Review by SneakTheSnake

Reviewed: 02/10/11

It's a nice puzzler, granted, but there's nothing truly novel about it to separate it from the pack.

In the same vain as Puzzle Quest and Puzzle Chronicles, the developers of Fading Shadows went about creating a puzzle game leaning on a strong fantasy aesthetic. Though the gameplay (an unusual Marble Madness-type adventure) is fine as it is, and the look and feel of the game are serviceable, there’s nothing truly unique about the game to justify it as a sound purchase.

Fading Shadows works as such: players must navigate a ball through a maze by pressing switches, rolling around banked curves and looming chasms, to make it to an exit. Sounds simple, right? And rather cliche, too? Well, all of this is well and good - and it has been seen in games for well over a decade. The trick to Fading Shadows is that players don’t control the ball directly. Players move and manipulate a beam of light to move the ball where the player wants it to go.

And this is how the game works; a ball-and-chain mechanic of sorts - two things with a tether. Intensifying the beam of light draws the ball toward it more intensely, and widening the beam of light weakens its impact, greatly weakening the ball’s attraction to it. Players can move the beam of light completely away from the ball to either explore the stage or activate special switches which require the light’s focused energy. Manipulating the strength of the light beam is just about the only way to control the ball’s movement, and it’s certainly the most direct.

There are also special plates which change the ball’s state of matter. The wood ball functions a bit differently from the glass one, and these work a bit differently from the metal ball. They don’t pull or attract differently to the light beam, but they do act differently in water and with other obstacles.

It sounds rather superfluous and clunky - that the ball isn’t directly controlled - and, you guessed it, it is rather clunky. The ball controls awkwardly because of the indirect approach; it’s entirely too easy to accidentally slide the ball off corners, even after taking time getting the feel of how the ball is attracted to the light. The beam of light moves entirely too slowly to get the ball through the level in a safe or timely manner, especially since, if the beam lingers over the ball too long when it’s glass or wooden, the ball could be destroyed from the heat and intensity of the light. The ball also “feels” heavier than it looks, and there’s no difference in attraction or movement based on what state of matter the ball is in. Glass ball, metal ball, wooden ball: they’re all bowling balls.

By and large, it was hard to become engaged in the gameplay Fading Shadows provides. If the controls and physics were a bit more forgiving, I would be happy to get myself into this kind of game, though so many similar titles exist on the market. It lacks speed, novel controls, or even a braking system. Super Monkey Ball has most of these, and Marble Madness had most of these - many, many years back.

Since there are no cutscenes, there’s no direct in-game explanation for why the ball isn’t controlled independently of itself. Apparently (and this is from outside research), the ball is an encapsulated soul, and it’s the player’s job to navigate the soul through forty or so levels to prevent an evil lord from obtaining great power to take over the world. The game doesn’t let you in on these tidbits, and there are no contextual clues to go about finding that out. Fading Shadows does provide a few decent puzzles, but the lack of exposition and context makes the game feel like it’s trying to tell a story - trying to engage the player emotionally - but simply couldn’t do it. The levels, therefore, feel completely disjointed. It’s not jarring, but it could turn some off.

The game looks and sounds quite good. I enjoy the fantasy aesthetic of Fading Shadows, for what it’s worth; the 2D illustrations bookending the game are fine, and the in-game graphics, quite somber in design, are of high technical quality. Again, it reminds me a lot of Puzzle Quest, another puzzle game with leaning on an ubiquitous, and rather generic, fantasy setting. The music and sounds accompany the game appropriately; the orchestrated music does its job in pulling the players into the feeling of a lonely, desperate world.

Except for its look - which might lure players into thinking this was an action-RPG or strategy title - Fading Shadows brings little new to the table. The marble-rolling game type has been around since time and memorial and, face it, it’s hard to bring something new to that. Kudos to the developers for trying. There’s nothing inherently poorly executed about Fading Shadows; there’s just very little to it. Lumines, Exit, and various others are puzzle games on the PSP which work with tried-and-true formulas and tweak them just enough to make them stand out. Fading Shadows doesn’t; only the most ardent fantasy fans or puzzle game hunters need apply.

Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Product Release: Fading Shadows (US, 07/03/08)

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