In Between is a mix of platform, puzzle, and side-scrolling-story-telling games wrapped into one. You’ll go on a journey with a man who has a life changing disease and uncover the emotional tolls of his mind. 60 puzzles in total throughout the game will test your puzzle-solving skills as well as patience. This is a new game with no prequel, sequel, or downloadable content, so it will feel like a completely packaged experience as soon as you purchase it. The game can be purchased on Steam for 11.99$ or in Xbox store.
The Indie game casts a grim shadow over the psychological effects one endures when facing a life-ending condition. The protagonist of the story has been diagnosed with lung cancer, fueling an exploration of his mind into the past, present and future for closure. It’s depressing, joyful, and at times uplifting, but never enough to overcome the true inner coldness of the story. The game holds strong to its presentation for sympathy through music, narrations, and entirely hand-drawn characters and environments.
As mentioned earlier, you’ll traverse 60 puzzles over 6 levels in a journey to find peace of mind before the end of life. Each of the levels is based around the 5 stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance), in which the narration and map designs are made to represent accordingly. The first level, for example, will have you running scared, as a kid version of the protagonist, from a pursuant darkness only to find comfort from your mother as she gives you a flashlight to combat it. After the side-scrolling interactive narration inspired by “denial,” you’ll find yourself in more puzzles where for the remainder of this level you will be traversing the map with a creeping darkness on your back. If you face towards the darkness with the protagonist, it will fade away. If you get caught looking away for too long, it will swallow you and you will restart the puzzle.
Each stage of grief will have its own unique twist on puzzles, but the idea stays similar; you jump from one safe edge to the next while avoiding the abundant spikes and death traps in order to reach the glowing doorway that leads to the next puzzle. Occasionally you will be defying physics in other ways, such as controlling blocks around the map that are helpful and required for keeping needed weight on pressure plates. Many levels have both still platforms and designs, and dynamic moving platforms or traps depending on your direction of platform jumps or running, adding another dimension to the puzzle-solving. The most common thing about this game is death. More so than the character dying from his ailment, his biggest issue is dying countless times in the actual puzzles. The frustration of dying is softened by a beautiful animation of the puzzle shattering and restoring with you at your last checkpoint. It’s smooth and almost inspirational to give it another try over and over again. Beating a puzzle is wonderful, but slowly learning step by step how to sequence the right moves in order to beat each puzzle is extremely rewarding. Each death you know exactly what you did wrong and it never feels impossible for too long. I’ve never found myself button mashing with the frustration.
His reflections of his past memories are scattered throughout the puzzles to keep you engaged with his story in-between the levels. When passing a certain part of a puzzle, the wallpaper behind will shred away, revealing a bright colorful image representing a memory or thought as he narrates why it is so significant to him.
You control the protagonist with only the two analogue sticks. While this is a simple idea, it can be tricky in the beginning to remember there’s no jumping or button pushing (unless you’re raging. Then there’s always button mashing). You side scroll with the left analogue either side to side or vertical, and change the direction of gravity with the right analogue. Its smooth fluidity allows for creativity and sometimes multiple ways to beat the same obstacle in a puzzle.
There’s a consistent flow of depressive music in the background while you play. It’s not what makes the story everything it is, but it does not hinder it in any way, and in fact is probably the perfect middle. It works with the moods and themes of the game and is almost a much-needed calmness when the repetition of deaths continues longer than you feel it should. The narrating is well recorded and is implemented into the game smoothly. You can feel the depression and lost hope in the protagonist’s voice when he speaks about the lack of relationship he shared with his father, and the emotional toll his marriage and family life took on him, and countless other experiences.
The game succeeds with its integration of story and puzzles, and the attachment you’ll feel for the protagonist. GentlyMad does not shy away from the grim/dark humor and story, it embraces it, and it flows with everything in the game. Its smooth gameplay, relevant depressed background music, great protagonist narration, and challenging puzzles make it a game worth playing at least once. After beating the game, a couple weeks of time should be enough for a forgetful memory to find it all a challenge again, but a single playthrough is about several hours of gameplay. It releases on Xbox One June 8, 2016, and is also available on PC.
|+ Emotional story||– Analogue controls can be slightly difficult to master|
|+ Great narration from protagonist||– No endgame content|
|+ Completely hand-drawn visuals|
|+ 60 Challenging puzzles|