Since this has been a terrible summer for blockbuster games, let's go see what's available on Xbox Live. If you don't know, you can download great (or mediocre) little games from Xbox Live for $10-$15.
The buzz title on Xbox Live now is "Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet," a splendidly artistic side-scrolling adventure that seems easy at first, but becomes really quite challenging.
The setting: A foreign planet has been taken over by a Byzantine structure of alien tunnels. You fly an umbrella-shaped spaceship through these tunnels, dodging and shooting evil aliens, mean fish and spiky things.
Think of it this way. Imagine flying a mechanical microbe through the upper intestines of a cow, while spiky things attack you with weapons, exploding snowflakes and jellyfish. It's like that.
The action-imagery was created by game architects Michel Gagne and Joe Olson, and it's reminiscent of "Limbo" and Sony's excellent "Patapon" series.
That is, background colors are hues of purple, violet and gold. Most structures -- cliffs and bridges -- appear in black-black shadows.
This gives "Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet" surreal environments of land, sea, ice land and a factory.
Your job is to fly this umbrella spaceship and to kill. But the other half of the game is solving puzzles. So in one level, you must use deductive reasoning, and trial and error, to:
A) Use a hook to place rocks on suction grates to stop water from flowing; B) then fire missiles at gate locks; C) then use a buzz saw to open a water main; D) then use your hook to open a different valve; E) then go back and unblock those first water suctions; F) and those actions will open a passageway to the next level.
Confused? I was. This is not a foray for the easily perturbed.
Unfortunately, there are a few problems. I got stuck for an hour -- an hour! -- because the entrance into the "Ocean Zone" is badly marked.
I went on YouTube and watched a gamer named IFreeMz record his walkthrough of the agonizing portion in question. When he finally realized where the "Ocean Zone" entrance was, he exclaimed, "Oh my God, I'm gonna kill somebody!" Funny. I said the exact same thing.
Also, the game's mapping system stinks, making me lost often. There's too much backtracking, where you spend 10 minutes flying all the way to the east to pick up some item, then fly 10 minutes back west to use it.
A few times, checkpoints didn't work, so when I died, I was resurrected at the wrong checkpoint. Every guided-missile area is designed to be idiotic. And the lightless level near the end is moronic.
But this has been a heinous season for gaming, so "Insanely Twisted" ranks as one of the best of summer, because it's 85 percent brilliant, and only 15 percent irritating. So if you're as hard up for a good game as I am, here you go.
("Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet" by Microsoft Studios retails for $15 for Xbox Live -- Plays 85 percent brilliant and 15 percent irritating. Looks great. Challenging. Rated "E" for mild fantasy violence. Three and one-half stars out of four.)
Contact Doug Elfman at firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.