In Between buries itself with heavy content and finicky puzzles.
Game – In Between
Platform – Xbox One (reviewed), Ps4
Developer/Publisher – Gentlymad
Release date – June 8, 2016
Price – $11.99
In Between does a magnificent job at standing out of the current puzzle platformer crowd, and this isn’t even in reference to the game’s platform mechanics. The artwork is rich and captivating, and there’s a constant state of dreariness even in the flashback sequences when the main character is simply living a normal life. The pause menu itself is a flashback to the character’s younger years: the screen a hazy, cool, and calming blue. The tonality is dark to match the theme, but it manages to avoid being monochromatic. It features over exaggerations to basic facial features (ex. the bridge of the main character’s nose). It felt as if the art team wanted to portray a unique style and maybe even schism from reality: reminding the player the game is meant to be thought-provoking and not biographical.
The level designs are well-thought and occasionally well-executed. Breaking the stages into the actual stages of grief is a very artistic approach to the heavy subject material, and it’s an excellent platform for the story. It does, however, stand to divide the reception of the game by those whose lives have in some way been impacted by cancer. In Between will remind gamers that death and loss are trials far greater than the puzzles found in the game, and this may push away some players looking to enjoy its innovative play. In fact, the premise could have been any sort of long term sickness, and it seems cancer is an all too easy out for storytellers these days. As a family member of cancer survivors and victims, I found myself torn. The final puzzle alone is priceless, and the game stands tall without posturing itself as a cancer story.
In Between requires the player to pay close attention to the relationship between the walls and the ceiling with every direction becoming interchangeable. Progress each stage by inverting the direction of gravity until the main character can reach the next doorway. Each doorway drives the main character deeper into the story, and seemingly closer to his death. It’s a very creative approach, and it never seems to rest on the laurel of its concept. Each stage introduces different obstacles or modifiers to keep things fresh. There are pulsating and homing balls of negative energy. There is a creeping darkness that can only be halted once the character literally faces the fear. There are even mirrored levels with separate obstacles on each side of the screen. These clever inclusions ensure the journey into the unknown remains fresh until the end.
Story and thoughtful level design aside, In Between isn’t without its imperfections. Checkpoints, if saved from a running start, can sometimes cause the player to perpetually move forward after spawning again. I also experienced several instances of obstacles reacting differently on different playthrough. This was an issue as sometimes it takes some trial and error to find the solution to a level. It also takes some time to adjust to the inability to jump, which goes against the ingrained habits of many puzzle platformer games. The result makes for a clunky, jarring experience. It could be argued, too, that a character facing the inevitable with little control over circumstance is being represented by the lack of a jump or a duck move. Whether or not it’s part of the experience, it’s a decision that impacted the playability of the game.
Another example of a missed opportunity is the lack of a smoother transition into the platforming techniques. For example, sometimes spikes have to be narrowly avoided following a gravity-pivot. This practice has to be learned quickly as the game jumps directly into some harrowing puzzles. There isn’t any puzzle too difficult to solve per se… it’s more just a hiccup in the experience.
The biggest takeaway from In Between is that GentlyMad tried hard to give its players an emotionally rich, memorable gaming experience. It manages to be spirited in spite of its cop-out backstory, and the levels are very creative. Push aside the glitches, and it is still a puzzle platformer worth playing on the Xbox One.
Reviewer Achievement Score: 1000/1000
Achievement Difficulty: Easy