Here’s a neat thought: Imagine you existed a plane of shadows. Your world would, for all intents and purposes, be two dimensional. The geography would be perpetually unstable, changing drastically as light sources shifted and the objects in front of them changed position. Creatures no larger than a bug could cast monstrous silhouettes, and something as seemingly innocuous as a burst of invisible warm air could create a dark, cloudy barrier.
This fascinating concept serves as the foundation of Lost in Shadow (Hudson Soft / E 10+), a new game developed exclusively for Nintendo Wii from Japanese studio Hudson Soft.
The game begins atop a tall and narrow tower, where an ominous figure approaches a boy hanging in mid-air. With a slash of his sword, the dark force severs the youth’s shadow from his physical form and tosses it over the edge of the citadel. The shadow wakes up on the ground and knows only one thing: It must return to its body, still held at the tower’s apex.
Taking on the role of the game’s nameless shade is disconcerting and oddly familiar. The basic mechanics – running left and right and jumping across gaps – are staples of side-scrolling platform adventures. However, focusing one’s attention on a scene’s background – where the shadows exist – takes a bit of practice. Plus, these shadows aren’t simply cast on flat surfaces, but instead distort as they wrap around columns, transition from wall to floor, and flow past corners and onto objects much further away.
Things become stranger still when we’re given the ability to morph the shadow world by manipulating light sources and certain shadow-casting objects. These areas become navigational conundrums that demand a special kind of problem-solving ability.
And yet I quickly grew accustomed to thinking in terms of a shadow. It was as though my eyes and brain suddenly snapped into a new, abstract perspective. The shadow world’s exotic atmosphere remained, but it felt logical and comfortable.
But for all of the ways Hudson Soft has exploited this decidedly original idea, they could have done more.
The game relies heavily on common platformer tropes. We spend too much time throwing switches to open timed gates and engaging in simple sword-based combat against the shadows of spiders and weird, floating apparitions. It’s a shame the designers didn’t mine their unique motif for more shadow-themed challenges. How does a living shade cope with pure dark? Multiple light sources? Diffuse shadows?
What’s more, the narrative is vague and, ultimately, unsatisfying. We collect short text “memories” throughout the game that tantalize us with phrases like “each time we fade away we leave a fragment of our soul behind” and “this tower is what shadows climb after their body dies,” but they never coalesce into a cohesive story.
However, parts of the game – such as the mind-bogglingly abstract shadow corridor puzzles, which take place in a conceptual world outside the physical realm of the tower – are nothing short of genius. In these moments it is indeed easy to lose oneself in Lost in Shadow.