Hey family, JDL here! And I'm back with another game review; last time, I reviewed Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax, a fun, and colorful mascot fighting game and now I'll be reviewing "In Between" for the XBOX One, which is an emotional, story-driven platformer not unlike Jonathan Blow's Braid. While that may seem like undue and undeserved praise, I assure everyone that it isn't. In fact, it seems that due to the art style and emotional content, I'm not the only one to make that comparison either, so let's dig in!
If you're reading this you should know upfront, In Between is what is known as "a feels trip."
As another heartrending game once put it: This is going to hurt.
After losing his job, being diagnosed with a terminal illness and left with weeks to live, the protagonist revisits their life, taking the player and all of their feelings with them. As our hero deals with their impending demise, they must work through sixty levels with the player's help, each level based on one of the five stages of death: Denial, Anger, Bargain, Depression, and Acceptance.
Each level incorporates one of the five aforementioned themes into its level design; for example, some levels feature simple obstacles like dynamic and inconsistent gravity to represent the turbulence the protagonist feels. In another level, players must manage the gravity set back as well as dark clouds that chase them through a spike-filled maze. The whole level is a clever metaphor for a fight against the black clouds that represent the soul-crushing depression one feels; the spikes represent the demons and other obstacles people have to also manage while moving on with their lives, and the gravity problems could be a symbol for any number of things (take your pick: the ability to retain one's physical and mental faculties, being unfamiliar with internalizing or confronting one's feelings or even constant changes in one's life). The whole level even serves as a metaphor for the protagonist coming to terms with their situation instead of embracing denial. Later stages take an even darker turn, with the protagonist navigating halls while avoiding darkened areas, aided by large but slowly throbbing pulses of light. Unsettlingly, the light throbs with a tempo that resembles a dwindling heartbeat. Ouch. Touching the dark areas, which is pretty easy while the heartbeat analogs are at rest, results in the player's death. Double ouch.
Despite how hard the game can be, the levels and the difficulties all match the feeling and the tasks of managing one's feelings, which makes it so rewarding to complete some of the harder levels - even when the option to skip levels or take the easy way out is present. Completing the harder levels is kind of like taking the SAT's, while playing soccer or swimming: it's next to impossible, but it's incredibly rewarding when you actually pull it off.
If any of these levels prove too difficult or end up being insurmountable for the casual gamer, "In Between" allows players to skip past harder levels once the player reaches the most difficult levels. "In Between" also features the option to select previous levels that the player might have skipped earlier, a welcome option for completionists out there!
"In Between" has been turning a lot of heads and catching a lot of eyes with its design choices and art style that isn't completely unlike Braid, as mentioned before. Levels come with a rustic design and scenery looks more like a painting out of a museum or an art textbook while characters look like Colorforms that jut out from the background. There's been a lot of attention paid to detail too. Even when players navigate the larger levels, the protagonist remains expertly detailed whether the camera pans out or closes in.
Background music is actually rather soft and somber to go with the game's theme of being confronted with one's own mortality. It works rather nicely and helps players immerse themselves in the protagonists struggle.
Despite boasting 60 levels, "In Between" took only a little over two hours (or one really overdue Windows Update) to play through; so outside of a subsequent playthrough for someone else's benefit or because you feel like a good cry, you'll probably only be revisiting the game to complete any level that got skipped (if any). "In Between" is incredibly short, but that shouldn't keep gamers from trying this punishing platformer out.
"In Between" goes to a dark place, but you'll be glad you went there. All in all, "In Between" is kind of like a really good ice cream cone: good while it lasts, gone too soon and ultimately bittersweet at best. Also like ice cream, "In Between" (and Gently Mad) will leave players wanting more no matter how brief the experience. SCORE: 4.5/5 stars!