Video games are art. They can stir emotions, reactions and feelings in us that only games, in their own special, interactive way can. Sure, movies, novels and traditional art can all have profound effects on us, but the act of actually being involved in a game is what makes this art form so unique. That being said, video games are, well... games, and need to be ‘played’ to be experienced. So can it be that a game is too ‘artsy’ for its own good? Is it possible for a game to favour style over substance so much that the core gameplay suffers? Well if Lost In Shadow is allowed to have its way, then the answer is a resounding yes.
Lost In Shadow sees you play as the shadow of a boy separated from his body. You must scale a tower that reaches far into the heavens to not only reunite with your body but also defend the world from a mysterious and all consuming shadow creature. Naturally, being a shadow poses some serious issues when it comes to getting around. Since you can’t actually stand on physical objects you must navigate the shadows cast by the environment to reach your destination. This gives Lost In Shadow a unique hook but unfortunately one it relies upon way too much.
On the surface Lost In Shadow is a rather rudimentary 2.5D (if such a thing can even exist) platformer. You will jump, climb, fall, solve puzzles and explore the tower like most games in the genre; the hook comes from the ability to manipulate the shadows themselves. With the help of your Sylph partner you can move objects in the foreground to change the shape and reach of their shadows. Also, later on in the game, you will gain the ability to directly manipulate the light source, adding even more complexity to the puzzles, which can at some points become both extremely frustrating and clever at the same time, especially in the special ‘Shadow Corridors’ that allow you to the rotate the entire world as if inside a cube.
The controls for Lost In Shadow are pretty straightforward. You move with the control stick on the Nunchuck and jump with the ‘A’ button. Your Sylph is controlled via the Wii Remote’s IR pointer. Attacks rely on the three-move-combo mechanic that really feels archaic. Many times you will find yourself frustrated by simple enemies because of the dull and stiff swordplay. However, the game makes a point of not making battles an integral part of the experience and most of the time you will simply find yourself solving puzzles and jumping from one shadow to another.
To progress through a level you must collect three Monitor Eyes to break the barrier that is keeping you from progressing. And that my friend is where Lost In Shadow starts to go terribly off course. While collecting these items to progress would be acceptable for a handful of the 60 stages, to make it the main gameplay mechanic really makes the game feel like it lacks ideas past its main selling point, which is the manipulation of the shadows themselves. Add to this clumsy combat mechanics and some stiff platforming and you have a game that quickly becomes a slog to play. The game does throw in some light RPG elements in the form of XP for levelling up attack power and health upgrades in the form of your shadow’s weight, however these additions feel tacked on more than anything and don’t really factor into the experience.
One thing that Lost In Shadow definitely gets right is its mood. Throughout the adventure you will feel isolated, alone and like a small speck in a huge world. The visuals reflect this perfectly; the entire game is set in washed out tones and the art-style features an ‘abandoned’ world feel, similar to Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins Of The Moon or Ico. However, unlike those games, Lost In Shadow completely drops the ball in the story and pacing departments. The game takes a very long time to really get going, introducing gameplay elements that you won’t use until much later in the game early on and keeping some of the more interesting ones for the very end. Furthermore, the game never really explains itself. The story is kept very minimal, so much so that half-way through the adventure I was still wondering what exactly was the point of climbing this tower.
On a purely technical level Lost In Shadow is not a very pretty game. The textures are bland and what 3D elements exist are usually simple shapes and jaggy structures. The game covers this fact well because you’re not technically supposed to be looking at those things but at the shadows instead, which admittedly do look rather nice and react accurately to changes in light and orientation. In some instances you will be quite amazed at just how realistically these shadows interact with the world.
The music and sound design is also kept to a minimum, as most of the game's tunes consist of ambient noise mixed in with a subtle (I’m talking one instrument making one note every three minutes subtle) soundtrack. This adds to the game's sense of loneliness perfectly, but at the same time it also adds to the dullness of the experience. What is already a very subdued experience is made even more solemn by the lack of captivating music.
Featuring 60 levels, Lost In Shadow runs a decent length for a game in this genre, clocking in at roughly 7-10 hours for a complete playthrough. Add to this some collectibles to… collect, and you're left with decent bang for your buck (Lost In Shadow is a discount Wii title, priced at $39.99). The question is will you be willing to actually go the distance with it? If you do, get ready for some serious déjà vu from seeing the same graphics and the same art, listening to the same music and doing the same thing every level. The game is also a tad on the easy side, mostly because it throws so many health expansions right at your feet in the early goings.
Lost In Shadow makes a serious attempt to breathe new life and ideas into the genre, unfortunately what comes out is much more of a sigh. Sure, the art style will turn heads, but games are meant to be played and interacted with and in this regard Lost In Shadow sees itself much more as a still painting than something that is meant to be played and experienced. It’s a shame, too, not just because of the high hopes I had for this title but because it really did have a shot at being something fun, unique and exciting. Instead, it just stays quiet in the shadows.