How do you come to terms with your own impending demise? Many of us have the luxury of hoping we can ward off death for at least another few decades before we have to consider what it means when this life is over. In Between focuses on one man who no longer has that luxury. Facing a terminal diagnosis of lung cancer, our main character takes us through the story of his life, looking back on his regrets, his triumphs, and his fears.
Just as our past experiences paint our perception of the present, In Between’s narrative is beautifully woven into each of the game’s puzzles. Lost and struggling to accept the inevitable, gravity loses all meaning as we take our character through the recesses of his memories. Any smooth surface can be used as a floor. During the puzzles, parts of the background will burn away like old paper, revealing moments from mundane to significant that stick out in our character’s memory.
The in-between sequences, the moments before each new stage of grief and the next set of puzzles, give us brief glimpses directly into our character’s life. We walk out of the hospital, a younger man now walking the streets of the city. Scenes fade in and out, people appear and then shatter into nothing like glass. This prepares us for the beginning and the fleeting nature of life. Fittingly, there is no punishment for death. The screen shatters and we appear once again where we were, ready to try again.
Symbolism plays a large part in connecting the narrative to the following puzzles. Facing the darkness in order to frighten it away, a lesson our character learned as a young man, manifests itself as an ominous black mass waiting to consume us if we dally too long or turn away. Along with a rather austere visual representation of the struggle against fear, this also added an extra layer of difficulty to an already engaging puzzle system.
Within the mind of our protagonist, up and down have no meaning. A central part of navigating puzzles is through strategically using walls and ceilings as walkways, avoiding spikes and other obstacles. As difficulty increases, you will have to activate switches, move boxes, and avoid traps, some of which are activated by your own movements.
The puzzles proved to be continually engaging and offered just enough difficulty that I always felt like I had a challenge before me, though never to the point I felt frustrated. New concepts or obstacles are introduced at a fair pace, with each new situation preparing you cognitively for the next, with very few exceptions. However, you will find that some require a bit more dexterity than others. This means that, depending on your skill level, you might find yourself attempting some puzzles numerous times before completion, while others will take only a couple of tries.
In Between is a puzzle game that shines largely due to the poetic use of symbolism and subtlety. The hand-painted scenery gives the game an organic feel. The muted colors of the puzzles juxtaposed to the brighter and more expanded color pallets of our character’s memories adds a suitably melancholy and contemplative vibe. the narration is profound in its candor and well acted, making even seemingly mundane moments in his life feel meaningful. Life is, after all, made up largely of those small moments that we sometimes forget until we see their value at the end.
In Between feels like the visualization of a spoken word poem wherein even the pauses between the narration feel pregnant with meaning. It is subtle and powerful. The puzzles maintain an engaging level of difficulty that make trying again (and sometimes again and again) worth it. It is, like our lives and our memories, a well woven tapestry appreciated best when we take the time to explore.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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