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Review #207

Fading Shadows
Developer: Ivolgamus
Publisher: Agetec
Genre: Puzzle
Release Date: 8/28/2008

Well, never let it be said that we here at Diehard GameFAN don’t give a lot of attention to the under the radar games. To be honest I’ve never heard of Ivolgamus until Agetec decided to bring over two of their titles to the US.

I’m pretty much a sucker for Agetec games as they’ve brought to America titles I love like Board Game Top Shop, RPG Maker, Echo Night and Clock Tower. I’m also deficient in any sort of puzzle games for my PSP save for Lumines which I don’t really play per say…

So Agetc + puzzle game equals an “I’ll review it!” response from me. After all the last puzzle game of theirs that I picked up was Puzzle Star Sweep and I adored it. Plus the fact the review copy came with a bag of marbles (something I’ve actually never played before) was a cute little marketing gimmick.

So how was Fading Shadows? Was it another quality title brought over by Agetec, or did this one fall under the category of Shadow Tower?

Let’s Review

1. Story/Modes

Normally puzzle games don’t have a story, although Fading Shadows tries to. Well, at least the manual does. The game has a few wordless, textless images to act as cut scenes between the sections of the game, but without the manual, you’d have no context for what they mean. So, for the sake of clarity here is the plot:

There is an evil bad guy named Master Gardal who wishes to take over the Castle of Heaven, which is the supreme outpost of good in this fantasy setting. However the only way for Gardal to do so is to sacrifice a child named Erwyn. So Gardal, and his evil minions Quiph and Morg kidnap Erqyn and are prepared to slaughter him like a goat when Erwyn’s sister, Aira, steps in.

Aira transports Erwyn’s soul into a teardrop and then seals the tear into a magical orb. Use her telepathic powers which manifest as a beam of light that has a magnetic like pull to the orb, Aira must guide the orb through forty levels of traps, labyrinths and puzzles in order to set Erwyn free.

Well, it’s not Shakespeare and it’s pretty convoluted, but at least they tried to give an explanation for why you are guiding a Marble through all these strange locations. That has to count for something.

There are only three modes in Fading Shadows. The first is 1P mode, which is a linear 40 level challenge. Multiplayer Mode is a one on one competition to see who can get through a maze first. As both people need a copy of Fading Shadows to play any of the ten levels, it was really hard to find anyone else playing this game as it had yet to be released to the general public. I finally connected with some Britons after a dozen or so attempts, although the game did drop twice due to synchronization issues.

Finally there is Picture Puzzle Mode. Most of the mazes have a puzzle piece you can collect in them. When you collect all the pieces of an image you can view a piece of artwork for the game.

Really, the game is pretty bare bones compared to a lot of other puzzle games that have come out recently. The story is unnecessary, but it’s a nice effort, and although the game’s options are pretty vacant, they are fun. Thumbs in the middle here.

Story/Modes Rating: 5/10

2. Graphics

Fading Shadows is a really pretty game. The pieces of art that you can unlock, as well as the pieces used at cut scenes are fantastic. The levels has an amazing amount of detail considering how large the levels are and how tiny things have to be on this portable screen. One of my favorite effects is watching your orb go into and out of water and seeing the little droplets come off it.

The visuals here are extremely detailed and really nice to look at. More than once I was just studying the graphics only to find I had burned my bloody wooden orb because of my gawking. Whether you are in a castle or up in the mountains, having to plow through flickering flames, or plunge your orb into a pool of crystal clear water, Fading Shadows is one of the prettiest games I’ve seen for the PSP. Even a friend of mine who is a huge graphics aficionado was watching me play the game and he was like, “Wow, that is a really nice looking game.” Not bad for an indie developer and an indie publisher, eh?

If you’re looking for some quality human models or a lot of realistic gore or splatter, look elsewhere. If you’re into high quality backgrounds and subtle visual bits that will leave you highly impresses, then this is probably the game for you.

Graphics Rating: 9/10

3. Sound

To be honest the musical aspects of Fading Shadows were not for me. Because the game is pretty intense, I had to tune out the music or mute the game when I hit Level 20. Occasionally I would turn the music on for the purposes of this review, but it was always the same sort of tune you’d hear more at a Ren Fest then in a puzzle game. It was decently written, but it just didn’t jibe with the genre of the game and worst of all, it was distracting.

The sound effects however, were fantastic. The cracking of the glass orb when it finally broke was a favorite of mine to hear, even if I hated having to hear it. Everything was a nice mix between realistic noises, and something you’d hear out of a similar game like Marble Madness.

Thankfully you can mute the music without muting the sound effects. This is the best recommendation I can give you hear, as the effects are something you don’t want to miss but the music will become a source of irritation as soon as you pass the first ten levels.

Sound Rating: 5/10

4. Control and Gameplay

Games like Marble Madness or Arkanoid used to use a ball shaped controller in the arcades. These days, we don’t have that (Unless you import the Arkanoid controller from Japan, and that is for the DS only), so we have to make do with the analog stick built into your PSP.

The game handles pretty well. You control the orb via the beam of light. When I first heard about this I was imagining the light acting as a horizontal sort of ballast, but in fact it’s a vertical stream of light ushering from the heavens that acts as a magnet of sorts. The tighter the beam the faster the orb the orb will follow you, but the harder it is to control. When the beam is wide, the orb will sluggishly follow you, but it’s less like to fly off a curve or go careening into a pit of fire. The controls are well done, but I can’t deny the orb is exceedingly hard to control at time. Level 11 was the hardest in the entire game for me, and it was a combination of needing to switch the degree of the beam quickly combined with my relative inexperience with the game.

There are three forms the orb can take. The first is metallic, which is my favorite because unlike all the others, it can’t be burned by your beam of light. Yes that’s right. The very thing you use to guide the orb to safety can slowly kill it outside of its normal form. Ouch. As well, this form of the orb can jump and even double jump up stairs and other obstacles. The only downside to this orb is that it takes damage from water.

The second form of the orb is Wooden. This orb can float in water and takes no damage from it, but it easily burns up from fire or the beam of light. I HATE this form.

The final form is Glass. A glass orb can’t float, but it isn’t damage by water. If it collides with something though, it will break, so you have to be pretty careful with it. This version can regenerate damage, which is nice, but it too takes damage from the beam of light, which isn’t so nice.

That’s pretty much the game. You use the various forms of the orbs to reach the goal of the level. You can collect puzzle pieces and gems along the way. We’ve already talked about puzzles pieces, but gems are nice as you get an extra life for every ten gems you collect. Trust me when I say you will want every last one of them in order to keep the odds of survival in your favour. Every ten levels, you get a series of still arts works meant to advance the plot, and then the next set of ten levels are dramatically higher in difficulty then the last.

Although I hated the game at times for its controls, it was far more my own inadequacies with the analog stick then it was an issue with the game itself. The controls will always require a great deal of micromanaging and intense minute maneuvers, so it’s hard to play on the go or with something else in the background as handhelds are meant to be used, but if you’re in a quiet environment without distractions, you’ll find Fading Shadows to be very solid indeed.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 7/10

5. Replayability

Because the main game is exceptionally linear, there’s not much of a reason to go back and play it again unless you really loved the game. There are no unlockables or extra difficulty settings. I suppose you could go back and collect any puzzle pieces you missed, but the game lets you view the artwork briefly as it is, so this isn’t really an incentive to play the game again either.

Multiplayer is the only real option to keep playing the game, and even then it’s hit or miss. It’s a matter of finding someone who has the game who is online at the same time you are and then getting enough enjoyment out of multiplayer mode to repeatedly play the game. I’m pretty skeptical of either.

Like an Adventure game, Fading Shadows just doesn’t have enough meat to really make gamers want to come back to it time and time again. It’s a pretty fun and engaging one-shot, but after that, it’s probably best as trade-in fodder. At least there are some options for those of you who really fall in love with this game.

Replayability Rating: 4/10

6. Balance

There’s definitely some balance issues with the game. The first ten levels are exceptionally easy. The next ten? A LOT harder! The next ten after that? Actually, it’s a drop down. The last ten? Hello SNK End Boss Syndrome – ten times in a row!

I also have an issue with the fact your own means of guiding the orb slowly kills two of the three forms it can take. Let’s look at level 11 where you have to steer a wooden version of the orb onto four stones in a particular order. With each correct stone hit, the game pauses, changes camera angles and shows you a piece blocking the exit falling away. However, the game is still going on while this little shunt occurs, meaning your ball will go directly UNDER your ray of light, ensuring it is taking maximum damage. Do this four times and you are LUCKY if your ball survives. The rest of the level before all that? A cakewalk compared to this suicide run.

A lot of the levels are far longer then they needed to be and as such, you’ll be rolling and backtracking more then you are playing. I realize this was to give a bit of length to the game, but artificial length is no substitute for quality.

The game is still fun, but it’s jaw dropping how much the pendulum of difficulty swings from one direction to the next instead of a gradual increase.

Balance Rating: 5.5/10

7. Originality

I think we can all think of classic games where you controlled a ball and tried to get it through a maze. However, none are really like this one. The puzzles here are quite unique and well designed, at least in level layout if not balance. I really haven’t played a puzzle game like this in a long time. Still, for 1200 Xbox Live Points you can get Marble Blast Ultra and Switchball which are similar enough to this game, but lacking the portability.

I like the idea of putting a story to a puzzle game and there are some new ideas contained within Fading Shadows, but it really doesn’t bring anything truly new to the table. It is nice to see another quality Puzzle game for the PSP though.

Originality Rating: 5/10

8. Addictiveness

Ignoring the difficulty and my general suckiness at a few levels of the game, I was pretty into the game. Generally I don’t play video games when hanging out with friends, but I was bound and determined to get past a few levels in this game. Screw you Emeril Green! I needed to save this confounded orb!

I was sucked into the game, although exceptionally lengthy levels and some weird shifts in level difficulty turned me off at times. I managed to have fun with Fading Shadows , but with no reason to come back to it, my enthusiasm for picking it up again, just isn’t there.

Addictiveness Rating: 6.5/10

9. Appeal Factor

Fading Shadows can be quite difficult at time, so it’s hard to imagine anyone but the extreme puzzle fan enjoying this. It’s not really for the Puzzle Bobble or Tetris crowd.

As well, Agetec has chosen to make this a Gamestop exclusive, which I know has put off at least a few people that were otherwise going to buy it. I wasn’t one of them, as I have a Gamestop in Fairfax that I find to be very reliable, but nonetheless, this remains a sticking point for a few gamers.

This is also a niche game being put out by a smaller but highly respected (at least by me) publisher, so hopefully word of mouth and message boards will spread knowledge of this game’s existence. It’s received some critical acclaim in Europe, but lackluster sales, so let’s hope it fares better over here. For those that like puzzles, this might be one of your better games this year. I know I’ll be lending out my copy to a friend who is a HUGE Switchball addict. Who knows? Maybe it will convince him to buy a copy.

Appeal Factor: 4/10

10. Miuscellaneous

Fading Shadows is the first game from Lithuanian publisher Ivolgamus. For a first ever attempt, this is an amazing game. Especially for a PSP title. Yes, it is a bit bare bones and it lacks some replay value, but I’m really happy to see some games from Eastern Europe making it to America. Pathologic is one of my favorite games of all time storywise, and I was ecstatic when it was finally released for US audiences earlier this year thanks to Gamer’s Gate. Fading Shadows is fun, somewhat original, very challenging at times,. But overall a nice addition to anyone’s PSP collection. Again, it’s supporting these first time developers that can make or break them, and there is a LOT of promise with Ivolgamus. I’m really looking forward to their next title, which is Falling Stars for the PS2.

It’s going to be hard to fine, but hardcore puzzle gamers will certainly have a lot of fun with this one

Miscellaneous Rating: 7/10

The Scores
Story: 5/10
Graphics: 9/10
Sound: 5/10
Control and Gameplay: 7/10
Replayability: 4/10
Balance: 5.5/10
Originality: 5/10
Addictiveness: 6.5/10
Appeal Factor: 4/10
Miscellaneous: 7/10
TOTAL SCORE: 58
FINAL SCORE: 6.0 (ABOVE AVERAGE GAME)

Short Attention Span Summary

Although not for everyone, Fading Shadows helps to fill out the puzzle genre for the PSP. There are some interesting ideas here, and some levels that are a great deal of fun, but in the end, you’re probably going to have to be a big fan of game like Marble Madness before you invest $30 into this purchase.

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