Everyone with a playful heart has thrown their hands into light and tried to make a shadow figure on the wall at some point in their lives, but few stick around for more than a couple of tries, let alone ever consider paying for the opportunity. Deep Fried Entertainment asks both of players with ShadowPlay, and those who baulk at the idea might miss out on a clever puzzler with a surprisingly fresh premise.
It’s an idea so simple you wonder why it hasn’t been used more often. Players fill in a shape on the wall with the combined shadows of everyday objects like knives, rakes and sporting equipment. Sounds thrilling, no? It’s actually a nice change of pace from all of the match-three and block-falling puzzlers that riddle Nintendo downloadables, even borderline relaxing as the stress of impending screen-filled doom is completely absent.
There’s a timer, sure, but that’s to keep track of your personal bests and doesn’t penalise you for taking too long. Medals (reels, in this case) are ready to be doled out based on how close your shadow is to the target shape, but they have no impact on your progress; if you earn one then hooray, but you’re not required to do so.
Since object manipulation is what the game is all about, it’s nice to see Deep Fried Entertainment go the extra mile to incorporate MotionPlus support to extend the twisting and turning into actual hand movements. It takes a few minutes to get the hang of, but once you do it turns out to be a lot more fun than the more traditional Wii Remote and Nunchuk setup, albeit a little less precise. It’s also nice to have another use for the dongle too, of course.
Some of the puzzles are downright fiendish in their complexity and demand clever placement of objects, so when the stars align and that gold reel pops up you feel like you’ve accomplished something. Match-three and block-falling puzzlers require an instinctual understanding of what goes where to the point of brain autopilot – despite the thrill of conquering the hi-score table, an extended game of Tetris won’t make you feel clever. While ShadowPlay won’t be sending anyone off towards Mensa, you really feel like you’ve earned your keep when a golden reel appears. Younger players will get a kick out of the earlier puzzles but will likely be frustrated as the difficulty ramps up.
With big highs come deep lows, and the lows here can be infuriating. In some cases the criteria for nabbing a gold medal are easy and forgiving, but occasionally the difference between the medals is so minute that you’ll be left scratching your head over which piece needs to get nudged in precisely what way – mostly a problem when you have lots of objects that cast similar shadows or in a particularly complicated construction. And if/when MotionPlus falls out of sync from too much twisting, your movements won’t correspond in the way you would like them to, which can be confusing and ultimately a little frustrating. You can re-sync through the pause menu, but sometimes the idiosyncrasies are enough to swap out the attachment for the Nunchuk.
Still, ShadowPlay does a good job of keeping things fresh by spreading its 100 puzzles across a dozen or so themes, and also mixes things up within those themes (“sea” ranges from fish to trident). There’s also a FreePlay option if you feel like going sandbox-commando (or want to keep your kid entertained) that lets you create whatever shape strikes your fancy – no medals there, but it’s still somewhat satisfying to craft something on your own. It would have been better if players had the option to send their custom FreePlay shadows to friends or upload them online and offer an infinite amount of content.
That isn’t to say you’ll blow through the stock 100 puzzles in an hour or two (since you won’t), but there also isn’t the unlimited replay value of a Tetris since every puzzle has a specific solution. Whether you want to return to the puzzles after already beating them comes down to how badly you want those gold reels and faster times. FreePlay helps some but there is no incentive to keep at it apart from satiating your imagination, which some might find more powerful a draw than others.
ShadowPlay is a nice and relaxing change of pace from your typical puzzler and a game worth spending some time with. It may lack some of the replay value of the genre’s more immediate fare, but there’s enough here to keep both your brain and imagination working for a while. What it really comes down to is how intrigued you are by the concept: aspiring puppeteers will love it, others maybe not so much. There may be a few motion control kinks to get used to, but it’s a solid effort and an idea we’d like to see further expanded upon in the future.