For the most part, the concept behind a puzzle game is extraordinarily simple. This genre isn’t exactly well known for its great stories – and besides, who needs ‘em? – but don’t tell that to Agetec and Ivolgamus. There are already plenty of excellent puzzlers on the PSP, but Fading Shadows is another promising title that exhibits an imaginative trait that most puzzle games never bother to acquire. You may think that just because you’re a fan of this particular category that you’ve seen it all, and you know what to expect. But you’d be wrong in this particular case: even though Shadows kinda reminds us of past titles like Marble Madness, you’ve probably never seen a “marble” like this before, and without any doubt, PSP owners should have a game that will sate their desire for puzzling goodness when on the move. Portable gaming gets even better with the addition of addictive entertainment, and not much is more addictive than a good puzzle title, right?
We’ll start with the premise, because it really is quite unique: A brother and sister, Erwyn and Aira, are plenty happy and aren’t expecting any foul play. But Master Gardal is a seriously evil entity, and he captures Erwyn and tosses him into the depths of hell for eventual sacrifice. We’re not sure why Gardal does this – it seems like a random act of cruelty to us – but he underestimates Aira’s determination to save her brother. She sets out to save Erwyn, and…well, at this point, you probably find this to be a fairly clichéd story. But here’s where it gets interesting- in order for Aira to complete her rescue, she must seal Erwyn’s soul in a special orb, and then guide him out of hell, directing the rolling sphere with a magical beam of light. She and her roly-poly brother will have to maneuver through 50 intimidating levels, and the duo must conquer every last one if they wish to escape Gardal’s clutches. Not surprisingly, it’s gonna get harder as you go, so only clever perseverance and skillful dexterity will win the day.
The levels you will face should vary drastically, from pleasant, picturesque scenes of meadows, lakes and windmills to fire and brimstone around every corner. Now, about that magical beam of light for movement- it’s the crux of the gameplay, and it will require that you have a delicate touch with its reach and power. The orb will gravitate towards the beam like metal to a magnet, and it will move faster depending on how wide or narrow you make the column of light. For example, you press X to concentrate the effectiveness of the beam; it will shrink and become very thin – yet very strong – causing the ball to roll towards Aira even from great distances. Pressing Square creates a wider albeit weaker beam, which means the ball has to be very close by. It’s a little difficult to explain, but you have to fiddle with the X and Square buttons to get just the right amount of “attractiveness” between the orb and the beam, thereby allowing you to correctly traverse the tricky environment. We imagine this is something that’s going to take some practice to master, like any good puzzle game.
Oh, but it gets better. As you progress through the levels, you will actually get the opportunity to change the constitution of the orb. If you head to certain locations on the map, you can switch between metal, wood and glass, and if you hadn’t already guessed, you’ll have to choose the only correct option for certain puzzles. Glass is the most fragile of the three, but it’s also the only one that can actually reflect light…how this corresponds to your beam of light is a little confusing; it may not impact the control scheme at all. Maybe it’s just for reflecting other things in the environment, or something. Anyway, the metal is heavy and capable of withstanding a lot of abuse while the wooden one is the lightest of the trio and can float on water (that ought be handy). We can already conceive of the puzzles we’ll find in this game, and we get the sneaking suspicion it’s gonna take some serious brain power to pass the later levels. If you’re wondering about how you fail or “die,” this can occur when the orb sustains too much damage and shatters. Your poor brother’s soul is no more and one life is gone.
In order to keep an eye on the ball’s “health,” you have to refer to rings that appear around the orb along with the HUD. If the orb suffers a bit, you will be able to see the change in its condition in real-time, which means you can’t just focus on the task at hand. Most puzzlers require you to place all of your attention on the conundrum before you, but if you’re not careful, it’s the end of the line for Erwyn and Aira. We wonder if you can actually “heal” the orb by running across health pickups of some kind, because that could be extremely helpful. But even if no such option exists, you will be able to see how many extra lives you have; it’s related to the number of diamonds in your inventory. 10 diamonds equals 1 life, so it’s obviously quite important to collect as many shiny stones as possible. And finally, if you want to give it a try with a friend, the game will offer a head-to-head mode that will set the two of you against each other in a time trial of sorts. Whoever finishes the level fastest wins. However, before challenging a buddy, we strongly suggest you get a firm grasp on the gameplay because this could take some getting used to. We’re certainly not complaining, though; originality is a good thing.
Fading Shadows is scheduled to hit stores in July, and it should be one heck of a unique puzzle game. We’ll keep an eye out for this one!
5/22/2008 Ben Dutka