Review: A Shadow's Tale (Wii)

See the light

Even a cursory look at Hudson’s A Shadow’s Tale (known as Lost in Shadow in North America) should be enough to convince you it’s not just another 2D platformer. Whilst New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Donkey Kong Country Returns hark back to those series' 2D glory days, A Shadow’s Tale is more forward-thinking, combining platforming and puzzles to create something fresh and rewarding.

The game’s sun-baked visual style helps the boy’s shadowy figure to stand out, and the way the game plays with perspective as his shadow hits the background is masterfully done. Whilst you only ever move in the 2D plane, clever use of background architecture helps to give the game plenty of depth as the boy’s shadow moves towards and away from the camera at certain sections.

Your aim in each floor is to find three keys in order to proceed to the next stage, as well as locating memories that increase your life bar and hold secrets about the tower and the boy’s life. Completing a stage opens up passage to the next floor, but should you die you return to the floor’s entrance, so you’ll need to be careful in the game’s trickier portions.

As you can only interact with shadows, being able to manipulate light becomes key, and at select points in your journey you’re able to alter the angle and direction of the light source. This can totally change the layout of platforms and walls, opening up new routes and solving puzzles with a simple slider, although there’s sometimes more trial and error than thought required to pass.

Other smart uses of light and shadow come in the Shadow Corridors; these are essentially self-contained platform sections that often require you to rotate the whole stage 90º to find a viable route. Handheld gamers may recognise a similar mechanic from Sega’s PSP title Crush, but it’s used cleverly here and results in some truly mind-bending puzzles, with one false move enough to send you back to the corridor’s restart point.

A short while into the game you find a rusty sword, which you can use to attack with a simple tap of B, letting you take down the red-eyed beasts that defend the tower. For each enemy vanquished you gain experience which in turn increases your strength, though as your enemies frequently become tougher this doesn’t have quite the impact you’d expect. Combat is a predictably two-dimensional affair, and you often get the feeling its inclusion was down to a desire to inject some action into the otherwise mostly sedate game, rather than as a vital part of its overall design.

In fact, one of the game’s best combat moments is one where you’re not directly attacking anything: a terrifying shadow monster chases you up the tower and you must activate switches to bathe it in damaging light. It’s a surprisingly exhilarating chase considering it’s one shadow chasing another, but for the most part you’ll be swinging your sword and following with a jump to dodge; not the most thrilling of swordplay.

Similarly pared-down but in a positive way is the game’s soundtrack. There’s no music here, just subtle sound effects befitting the world: the clank and groan of metal constructions, screeches of shadowy spiders and a subtle palette of many other background sounds builds up an audio picture that suits the game’s graphical style better than you might expect.

In any other package, A Shadow’s Tale would have been a simplistic, almost predictable puzzle-platformer of switches, ladders and moving platforms. Its first stages are spell-binding as you learn to explore and exploit its 2D world of light and darkness, and the manipulation of shadow occasionally borders on brilliant, but the new ideas peter out before the end and you repeat many puzzles in slightly different settings.

Conclusion

A classic case of visual style over playable substance, A Shadow’s Tale still has enough graphical and audio flair to convince you to forgive its less original features, and there’s more than enough moments of enjoyment to make the purchase worthwhile. What could have been another must-have Wii 2D platformer, A Shadow's Tale is still worth your time as long as you keep your expectations in check.

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