Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
When I think of games with something to say, I tend to lean towards RPGs – not necessarily a puzzle/platforming title. In Between deserves a lot of credit for its unique art style, emotional story and interesting puzzles. As an experience, In Between is really quite good. As a game, it is sometimes a little more lacking.
Our antagonist never is called out by name, but he has a very heavy bit of news hanging over his head. He is going to die due to illness. This begins a dark, emotional journey that is told through two different phases of play. One is the more storyboard-like and sadly beautiful. The paper-like aesthetic is absolutely beautiful, with a style that reminded me somewhat of Stick it to the Man! You catch these glimpses of the protagonist’s life through these scenes, and they are compelling – the primary reason I was interested in seeing the story forward.
The meat of the actual time spent with In Between are the puzzle/platforming stages. Instead of having a jump button, you control gravity. It is a mechanic we have seen in other games, but usually as a complementary system. Here this is the core mechanic at play, with other elements being added in each level. These new mechanics are tied to each stage, which are in turn tied to one of the stages of grief. In theory these ideas make a lot of sense, but some of the stages are handled more effectively than others.
Where In Between starts to break down is in the platforming execution. The genre is exacting by nature, but In Between is going to force you through hundreds of deaths as it feels incredibly punishing at time. There is something odd about a game that talks about the seriousness of death while handing it out to you over and over again through sometimes fickle control mechanics. Another area where polish is lacking is in how the often excellent narration plays out as you reach a new point in the stage – but if you die before it completes, those words do not replay later. It is another case of where the challenge gets in the way of the overarching message. Thankfully snappy reload times help to mitigate the many deaths you will die.
The last area where In Between could be seen as a struggle is in how little content there is. With ten levels per stage, you can get through the game rather quickly – in under two hours. After a while, all of those deaths almost began to feel like padding to extend the already sparse game duration when perhaps In Between would have simply benefited from more content.
In Between gets some pretty major elements right with its unique, sadly beautiful presentation and storyline. It makes for a compelling experience that is easy to recommend because so few games really do a good job of tackling such heavy material. The matter in which In Between handles the weight of impending death is both unique and satisfyingly weighty emotionally. However, for everything In Between does well as an experience, there are some basic elements of gaming where it does not always succeed. The creativity behind using the stages of grief to create unique levels is inspired, but the controls are finicky and there are a few issues with the game’s timings that hold it back from greatness.Score: 7/10