Two recent Xbox Live Arcade games for the Xbox 360 each put their own spin on an established genre. Where “Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet” offers its own take on a style of game dating to 1987’s “Metroid,” “Trenched” interprets a newer variety.
In the exploration-focused “Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet,” one minute you’re a perfectly happy alien hanging around in your observatory, and the next a spiky blob of interstellar evil has transformed your sun into a huge, inky world teeming with bizarre creatures.
“ITSP” has a stark visual aesthetic, with mostly black terrain, objects and creatures accented by bright primary colors. The visual design feels like a mixture of the similarly striking “Patapon” games, last year’s eerie, dreary “Limbo” and the work of film director Tim Burton — the shadow planet is a weird place full of strange things, from giant burrowing spider creatures and blindly groping tentacles to clusters of eyeballs and teeth and giant hulks of semi-organic machinery.
The alien hero pilots a flying saucer directly into the shadow planet — in control of this vessel, you’ll explore this strange world’s depths and defeat its denizens. Each of the game’s areas is littered with upgrades for the ship and bonus items for you to collect.
Many of these items are out of reach when the game starts — the saucer is unarmed and carries no tools other than a scanner.
But this little ship is adaptable, and its pilot will soon find a variety of helpful attachments — a laser gun, an energy shield, a buzzsaw blade for cutting through loose rocks, and a robot arm, among others. The arm is especially versatile— it can be used to pick up objects dismantle hostile machines or keep the saucer from being swept away by air and water currents.
There are many obstacles and enemies to overcome, many requiring a specific attachment to defeat. Large areas of the game are blocked off until you’ve found the right item to progress further, echoing the likes of many “Metroid” and “Castlevania” games, as well as 2009’s “Shadow Complex.”
What makes “Trenched” a bit different is how it plops you down in the thick of things. Other tower defense games have had players control an onscreen character, even had them attack, but this one puts you in a large walking tank called a Mobile Trench, backing up your defensive emplacements directly as you fend off the attacks of technological horrors called Monovisions (a mad scientist created them from advanced TV technology).
The Mobile Trenches can be customized with various legs, chassis and weapons, from machine guns to flak cannons to sniper rifles — even artillery cannons for the heaviest frame. They can also carry up to four kinds of emplacements that can be installed on the battlefield — these can be offensive, such as shotgun turrets, mortars and flak turrets; or defensive, such as a dampening field that slows approaching Monovisions, or a minelayer that sets up traps.
The effective combinations of weapons and emplacements change with each mission as different kinds of Monovisions attack — some fly, others head straight for your Trench, still others are heavily armored or simply huge and tough.
It’s a fun, frantic balancing act to take them all out — and up to four players can team up online.