Thursday, June 2, 2016

VGR Lost in Shadow

Shadow puppets: the video game!

VGR: Lost in Shadow, otherwise known as A Shadow's Tale in Europe and as Kage no Tō/Tower of Shadows in Japan
From Hudson Soft/Konami (EU)
Played on Nintendo Wii
Also available on /

Type Sidescroller
platformer/puzzle game 
Year 2010

The platformer genre has gone through a lot over the course of gaming history. After its birth in the arcades, there was a clear divergent point between the more arcade-like fast-paced mascot platformers on video game consoles and these sort of cinematic platformers mostly available for home computers. And from the later almost came two distinct separate breeds, games that would follow the cult classic Another World (such as Flashback, Heart of Darkness, and more recently expanded to 3D with the likes of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, etc.) which focused on atmosphere, the narrative and atmosphere and those that would try to imitate the original Prince of Persia for its pure tight precise platform experience, realistic animation and action.

Sadly over the years the PoP series evolved into a different genre of 3D platformers more in line with Tomb Raider than anything else really. And the series finally evolved into the sandbox parkour-driven Assassin's Creed franchise. And put on hold, we have never seen any new Prince of Persia game ever since...

That's a fairly long introduction to say: this is where this game comes in.

Lost in Shadow, aka A Shadow's Tale in Europe is a modern sidescroller platform game by Hudson Soft in the vein of these classic titles. In my eyes, this is the closest a new game has even been to the classic Prince of Persia, forget the modern 2D PoP installments!

What's the story about? 

It all begins with a boy who's been apparently captured by this mysterious figure. The man strikes him in his chest with this very odd looking sword... but he is not killed! 

Instead, he is separated from his own body. Now left as a strange roaming shadow, he must climb back up this immense impressive tower. But in this form he can only move from shadows projected by the light. 

And, that's it! There's not much story here aside from this basic introduction. Sure, you can find some bits of explanation here and there, some enigmas and allusions to what is really going on, but no clear answers and the player is left to understand the story on his own.

You play as this shadow who must climb back to the top of the tower. It's a huge open world divided in smaller "screens" (think of the original PoP and its dungeon). You will go all around this tower and back, the nearby castle, even the bottom of a well, and more!

During this adventure you are confined to the shaded areas only. You can only really interact and walk on the shadows of objects and the environment. But beware of the shadow creatures lurking around, such as shadow spiders and other nasty things...

But you are also accompanied by a "sylph", an invisible spirit named Spangle that will help you. This is where the Wii Remote part enters the gameplay. Spangle can sometimes move elements from the foreground around or the source of light to play with the angle of light, changing and altering the shadows for you to climb.

The game actually relies on fairly standards controls like old classic platformers with emphasis on realistic physics and limited abilities. You can basically just jump, push, move, interact and fight with your sword. 

Where the game plays more original is how you are confined to mostly background environments through the shadows. And things are not always what they seem. Sometimes interacting with the tower might have repercussions in the shadows, and therefore level design.

And there's all these puzzles and enemies on your path!

Most of the gameplay revolves around pulling switches and levers to find and open paths on your way. Sometimes moving a platform will rotate shadows opening entirely different paths!

You can sword fight your enemies, but not defend yourself! 

The sylph spirit is your way to sometimes interact with foreground elements with the Wiimote.

Even the health system is pretty original, it is the weight of your shadow! It is based around this idea by 20th century physician Duncan MacDougall who imagined the human soul to weight 21 grams! You can't go lower or you will disappear forever... Collecting memories around in the form of texts you can find will weigh your shadow and restore your health.

Lost in Shadow was one of the last titles to have come out of the legendary classic studio Hudson Soft (with Tetris: Axis on the Nintendo 3DS), they would close down shortly afterwards in March 2012 and be merged back into Konami (where Hudson lives on as a brand now). And I miss this great studios that made so many classics during my childhood from Bomberman to Bonk, and also Bloody Roar.

The game was imagined by director Osamu Tsuchihashi, from memories of how children played with shadows in parks. Only stretching this playground into the idea of having to climb an immense tower. Hiromasa Ogura who has worked as character designer on several Studio Ghibli films was the art director for the game.

Most of the time during development was actually spent on the shadow engine for the game. The puzzles here are fairly logical, the team conceived those using actual toys (!!) used as models. They're fairly simple and natural when put your head down to it (although they get pretty tricky later on).

The shadow protagonist was left unnamed for the players, they didn't want to characterize him apart from the player's experience. The designs and shapes are simple and all contribute to this little world.

It's a really unique game. You get to play in the background instead of the foreground. The same goes for the plot which is left in the background instead of forefront. Everything is pretty mysterious. A lot is left for the imagination (what happened to the people? what are these shadow creatures? what is this castle for, who is our protagonist who's behind all this...), the story doesn't explain much. They do tell you some of those things, but you're left with very little pieces to put together.

The game is pretty simple visually (although with some pretty bad aliasing, even for the Wii) but I find it original enough that it built this great atmosphere that just works. And this is a fairly long game, with a really long tower that seems to go on forever.

finally the great music composed by Takasi Watanabe is mostly ambient atmosphere aside from a theme song by Gutevolk.

In my eyes, this is one of the best recent modern platformers, a throwback to a simpler genre. It's pretty underrated. The kind of game that would have been a lot more popular nowadays released through the indie scene or on Steam.

Overall, Lost in Shadow was a nice surprise. A platformer where careful planning and perseverance will allow you to solve puzzles (compared to jumping skills and speed like most console platformers).

A fun game that relies on outside the box-thinking. A great mix of puzzle and platform, a throwback to a genre long gone. A very simplistic game, with a minimalist approach. Kind of in-between Ico and the classic Prince of Persia.

Try it Out! Maybe not a game for everyone, since it's so different and unusual (even more so around the time of its release back then).

In my eyes, the one true successor to the original Prince of Persia games!
I give it:
2 / 3 Bruces!

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