronted by a strange, hooded man. As he approaches, the menacing figure materializes an oddly shaped sword in his hand, which he then raises and brings down on the child. Instead of a geyser of blood, however, the boy is unharmed. That is, except for his shadow, which is severed from his body by the sword. The shadow then falls from the precipice of a great tower to the bottom, which is where our story begins.
Primarily a platformer, Lost in Shadow also has rather strong puzzle elements. Your goal is to get to the top of the tower, using the help of a butterfly-looking fairy named Spangle as well as the shadow of a sword you find early on. The boy has a health meter of sorts, which is represented by his shadowy weight. This is a little confusing, but essentially you’ll find your lost memories as you traverse the tower, and each one adds a little weight, and thus a little more health, to your life meter. Gameplay is fairly simple and utilizes both the Wiimote and nunchuk. The unnamed boy’s shadow can only jump and climb with A, interact with Z, attack with B and move with the nunckuk joystick. That’s it. No fancy dodges, no guard attacks, nothing. Now if that was all the game offered, I would have been greatly disappointed, but luckily, it introduces a lot more complexity with the help of Spangle.
Using the fairy with the Wiimote pointer, you can manipulate the real world objects which cast the shadows you traverse, flipping them around or extending inaccessible ledges. Though this sounds mundane, the way it works in the game is anything but. You have to remember, you’re not in a strictly 2-D plane while you’re playing the game, you’re on a shadowy copy superimposed upon the environment. It’s a little hard to explain why, but this allowed the game to convey a greater sense of depth than normal. When you fall down a pit, you feel every inch of the fall. When you jump far, trying to reach a distant ledge, you feel as though you’re jumping with all your might. I honestly haven’t felt such a thing since I first played Super Mario 64. Later in the game, Spangle can sometimes latch onto stray light bulbs and shift the movement of the light up or down or left or right, making it possible to get places you otherwise couldn’t.
Another ability you learn very late in the game is the ability to use glowing portals scattered throughout the tower. You use these to temporarily become solid, allowing your shadow to run around in three dimensions and actively manipulate items in the foreground too big for Spangle to handle. I can’t express enough how much this opened up the game. My only complaint is that you don’t get the ability till you’re practically 60% done with the game, and then it forces you to backtrack through some 40 odd floors to find many of the portals again.
As you traverse the tower, a couple of things get in your way. First, there are numerous shadow monsters that impede your path and actively try to hurt you. Ranging from giant spiders to quivering trilobites to humanoid creatures, which moan and stretch their shadowy limbs at you, there is a great variety of threats. Second are the Monitor Eyes. Each floor of the tower has 3 of these artifacts hidden away, and your job is to find all three to unlock the exit to the next floor. Sometimes this is a simple matter of jumping from one section to the next, with the Monitor Eyes in plain sight, but as the you climb higher in the tower, their hiding places becomes more complex. Often times they are protected by shadowy spikes, geysers of steam or even locked doors which you have to disable or render useless to get past. Another hindrance are the Shadow Corridors.
These are portals to another realm which must be progressed through to get free. Though they still have many shadows for you to contend with, they are usually free of monsters. One thing they have in abundance is traps. Crushing blocks, spinning saw blades and more confront you in these odd realms. Another key difference between the Shadow Corridors and the Tower is that they utilize mechanisms which allow you to turn the camera 180 degrees left or right, flipping the shadows around and allowing you to get farther. In my experience, this often involved me slamming myself by accident into a shadow, instantly crushing me to death. Luckily, the programmers seemed to anticipate this, as you can find heal points in each of the Shadow Corridors which allow you to completely heal yourself.
Fortunately, finding Monitor Eyes and slashing enemies is not all the game has to offer. Another key aspect of the game are the chase sequences. Whereas the exploration aspects of the game are pretty much devoid of actual music, only offering ambient noise and sound effects, each of the chase sequences use dramatic music to add flair to the experience. As to what chases you, it is called the Shadow Soul, and can only be described as a corpse nugget, an amalgamation of fallen shadowy body parts that wants to eat you whole. While you cannot damage the Shadow Soul in these sequences, you can fend it off temporarily by hitting switches, which activates beacons of light that freeze it for a few moments while you run like the dickens. These sequences are few and far between, but they get progressively more and more intense. The final one had me swearing a blue streak at my TV screen as I kept falling to my death in my attempt to escape the beast.
Another aspect of the game I have to discuss is the Dark Tower. Found very late in the game, it is essentially an inverted corridor that throws everything you’ve found in the game into one challenging test area. Though much shorter than the main Tower, which is composed of 55 floors, not including the Sewer section, the Dark Tower is tough as nails. I also found it to be strangely beautiful, even though it literally hurt to look at the screen in this section. It was probably my favorite part of the game.
While there are many positive aspects to this game, ultimately it is the negative which ended up weighing it down. First and foremost is the combat system. As I said earlier, the combat is pretty simplistic in the game. While I didn’t mind this initially, over time I became increasingly frustrated by getting ganged up on by shadow creatures and only being able to swing a three hit combo over and over again. They could have easily introduced more complex combo attacks or even a simple evasion move. Something as basic as rolling away from an enemy attack would have greatly improved the gameplay. A more pointed complaint I have is with the plot. While mystery and melancholy are good and well for the game, the allure of mystery is that it will finally be solved. Such is not the case in Lost in Shadow. Although the shadow is eventually reunited with his body, you never discover the name of the boy, nor clear reasons why it was necessary to put him through the trials. Was he special? Did he have some hidden purpose? These are never revealed, and you merely go through the game an unwitting pawn of forces beyond your control or comprehension.
Replay value is another negative. Though you are given the option to access an elevator later in the game, there is very little incentive given to backtracking besides collecting memories you may have missed. While I beat the game in 13 hours with about 80% of the memories found, I discovered by checking online FAQs that the only reward your get for finding all your lost memories is access to a special weapon upon playing through the game a second time. This is a feature I’ve found in other games as well which infuriates me, since there is little incentive given to play through just to wield your shiny new weapon. If you unlocked a secret area, or a better ending upon finding all the memories, I would have felt it was worth the effort.
Lost in Shadow is a game wrapped in melancholy and mystery. There’s something inexplicably sad about playing as a shadow of a person, devoid of purpose beyond finding your body again. Equally sad is that this is the last game made by the once great Hudson Soft, as is the fact that after viewing the ending of the game, it is apparent they intended to make several sequels had it been more successful. Though the game doesn’t capitalize on all it’s potential, it still remains a beautiful, atmospheric and challenging game. While it can get repetitive at times, overall I found myself enjoying the experience. It was challenging enough without being brutally difficult. Had they only tweaked a few small aspects of the game, I think it could have achieved greatness, both for Hudson Soft as well as for the Wii. As it is, this game in the end will just be relegated to obscure shadows of the gaming world.