STAFF REVIEW of In Between (Xbox One)

Tuesday, June 28, 2016.
by Jennifer Dingle

In Between Box art Terminal lung cancer isn’t a theme that one would typically associate with a video game. Actually, it’s a rather odd choice as it is not a topic that wouldn’t be considered fun by any means. German indie developer Gently Mad has crafted a rather unique 2D story driven puzzle game about this difficult subject as they bring us their recently released game In Between, an emotional, stylish platformer about a cancer patient at the end of his journey. Launching first on PC in 2015, it recently made its debut on the Xbox One as part of the ID@Xbox program and we here at XBA had the chance to play and review it.

In Between revolves around a young man coming to terms with his impending death. We first meet him in an interactive cutscene where he is very weak in a wheelchair and in palliative care. Playing through 60 platforming levels, you traverse through the man’s alternate reality, as he reflects on his life remembering important moments from his past, and copes with the five stages of grief. These stages of grief add a unique touch to In Between, and it stands out from the typical platformer, adding a new game mechanic with each chapter. For example, the stages that represent denial adds an encroaching darkness that threatens to swallow the man alive, but recedes when he turns to face it. Anger on the other hand is represented as threatening, pulsating red orbs that are scattered throughout a level.

The game is a very emotional tale indeed. The plot unfolds by solving puzzles as you traverse through extremely challenging platforming levels using gravity defying movements. Using the right stick on the controller, you can move your character in four different directions, allowing him to walk on walls and the ceiling if need be, to avoid a variety of static and dynamic obstacles, such as rows of deadly spikes, and you can access moving blocks and switches as well.

Unfortunately, I felt the controls were not as responsive as they should have been at times, which led to some very frustrating moments. I feel as though it may play better with a mouse and keyboard, as I often found myself fumbling with the controller when trying to complete a level. While I will note that the level design is very clever, the difficulty level of the platforming segments, and the precision needed to complete each level, really took away from some of my enjoyment of the game at times. There were times that I died repeatedly and other times where I almost finished a level after solving a puzzle and I would often meet an untimely death because of mistimed jump as a result of the control.

I found In Between a bit difficult and that I did not want to continue playing with issues like this, which is a shame because it’s such a story driven game. To have it interrupted by constantly dying in these manners is a bit disappointing. And without a leaderboard, timed runs, unlocks or collectibles, there is very little replay value to be had. The levels, once played, are available in the menu to play through again, but to be perfectly honest, I had absolutely no desire to as there isn’t any incentive. It’s a tough game to play through, as not only does the gameplay leave you feeling extremely frustrated at times, but the theme itself, a young man dying of lung cancer, can be a bit challenging to deal with.

While characters and the interactive cutscenes are colourful and beautifully hand painted, the backgrounds seemed to be extremely dull, with drab hues of beige and brown. Perhaps this is due to the theme of death and the stages of grief, but the uninteresting backgrounds further added to my frustration with the game. The music was well suited for the experience, and the voice acting is quite exceptional with the dying man’s narration adding to the heartbreak and the emotion of the story.

In Between offers a unique twist on the puzzle platforming genre, but the precision needed to complete each level, and the extreme difficulty, takes away from the enjoyment. It’s an emotional story that deserves to be told and experienced by gamers, but perhaps not through the frustrating and challenging platforming levels that partially result from the control issues. Fans of extreme puzzle platformers may feel right at home, but others not as skilled in the genre may be left frustrated. At the end of the day Gently Mad should be commended for crafting a beautiful and emotional story, but given some of the weak points of the game it’s hard to recommend it to everyone out there.

Overall: 6.5 / 10
Gameplay: 5.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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