No matter how you look at it, the Wii saw a massive resurgence of a certain genre of games: side-scrolling platformers. New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Wario Land: The Shake Dimension are both obvious choices, since they are essentially 2D like the games that made genre popular in the Eighties and Nineties. WiiWare also played house to a good amount of 2D platformers. The "back to basics" approach of the Wii Remote itself when held on its side, as taunted by Nintendo in the early days of the console, may have indeed encouraged the production of more of these types of games, with the promise that these would prove themselves successful if all those people who shied away from games in the mid '90s, when controllers started to become more complicated, were to hop on-board the video-game wagon again thanks to the simple Wii controls. Not all of the games in this new batch of side-scrolling adventures were completely 2D, and there have been some so-called 2.5D games as well, with Klonoa: Door to Phantomile (a remake of the PS1 classic) being the prime example of this. A Shadow's Tale, better known to our North-American readers as Lost in Shadows, takes things an extra step further by playing around with the 2D play-field in a very original way. Read on to learn more.
As implied in the game's title, A Shadow's Tale tells the story of a shadow. That of a young boy, to be precise. The game loses no time in long cinematics or scenes of dialogue to set the story and opens on a short CG movie showing a young boy trapped in some sort of stone monument on top of a tower, enshrouded in magic, and some masked critter stripping him of his shadow and throwing it down from the 100th floor, without any further explanation. This sets a eerie tone that doesn't disappear before the game ends. Then the adventure starts as the shadow wakes up outside the tower, unable to remember who he is. He must then climb back to the top of the tower, collecting fragments of his own memory along the way. This is the game's way of developing the story as progress is made, but not the only way. Interestingly, collecting memories add to the "weight" of the shadow, which in turn act as its maximum of health points. The maximum weight, once the shadow has all of his memories back, reaches 21 grams... A very symbolic number indeed. Gathering memories affects the ending of the game, since how much collected in turn has an effect on how much of the story is known, so looking for them will be imperative to fully enjoy every aspect of the game.
The peculiar aspect to it is obviously how the character moves. Being a shadow, it can't move along the solid scenery, but rather along the edges of the shadows they cast from the light they are being exposed to. This alone makes the game original enough that it should get your attention if you like original concepts in games.
This is really well done too, since a small fairy accompanying the shadow from the start allows to magically move some of the elements of the scenery so that the shadows cast will change shape and size, adding an important puzzle factor to the adventure. So much, in fact, that smaller levels, called Shadow Corridors, have their entrance block the way for the hero inside the tower and have to be cleared in order to go forward. These are essentially puzzle mini-games, where a piece of scenery must be rotated around so that the shadows it casts are transformed, allowing the Shadow to reach the exit and go back to the normal world. However, altering the shadows cast in these levels can lead to the hero being crushed by the shape-shifting shadowy scenery.
The tower is split into individual floors that the shadow will need to travel through, solving more and more complex puzzles and battling ever stronger foes along the way. Indeed, the tower is inhabited by shadows of monsters hampering his progress. Thankfully, early on, the little character picks up the shadow of a sword (a hero with a sword and a fairy? Nah, it can only be a coincidence). A couple better blades are found along the way as well and, to make things yet more intricate, defeating foes rewards him with experience points. Levelling up the protagonist merely makes him stronger, but this little RPG element is a welcomed addition that makes things that extra bit more complicated than in a typical side-scroller.
However, speaking of side-scrolling, even though most of the game is spent travelling along the shadows of objects, the game also lets you incarnate a body of light that can travel in the physical world and interact with it for a short period of time, making the whole experience even more intricate and allowing for even more puzzles. Unfortunately, this comes quite late into the game and the possibilities it opened aren't quite as thoroughly explored as one would wish after this new ability is uncovered.
The fact that the protagonist gathers a (fairly small) amount of new capabilities along the way means that there will be inaccessible stuff encountered as he climbs to the top of the tower, which will have to be gone back to later to be collected, namely memories, enforcing quite a bit of exploration, making things a bit less linear. Fortunately, anything that has to be gone back to in order to be collected will be marked on a basic map of the tower, its basement and its direct surroundings, with flashing dots telling where to go.
The very minimal titbits of story give off an eerie feeling to the experience, which is in line with the artistic direction of the game. A Shadow's Tale has been compared to Ico on PlayStation 2, because of how it looks and sounds. However, both are quite different experiences beyond the overall atmosphere. The game looks quite good when considering how it plays with light sources to form shadows, which isn't something often seen on Wii. The overall scenery remains very basic though, and a lot of the actual physical elements get reused quite often.
However, this will only be noticeable to the most attentive eye, because level and art designs counterbalance this quite well. The music is both mesmerising and enchanting. It's not particularly memorable, but does the job of further enhancing the atmosphere the game already set with the other aforementioned elements.
The difficulty remains quite low for the first half of the game, allowing the more casual players enough time to fully grasp the controls, which make use of both the Nunchuk and Wii Remote, the latter for pointing at the screen with the fairy to interact with elements in the physical world. The gentle learning curve may lead to the more seasoned player to drop out of the experience before it really starts becoming interesting though, so we can only recommend that those people hang in there until the experience really starts to hook them, because it's highly likely of doing so.
At the end of the day, A Shadow's Tale is a rather unique experience, and certainly one of the most interesting takes on the side-scrolling genre on the Wii. Some of its gameplay elements could have been further exploited and experimented with to make for a longer and even more interesting title, however it seems that lack of resources from the then dying Hudson Soft meant that this was not to be... This is somewhat felt through its lack of some additional titbits that would enlighten greater production values, such as voice acting, at least for the fairy. In light of this, it's surprising that such an original concept still managed to secure a worldwide release while maintaining a quite balanced quality throughout.
While perhaps not a ground-breaking addition to the Wii library, A Shadow's Tale had the potential to be more than what it ended up being. Nevertheless, what was given is still quite a good experience that will delight Wii owners craving for an original concept that strives to convey a unique atmosphere to its players through a well designed soundtrack and visual style. Don't look for a deep and involving experience in A Shadow's Tale but rather...a magical tale of a shadow that reminds of Peter Pan's, searching for his memories and discovering the purpose of its disembodiment. The developers of Kororinpa succeeded in conveying what they were aiming to provide in terms of an experience, and that has to be commended. It gives a feeling of "independently developed" software, but coming from a studio that, at the time, belonged to a well established developer, the now defunct "Hudson Soft." The game at hand is certainly part of the wide array of under-appreciated titles released for the Wii, and is highly worthy of anyone's attention.
Would be a great wii u e shop game
Got a point there, might be a good candidate for a re-release on the WIi U eShop as you say to get a more exposure for it.