A puzzle game with a meaningful plot?
Just when you thought you had seen it all along comes Agetec’s latest PSP title Fading Shadows. Not quite an RPG and yet not quite a puzzle game this curious mix of Marble Madness meets dungeon crawling could be one of the most unique experiences on Sony’s portable machine. Taking a step outside of the conventional realm of puzzle games developer Ivolgamus has created a title so peculiar it nearly defines its own genre.
You guide a beam of light that directs a small ball through a series of levels filled with traps and obstacles much like any other game of this type. The catch here though is that the ball you are guiding is actually filled with the soul of the main character as you guide it through the 50 levels throughout the trenches of hell, definitely not your average puzzle game.
The premise behind the game is also the most promising aspect. You use a beam of light to guide a small orb around the screen all while avoiding deadly obstacles. Sounds simple in theory, but what makes the game so unique is that the gravitational pull of the beam is actually affected by the radius of the beam itself. Close tightly and the orb moves more methodically, spread it out and things become more hectic. The physics are actually spot on and create a new challenge on how to solve the assorted puzzles.
Your orb can also take on the form of various elements such as wood, metal and glass, all of which also affect the movement and physics. Just like in real life wood burns faster but can float on water. The glass orb can withstand more heat but is prone to smashing if slammed too hard into walls. Finally the metal orb can jump short distances and is unaffected by heat, but it will rust if you leave it in the water too long. Finding the right combination of orb properties and beam adjustment are key to solving the game’s clever puzzles all while keeping the player interested and feeling rewarded for figuring out the correct patterns.
In another interesting twist of genres Fading Shadows manages to put meaning behind all of this marble madness with a plot well-suited for the next blockbuster trilogy. You play a boy with a soul so pure it can only be used to open the gates to the Castle of Heaven by being sacrificed. After being captured by the villain your sister arrives and transforms your soul into a tear, which then morphs into the orb as she sets out to guide you back to the Castle of Heaven. This gives sense to the idea of guiding a marble with a beam of light while adding some entertaining back story to the mix. The fact that the game contains a story at all is amazing, and when you factor in the idea that it feels like someone put an ample amount of thought into the plot it becomes more evident how dedicated the folks at Ivolgamus are to their profession.
Controlling your orb through the well-designed levels actually works no matter which control you prefer. You can guide your orb throughout each level with either the analog nub or d-pad and both work remarkably well. You tap the X button to expand and contract the beam of light while the camera operates on a semi-automatic mindset which works as well as can be expected. You can turn the perspective with the left and right shoulder buttons, but it still feels limited in execution.
What is sadly missing from the mix though is the ability to zoom in and out of the action. Some of the puzzles are made overly complex thanks to poor viewing angles. Even with these minor annoyances aside Fading Shadows is one of the most clever and well-designed games to grace the PSP in a long time. Outside of the single-player game (which should last you quite some time) there is an ad-hoc multi-player mode featuring ten levels for players to race through. While a nice addition it really feels more tacked on than anything else.
Visually the game combines some great art direction and level design with a gothic overtone fitting for the mood of the game. The levels vary nicely considering there are fifty of them and even with their limited scope, contain a considerable amount of detail. The audio contains some soothing tracks that remind me of a Pure Moods CD mixed with subtle effects that only arise when necessary. The overall package sets the mood perfectly for the mind-bending challenges within the game.