Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios / Developer: Fuelcell Games, Gange International / Platform: XBLA

Shadow Hunters is a new multiplayer co-op mode for Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet (see our previous review here) that allows for up to four players to play online or locally (or a combination of both). The DLC add-on is an attempt at creating a new mode that functions a middle-ground between the existing co-op mode—a linear gauntlet called Lantern Run—and the more exploration-based elements of the campaign mode. I think they’ve succeeded at creating a fairly even balance between the two modes, but does that mean that people who only liked one mode and not the other will all enjoy this mode equally…or hate it equally?

Shadow Hunters begins with an animated sequence that picks up right where the end of the campaign mode left off. Their planet safe, our little alien friends go about trying to push the Shadow Entity even further back, starting with a nearby asteroid belt that has been infected. While the animated sequence does launch every time you start a game, it’s thankfully not unskippable.

The game mode itself is essentially a variation on Lantern Run, except that everyone is escorting one large lantern, rather than several smaller ones. The lantern itself is actually a bomb, which you’re dragging into the center of the asteroid in order to destroy the bit of Shadow Entity that inhabits it. The catch is that the bomb has a timer. You can recharge the timer by dragging the bomb into glowing yellow spheres, which disappear once used up, but the timer can also be depleted faster if you allow enemies to run into it.

Each asteroid is like a mini campaign mode area, containing a series of tunnels that lead to bomb recharge spheres, respawn points, and power-ups. When you start the game, you only have a blaster and the grab tool, and must seek out power-ups in order to gain additional weapons. Some weapons involve solving a mini “puzzle,” but there are also many side rooms with short battles that lead to additional shields, a bit of recharge time for your bomb, and even power-ups for the bomb itself.

Once you travel to the center of the asteroid, you will encounter a boss fight, after which you can plant the bomb and clear the level. You’ll then travel to another, slightly more difficult asteroid (thankfully keeping your power-ups from the previous round), where you’ll do it all again, ad infinitum. It appears the overall goal then is to either to try and beat your previous number of asteroids cleared in a row, or to try and beat your previous high score. Or, alternately, to just try and unlock all of the new achievements.

Ultimately, this means that Shadow Hunters is not really the co-op campaign mode some of us were hoping for. With the semi-randomly generated levels, a co-op mode similar to Castelvania: Harmony Of Despair might’ve been interesting, but the time limit enforced via the bomb keeps fans of “Metroidvania” games from being able to really take their time and explore.

Because Shadow Hunters doesn’t adjust its difficulty level much (or at all?) depending on how many people are playing, you’re probably going to have the most fun playing with a full lobby (and probably shouldn’t even bother trying to play alone). Unfortunately, there are so few people playing—and without the ability for people to join games in progress—your only chance of ever playing with a full lobby is going to be with friends. But it might be better that way, because generally when a power-up appears, there’s only one, and random strangers might not see the benefits in sharing them equally.

Even worse, the camera tends to focus more on the bomb than on your ship, which means players are forced to stick together, rather than allowing people to split up to go after other power ups simultaneously.

While overall more enjoyable and slightly less repetitive than Lantern Run—and just as brilliantly illustrated and creatively designed as the rest of the game—Shadow Hunters is ultimately still a fairly shallow multiplayer experience that few people are going to play for very long, beyond trying to unlock all the new achievements.