Originally released for Steam and mobile devices last year, Gentlymad’s indie title, In Between, is making its way to the Xbox One on June 8th. I’ve never played the game prior to when I received it for review, but I never really imagined myself going wrong with an indie platformer that carries a narrative. They usually do a good job at keeping me engaged, and this one is no exception.
The first thing anybody can notice when looking at the game is how utterly gorgeous it is. This is a game that opts for the hand-painted look, and that kind of style just never ceases to amaze me! What’s especially appealing about the design is how there are plenty of artistic choices like the detailed background in the bedroom and how when you die, a piece of the wallpaper tears off to indicate where you died in the level. The silky-smooth 60 frames-per-second is always great as well.
The major part about this aspect that In Between wants you to acknowledge is its ability to tell a story. I kind of want to keep things vague for the review so of course I won’t go into spoiler territory or anything like that, but I will say this execution grabbed my attention pretty easily. The man the player plays as reveals early in the game that he has an unfortunate case of lung cancer, and throughout the game’s levels (which take place within the man’s mind), the story is conveyed via movie-like narration and visual depictions of events in the man’s life. It’s not exactly like Thomas Was Alone, where the story directly relates to the very structure of the gameplay itself, but there are subtle cues that complement the level layout, which does work in its own way I suppose. After all, I was constantly wondering where the story was going as I progressed; all I can say is you will feel bad for the protagonist, which is good because that means you will feel for this game, in more ways than one, but I’ll discuss more when we get to that point…
By “movie-like narration”, I mean you can hear that voice booming! It’s almost like I’m in a theater when I listen to the man’s voice, and I applaud that. This is a very atmospherically sound game, and as the visuals go hand-in-hand with the voice and the various emotional music pieces to convey this man’s struggles in life, it isn’t hard to get immersed.
Now here is the big part (aside from arguably story)! In Between is a puzzle-platformer where the player must shift gravity (wince this is his mind, it of course doesn’t have to be just like reality) to reach the end of each level. While I feel like the story isn’t 100% suited to a genre of this style, it is nevertheless a solid play. In fact, while I haven’t played the previously released versions of the game, I do think that the controls fit a controller like a glove; the left analog stick moves the man and the right analog stick is for altering gravity.
There are a whopping sixty levels to go through in the game and each become increasingly challenging in their own special ways. For example, some levels will include red fiery orbs to represent the man’s anger, and naturally you must avoid touching them, and some other levels will be drenched in darkness to represent the man’s depression, and you must stay in the lighted areas as the levels toy around with them. And just about every level will feature spikes; you gotta love those. Oooooh yes indeedy……..
Before I start displaying my trauma, I would like to take note that the game is pretty smart with the way it utilizes its puzzle mechanics and the amount of things it throws in is a nicely varied lot. The game will pick on your brain aplenty, but if you’re a fan of puzzlers, then I’m sure you’ll thoroughly enjoy that. Just be sure to have a set of reflexes at hand as well………………………Oh boy.
This game doesn’t just test you to see how you can solve a puzzle. There are certainly times where they would also want to see how fast you can do a specific part or parts. And that is where I feel like screaming inside.
THIS GAME IS HAAAAARD!!!! Okay, maybe not “impossible” hard, but JEEZ!! This game REALLY wants to keep you on your toes, and while I do appreciate a good challenge, I think this game just goes OVERBOARD at times! There was this one level where I’m supposed to manipulate this cube via gravity changing while keeping myself away from being killed by doing that, and I had to bring it around to the other side of the level so it could press this button to activate the gate that the exit door is behind, and IT TOOK ME LOADS OF DEATHS TO BEAT. You’re seemingly expected to precisely aim the cube in particular ways to get it across and there are green areas that have their own gravitational pull. The freaking thing won’t move if it collides with spikes. Trust me when I say when you play this game, you will KNOW what I’m talking about. You will point at the screen and go “Yep, that’s what Ryan’s talking about”. And that definitely won’t be the only level you’ll have moments where you’d want to throw your controller.
Yet, in a weird way, the gameplay does have an addictive nature to it. Somehow, the need to press on even after dying a lot flows through, and it’s a way to show that the game indeed has the player’s attention and is molding it like Play-Doh.
I’m probably exaggerating too much about the difficulty, but it does seem surprisingly extreme for a game that wants to focus on its emotional plot. Regardless, I really did enjoy my time with this game (even if my rage might have been conveying otherwise), and I think it’s a very remarkable puzzle-platformer. For real, though: Be sure to have your reflexes at hand. And your emotions.