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We have a quest to review every 79p game that comes out on the Xbox Store. As quests go, it’s hardly noble or heroic: no-one’s going to be getting a medal for it. But sometimes it can feel like we deserve one. Case in point, Shadoworld: The Impossible Escape Game.
Initial reactions to Shadoworld: The Impossible Escape Game are positive. It’s a sizable little game, with seventy levels across seven worlds. We don’t need to touch a calculator to know that’s roughly a penny per level, and there are few games that can claim that.
It doesn’t look particularly bad, either. Some of these 79p games are artistic tragedies, sketched in Paint by a dog with a mouse between its teeth. But Shadoworld: The Impossible Escape Game wisely uses its gloomy aesthetic to hide its rough edges. It’s not going to win second-place in a beauty contest, but it’s also above-par for the average 79p game.
The opening levels do a job, too. Up to roughly level twenty, there’s a simplicity that keeps things progressing. You are a black blob with wide eyes, a goomba in silhouette, looking to find three stars so that you can hop through a swirling portal. The initial levels go through the motions, as spikes are introduced, then TNT barrels and spinning blades, and – sure – there isn’t even the tiniest morsel of innovation. But it works, and it’s possible to find dozens of levels have passed you by without really engaging a brain cell.
It’s a shrug of a start, but it’s inoffensive all the same. Yet, it’s a red herring. Oh boy, do things get offensive.
Shadoworld: The Impossible Escape Game has a crippling save bug. We think we’ve figured out what’s causing it: if you quit (and you will rage-quit, oh yes, you will), rather than return to the game’s menu, then your progress won’t be saved. So, turn off your Xbox or switch to another game, and you will be repeating everything since your last save. Which is a bugger, of course. It’s the reason behind us taking a couple of months to review a game that should have been done in an evening. Simply put, we couldn’t face replaying large sections of Shadoworld: The Impossible Escape Game.
Why’s it so bad? Once the difficulty starts increasing, the faultlines appear, and you could park a bus between them. Firstly, there’s a case of crippling collision detection. Snag a pixel on a twirling blade and you will die, returning you to the start of the level with no progress made. This might not have been a problem, but Shadoworld: The Impossible Escape Game then constructs levels where there is almost no leeway in the jumps you are trying to make. Every single leap has to be pixel perfect for you to unlock the next level.
Again, this might not have been a problem if the levels were interesting or fun, but they’re dire. They are simplistic constructions that our three-year old could have made with DUPLO. The same level pieces get wheeled out multiple times over the course of the campaign, and any spark of interest is extinguished by level twenty. There’s no reward in finally completing a level that only consisted of a few blocks and some spikes.
Some levels are less into spikes, and more interested in TNT barrels. They are also the least satisfying of Shadoworld: The Impossible Escape Game’s levels. Each barrel has a different effect, so these sections are less about platforming and more about memory, as you choose the right order of barrels to nudge. Why the TNT doesn’t destroy our little goomba, and why they blow up far-flung parts of the level we don’t know, but they’re more infuriating than they are enthralling. It’s a simple game of trial-and-error, yet Shadoworld: The Impossible Escape Game keeps persisting with them.
But the real kicker, the flaw that gets stuck in our throat and no amount of Heimliching will get out, is that luck plays such a large part in Shadoworld: The Impossible Escape Game. Undoubtedly, it’s not luck: we will have pressed the jump button a millisecond too early, or positioned ourselves a pixel away from the ideal jumping-pixel. But it certainly feels like luck, because Shadoworld: The Impossible Escape Game is determined to dally with fine margins.
In one level, we had to jump to a platform above us. Simple, and not exactly demanding. But out of the hundred times we attempted this jump – and that hundred is lowballing it – we successfully reached the platform once. Once! We didn’t do anything different that one time: we just happened upon the exact timing and positioning that was needed to get there. Did it feel satisfying and rewarding? No. Did we ever want to play the level again? No. But we had to, as Shadoworld: The Impossible Escape Game didn’t save once we turned the Xbox off. You could hear the primal scream from a couple of counties away.
Say ‘Shadoworld: The Impossible Escape Game’ to us, and an involuntary facial tic will spasm across our face. This is not a game to play if you value your time or sanity. It is a broken, masochistic little platformer that can’t even tuck some achievements in our belt by way of an apology. It’s certainly impossible, and it dearly made us want to escape.
You can buy Shadoworld: The Impossible Escape Game from the Xbox Store