Tag Archives: puzzler

The Station review

The Station may be a short game but its story is well-told, its puzzles well-themed to the environment, and the visuals, sound effects and music do a great job in immersing you. However, is that enough to tempt you with its £11.99 price point?

The developers boast in The Station’s store page that “the best stories are shown not told” and there’s certainly a sense of that with this title. There’s a huge amount of environmental storytelling in every room and corridor you visit, making exploring the space station setting an intriguing endeavour.

You are a specialist sent to uncover why communication was lost to a space station orbiting and spying on an alien civilisation. This discovery of aliens has reshaped your world and provided countless scientific discoveries. However, the aliens are fighting a civil war on their planet, and so present a potential threat, deterring you from making yourselves known and engaging with them. Instead, a stealth space station has been deployed to spy and study them, with a small three member crew. Now communication has been lost it’s your job to uncover what went wrong and how compromised the station is.

Uncovering the fate of the crew involves you exploring each room of the space station and solving simple puzzles to gain access to new areas. There’s nothing too taxing here, it’s all very logical and appropriate to the situation you find yourself in, which helps greatly with immersing you in the story and setting. Furthermore, practically everything can be interacted with, making it a playground of objects you can examine and fling about. Fortunately, despite this you’re unlikely to be led astray with useless items, instead the important things are obvious enough visually, and explained well enough with your mission tracker, to keep you on the critical path.

And indeed, if you stick entirely to the critical path, The Station offers a mere couple of hours of content before you reach it’s rather predictable but still satisfying end. It’s a very short story with an interesting tale but one you’re likely to guess within the first fifteen minutes. However, there’s more to discover that helps bolster the story with additional titbits of information, should you go looking for it.

There are lockers to be found that can be opened with a little searching and puzzle solving, as well as plenty of computer terminals to snoop through. Meanwhile, the aforementioned visual storytelling of each room is particularly strong, with notes, stains, books and other objects painting a vivid picture of what life was like on the space station for the three person crew. There’s an intriguing set of stories for each member, granting you a better understanding of their personalities and motivations. And indeed, these character are well-rounded individuals; learning about them builds a bond with them, making the story and the ending feel more significant.

Excellent visuals and sound also help to bring the space station to life. It’s mostly dark, a cliché lighting model for space stations that have suffered a failure of some kind, however, other light sources help give an identity to each room, with subtle hues to denote the different personalities of the crew and neon lighting acting as a theme through the common areas. Music is rarely used, and when it is used it’s short and brilliantly effective. It all comes together to give the space station a superbly immersive atmosphere.

Indeed, ‘immersive’ is the word I keep coming back to. The Station does an excellent job in capturing your attention, and while its short runtime is disappointing it does feel appropriate to the story it wishes to tell. If then you’re looking for a bit of a palette cleanse; a walking simulator in a sci-fi setting, with light puzzle elements and an intriguing story, then The Station is just the title for you.

Thanks to Xbox and The Station Game for supporting TiX

Samsara review

Samsara’s simple concepts and small scale hides surprisingly devious puzzles. It’s a puzzler that encourages you to think differently, and when it all clicks in your mind you can find yourself completing two or three quandaries in a row before the next, inevitable challenge stumps you. It makes the experience fun, with bouts of difficulty eventually giving way to satisfaction when you figure it out, however, it’s all over pretty quickly.

Indeed, Samsara is a cleverly constructed puzzle game. You must manipulate a set number of blocks, in the shape of squares and rectangles, in order to build a path for the young girl protagonist to travel from the start point to the portal exit. However, quickly Samsara becomes more complex, giving you a second character to also construct a safe path for, the shadow of the protagonist, who is present in a mirror image of the level projected beneath as if reflected in a body of water, with the blocks casting their own reflections and building paths for both. It’s a unique idea that soon sees additional puzzle elements that further adds to the complexity and challenge.

Nine themed locations, each with eight levels, challenge you in creating these paths for the protagonist and her shadow, with new block types that have different physics for reality and the reflection, as well as disappearing platforms cropping up and changing how you solve each level. What starts off as relatively simple soon becomes quite the head scratcher, especially the later levels that incorporate moving and shifting blocks due to gravity and disappearing platforms working in tandem. This changes the paths as the protagonist and her shadow move along them, jumping between reality and the reflection via portals, before finally reaching their own, unique exits. It’s remarkably clever at times and helps encourage you to solve the puzzles and push forwards to see what surprises await you in the next level.

However, unfortunately it’s all over within a few hours, with minimal replayability. Once a puzzle is solved it holds no more mystery. They can’t be solved in different ways, there are no collectables to encourage experimentation, only the odd achievement to draw you back in if the completionist bug should take hold of you.

Certainly, Samsara is an inventive and challenge puzzle game with some clever ideas, and it’s remarkable how much design there is in these small levels, however, it’s only likely to keep you busy for a single session.

Thanks to Xbox and Marker Limited for supporting TiX

Maize review

I could start this review with a few “corny” jokes, or discuss whether this game is “A-maize-ing, or even comment on how it “Barley” meets the standard of current-gen graphics, but I think I’ll leave all the rubbish jokes well alone!

Maize is a first person adventure/puzzle game developed by Finish Line Games, who are previously responsible for Cel Damage HD on console. Maize is the somewhat surreal and absurd tale of a government facility that has created sentient corn. Walking, talking storks of corn. The purpose of the game is to discover what has happened and to put a stop to it. You are aided in your journey by Vladdy, a russian bear who also walks and talks. As I said, this is absurd and surreal.

Maize starts with you, the protagonist, dropped in the middle of a cornfield, and you soon come across a mysterious door that needs three items to be opened. Exploring the local area, including a dark farmhouse, will uncover various items that can be used or combined (pun not intended) in order to get that door unlocked. Each item also has a description that does a great job pointing you in the right direction if you do get a bit stuck. Because of this you rarely feel stuck on what you need to do to progress. It certainly doesn’t suffer from the absurdness of some of the puzzle solving needed in the adventure games of old. Although this helps you focus on the story and the environment, it does make the game feel incredibly easy, and at times it feels that you are spending too much time just walking from location to location.

It’s not long until you meet the corn, who for some unknown reason have comedy British accents, and then Vladdy, the russian bear, who has a comedy generic Eastern European accent. Vladdy has a grumpy outlook on life, and spends most of the game following you around so you can send him through vents and tunnels to unlock areas or fetch objects. During all of this he insults you constantly, calling you an idiot or stupid at every turn. Although the creators of Maize have tried to inject humour in the game, for me it misses the mark slightly, almost trying too hard to mimic a Monty Python style of comedy for the British Corn, and Vladdy’s insults, although amusing at first, soon become repetitive and annoying, especially when he is berating you for going the wrong way, when in fact you are going the right way!

Although Maize starts you off in a cornfield you soon head underground into a government facility where you start to come across some pink and blue coloured post-it notes, which for me are the highlight of the game. The two “scientists” behind the project communicate via these post-it notes, so these document their arguments. One of these is a Trump-like figure who builds lavish statues of himself, and is hell-bent on creating a tourist attraction of the top-secret facility, whilst the other appears to be the more serious brains behind the project. This results in some great back and forth insults via handwritten messages. The game world also has various folio collectibles, with an achievement for collecting all 75. All the items are highlighted for you within the environment, so it’s hard to miss them.

One thing that doesn’t quite work for me is how Maize handles the game world and where you can and can’t go. At certain places there are piles of red boxes blocking your way. When you solve a particular puzzle you get an on-screen message stating “A new path has opened for you”, and the boxes have just disappeared. This has happened the other way around as well, with boxes appearing to prevent me from returning to a certain area. I am not sure why the developers just didn’t use doors instead of a pile of boxes. It did a great job in taking me out of the world when everything else made me feel part of it.

Once you get to the end of the game you will realise that using the words “absurd” and “surreal” to describe Maize doesn’t really do it justice! The final boss battle introduces an unexpected game mechanic that will astonish you, even though it doesn’t really fit. The ending cutscenes will also leave you wondering at the mental health of the team at Finish Line Games. A day after witnessing it and I am still quite not sure what I saw, and not in a bad way!

Graphically this doesn’t hit the standards expected of the current generation consoles. It feels very washed out and grainy (again, no pun intended). Maize is also very short, my first playthrough taking around four hours, and there is an achievement for completing it in two, which is perfectly achievable. There is limited replayability as well, so the current price tag of £16 for this feels quite high. Would I recommend Maize? Yes, as a perfect palate cleanser if you’ve just finished a game like Assassins Creed Origins. Its absurd and surreal but also lots of fun. Might be worth waiting until the obligatory sale where it drops under a tenner though!

Thanks to Xbox and Finish Line Games for supporting TiX

Planet of the Eyes review

Planet of the Eyes is described as ‘Limbo in a colourful world’ and that covers this narrative led platformer very well. It delivers an intriguing tale punctuated by trial and error moments, with a simple but effective aesthetic accompanying its short run time. And while, at times, it unabashedly clones elements from Limbo, by the end it does just enough to differentiate itself and make the experience interesting and enjoyable on its own merits.

You are a robot, having survived a crash landing on a peculiar alien planet and having discovered an audio message from your creator that compels you to explore. Further audio messages are obtained throughout your adventure and fill in more of the backstory, hint at dangers to come and help build your relationship to the mute machine you control. It’s a well-told story that really comes into its own by the end.

Platforming is the order of the day, with some very light puzzles moments, and much like Limbo, death is a frequent visitor as you wander into danger unknowingly, then take that lesson with you the next time you try that and similar sections. It can feel a bit cheap to have the ground suddenly become unstable, or a boulder come careening towards you from off screen, or an alien organism grab hold and eat you, but checkpoints are abundant and the game doesn’t miss a beat when it comes to reviving you. It’s smooth and fast throughout and the deaths are less frustrating due to it.

While Planet of the Eyes is described as ‘colourful’ it’s more subtle than that suggests. The immediate area around you is subdued with different gradients of blue to indicate darkness, meanwhile the background takes on all manner of brighter colours but to an almost voxel aesthetic of alien geography. It’s different and alien enough to sell you on this being a strange planet yet elegantly simplistic. Interiors get a little more complicated, fitting the growingly complex narrative that’s unravelling around you, but the 2D assets never really convince you of any depth.

Unfortunately, Planet of the Eyes only keeps you entertained for a mere hour or two, depending on general ham-handedness. Meanwhile, many of the environment and enemy encounters feel directly pulled from Limbo rather than unique to this title. There are a few instances of originality in the latter half of the game, and the final section is superb, throwing some more engaging puzzles at you and asking you to perform more complex and rewarding platforming feats.

Indeed, Planet of the Eyes is an enjoyable little adventure that ultimately feels too familiar in the first instance, and by the time it shows you something new and interesting it’s over. If you’re in the mood for some trial and error platforming with an intriguing story then Planet of the Eyes delivers a bite-size taste that might satiate you for now.

Thanks to Xbox and Cococucumber Games for supporting TiX

Human: Fall Flat review

Protagonist Bob in Human: Fall Flat is akin to a toddler learning to walk. He haphazardly stumbles around the environments, bumping into objects and clinging on to them like a drunk trying to steady himself. It’s delightfully humorous and charming, and when he drops from a significant height and crumples to the floor with theatrical, squishy ragdoll physics – suggesting he possesses no bones whatsoever – it’s hard not to concoct more and more dangerous activities for poor Bob to undertake, just for fun. Indeed, that’s a large part of the fun, but there’s a physics puzzle game here as well, one that’s brief but clever and funny enough to leave a lasting impression.

The colourless, devoid of detail, anthropomorphic blob that is Bob is essentially a crash test dummy for you to experiment with. The environments are equally devoid of details, with block colours on austere textures but it’s a unique aesthetic that’s easy on the eyes. With an editor, you can personalize Bob to your heart’s content, and let your creative juices flow somewhat, but the visuals quickly take a back seat to the physics.

Human: Fall Flat’s objective is to solve a set of puzzles and platforming challenges in order to reach the end of the level, with each level sporting a different theme, such as a building site, a mountain pass, and a medieval castle. You don’t really control Bob per se, instead you try to steer him around the environment, moving objects, pulling and pushing levers and switches, and otherwise clearing the way to the exit. It starts off simple, with a couple of tutorial levels teaching you the basics, before larger, more complex levels really start to get your grey matter working. Experimenting with the environment and Bob to see just what can be done within the physics engine encourages you to explore the environments and discover multiple methods to master the madness.

Indeed then, it’s a humorous game and bringing a friend along for some coop fun takes it up a notch, as you uncontrollably giggle your way through each level. But whether alone or with a friend, Human: Fall Flat remains fun and intriguing, and while Bob is sure to fall off cliffs, get squished with boulders, and make suffer less than graceful trips and falls a few too many times, figuring out the puzzles and making it to the exit is hugely satisfying. Meanwhile, the puzzles can often be solved multiple different ways, adding some replayability and a spark of creativity to your play-through.

Human: Fall Flat is a charming physics platformer and puzzler but also a very short one. The multiple solutions to puzzles as well as the coop mode offer some replayability, and the pacing ensures the concept and humour don’t out stay their welcome, but still it’s all over with disappointingly swiftly. However, it’s certainly an afternoon well spent.

Thanks to Xbox and Curve Digital for supporting TiX

Human: Fall Flat lands on Xbox One May 12

The physics-defying and rule-breaking hilarity of cult PC puzzle game Human: Fall Flat will be unleashed on the Xbox One May 12th, developer Tomas Sakalauskas and publisher Curve Digital announced today.

Human: Fall Flat on Xbox One, brings all the content from the Steam version plus plenty of extras, and starting today pre-ordering Human: Fall Flat will also bag you the amusing physics puzzler Manual Samuel for free.

Launching on console and updating on Steam with additional content, brand new puzzles and a bespoke customization option, Human: Fall Flat has players escape surreal dreamscapes by solving open-ended puzzles while struggling with intentionally unsteady controls that result in hysterical clumsiness and potentially endless falling.

After releasing on Steam last year to considerable praise, Human: Fall Flat became a YouTube phenomenon, garnering more than 100 million cumulative views thanks to the game’s hilarious gameplay that had people discover their own solutions to overcome obstacles and “work” together as best they can to solve the puzzles in co-op mode.

At Curve Digital we like to provide people with an amazing value for their pre-order purchases and the Human: Fall Flat console pre-order continues this company philosophy,

said Jason Perkins, Managing Director at Curve Digital.

Human: Fall Flat and Manual Samuel have both earn massive praise from the community and by pre-ordering Human: Fall Flat on console people get two amazing games for the price of one. In addition PS4 users will also receive a dynamic theme developed by Truant Pixel.

Playing as Bob, players have complete control over his arms and movement. At first, this can make it challenging to traverse this beautiful yet deadly world. However, players who learn to master Bob’s movement will be rewarded with a wealth of opportunities to break the rules and beat the challenging puzzles that block their path. Bob can pull stuff. He can push stuff. He can kick stuff. He can carry stuff. He can climb stuff. He can break stuff. And he can use stuff on other stuff to make even more stuff happen. It’s all up to you – want to open that mysterious door? Or would you rather see how far you can throw a speaker set out that window?

Knee Deep review

Knee Deep takes a SWERY approach to its storytelling, filling the small gameworld of a Florida swamp town with enough quirky characters, odd storytelling techniques, a peculiar framing device, and an ‘out there’ tale, to invoke Deadly Premonitions, to a degree. However, it doesn’t quite commit to the wackiness, and this becomes part of its undoing, resulting in a tale that’s not as gripping as it could be, and character’s that aren’t memorable.

You take ‘control’ of three characters in this three chapter tale of murder and mystery: a print journalist past his prime, a desperate private detective, and a young blogger. Each are attracted back to their hometown after a Hollywood actor commits suicide at the local water tower. However, as the three start independently investigating, they discover some strange and sinister goings on that draws them together as they question townsfolk and search for clues to figure out precisely what happened.

It’s a murder mystery, one that’s not concerned with fail conditions, in fact it doesn’t have any, and instead, no matter the dialogue choices you make, you’ll eventually reach the conclusion, with some unique events along the way depending on your choices. It’s of a similar vain to a Telltale adventure; interactivity is limited largely to dialogue choices, although the occasional, very simple puzzle pops up asking you to arrange objects in the right pattern or crack a code, but don’t expect to do any walking, it’s very much a point ‘n click kind of adventure without that genre’s item inventory and frequent puzzles.

Knee Deep 1

This makes it very easy to fall into a stupor, hammering the face buttons to simply progress the dialogue with little care for the responses you’re actually giving, and unfortunately, despite some twists and oddness, the tale fails to hold your attention for long.

The most prominent cause for that is the bad pacing of the first chapter. It takes its time establishing the characters and location, and feels utterly incongruous when compared to the much shorter, succinct second and third chapters. Moreover, where the oddness in Deadly Premonitions was charming, nostalgia inducing, and omnipresent, in Knee Deep its starts off too shallow and fails to fully immerse you in its world. The two standout oddballs of the cast, the third-person talking Remy and the limited vocabulary mayor, are only touched on in the first chapter, but are far more heavily present in the second and third, making the first feel all the more out of place. Mind you the framing device goes a long way to helping alleviate this identity crisis.

Knee Deep 2

The whole story is told as if it were a play on a rather high-tech stage. Buildings fold up or have their walls and columns shift to present indoor scenes, meanwhile, many of the trees and non-talking characters consists of cut-outs, while painted backdrops make up the sky and backgrounds. It’s a neat and unique aesthetic. It also helps with what are otherwise mediocre visuals. Textures throughout are very simple, as is the colour palette. Meanwhile, the characters are low polygon with stiff, unnatural animation and lip syncing, with the same basic textures and colours. The camera keeps enough of a distance so it doesn’t show up the visual flaws too severely, and the poor lightning fits the theatre theme and helps hide some of the visual flaws, but that in itself is visually off-putting. On the positive side, all characters are voiced, although their voice-overs and scripts are run-of-the-mill. In fact, that describes Knee Deep accurately; average through and through.

Knee Deep 3

There’s 4-5 hours of murder mystery to solve here, and enough dialogue choices to facilitate some replay, but the interesting elements are fleeting. There’s just about enough of a mystery to the town, characters, and of course the murder, to tempt you in, but you’re likely to find the presentation and overall story off-putting. It’s certainly not awful but it’s a long way from being good.

Thanks to Xbox and Prologue Games for supporting TiX

Toby The Secret Mine review

Released back in 2015 on Steam, Toby The Secret Mine is only just making its debut on consoles, with Wii U and Xbox One being the first step.

Red-eyed catlike creatures have kidnapped your friends and you must find (and save) them. They have been taken in to a mine full of traps and puzzles that aim to catch you out, should you not be eagle-eyed enough to spot them.

The game is beautifully presented and has a superb soundtrack that adds to the atmosphere of the environments. Think Badlands for colour and style of the environments, and Limbo for gameplay and the look of the game – silhouetted platforming puzzles – where everything is trying to kill you and death is but a mere misplaced step away.

While the funky soundtrack and colourful palette are the main differences from the adventures of Limbo, Toby is more than just a mere clone. There are varied environments, mini-game puzzles to solve, and a boss battle at the end. It all makes for a very enjoyable two hours of gameplay. Unfortunately however, it’s that short, with very little replayability.

There are 26 hidden ‘friends’ throughout the game, but on my first run-through I had found all but two of them. There’s also very little story to hung up on. The beauty of Limbo was in the story that it managed to tell without words, that same emotion is absent from Toby, and while super cute, it just can’t match its source material. The ending is rather good though, with a good or bad choice, giving a nice twist should you choose to be bad.

Toby_Screenshot_02_logo

Having played through Limbo several times, I expected the same tricks, and it was a good while into the game before I met with my first unfortunate step, and that was only because I misjudged a jump.  As the game goes on, the trial and error deaths feel cheaper and at times more frustrating than they did in Limbo. The highlight of my short time in the Secret Mine was a sequence where I had to escape an avalanche. I also rather enjoyed the mini-puzzles, which while never too difficult, bar a hair raising lock picking challenge, it was good to see an attempt at bringing something new to the Limbo style of game.

Toby_Screenshot_18_logo

I also suffered a few bugs where I got stuck in the environment. Worse though, at the end of a level where I was tasked with jumping over a series of buzz saws, whenever I clipped one, I was rooted to the spot after respawning, having to exit the game and restart the whole level.

Toby The Secret Mine is beautifully rendered. The levels and hazards are well designed, and while it takes its influences from Limbo, Toby is no mere copycat; it takes the style of the game and makes it his own, it’s just a shame that it’s so short.

Thanks to Xbox and Headup Games for supporting TiX

Nevermind review

Nevermind provides an interesting and eerie opportunity to see into the minds of four very different individuals, and help them overcome trauma. It’s part walking simulator, part puzzler and part horror, although the latter largely puts you in a position of unease rather than fright. And the three gameplay elements meld together splendidly to create a unique and fascinating, albeit short, experience.

You are a psychologist who’s been newly hired at a very advanced medical facility. Here doctors don’t just talk and listen to their patients but also delve deep into their minds, thanks to technology that maps and then allows you to explore their subconscious as if you are really there. It’s a neat idea and one that opens up huge possibilities for story-telling, but in Nevermind it’s merely a framing device for some eerie and perspective shifting exploration and puzzle solving. That’s not to say it’s dull, far from it, but there’s a spark of Portal genius here that’s unfortunately not acted upon.

One thing that’s missing from the Xbox One version however, is the biofeedback element. This would take data from a variety of third-party biofeedback devices that are available right now, and the game would change depending on how stressed and fearful you were. It sounds a like a great concept, but one that isn’t realised for Xbox One. However, what’s here doesn’t feel like it’s missing anything, and it’s still a great experience.

Nevermind 1

A tutorial level helps ease you into the experience, following the familiar tale of Hansel and Gretel, but before long you’ll be experiencing the subconscious minds of four patients who have suffered some kind of trauma in their lives. Whilst exploring their mind it’s up to you to find 10 photographs which represent key memories, five of which are false. In order to cure your patient you must gather these memories, figure out which ones are true, and put them in the correct order. Afterwards, you can revisit their mind to try and find other memories, which are important for you to understand their story fully.

For the most part you’re walking through locations that represent real locations in your patient’s lives. Much like a dream, these warp and change as you explore them, with doors leading directly to a completely new location or even back to one you’ve recently visited but having gone through a transformation. It’s cleverly designed, with things often changing drastically simply when you turn your back, featuring some powerful imagery that invokes myriad feelings and helps put your patient’s trauma into perspective. It’s a little bit scary too, with some excellent sound effects and music, sparing but deliberately used to bring locations and events to life. However, whilst it’s certainly looking to invoke an emotional response from you, it’s not looking to outright frighten you.

Nevermind 2

It’s meant to be eerie but don’t expect any jump scares, instead it means to tap into your empathy and place you in the mind-set of the patient. And it works too; the framing device of delving into the minds of these people is immersive, making it feel like you really are exploring someone’s subconscious. Meanwhile, some terrifically detailed visuals with high quality textures, a wide colour palette, effective use of lighting, and the added sound effects, music and weird imagery, is remarkably effective at putting you in their shoes. As such, if you pay attention to what is being said and shown to you, figuring out the trauma and what’s a real and fake memory in the photos is fairly intuitive.

Jumping back into your patients minds to further explore and find those fragments of memories to allow you to fully understand them, are a little more abstract and far less gamified than the rest of the experience. It makes them tricky to find if you’re searching for them specifically, such as for achievements, but if you do come across them naturally, they enhance your familiarity with the patient quite effectively.

Nevermind 3

However, it’s not entirely smooth sailing through the minds of your patients, some slow-down kicks in frequently as you’re looking around, making the controls suddenly sluggish. There are occasions where this is done intentionally, such as puzzle sections or to help invoke a feeling related to your patient’s trauma, but when it happens outside of these moments it threatens to break the immersion. Fortunately, as frequent as it is, the overall experience isn’t hurt by it, it just feels odd when it does happen.

Indeed, Nevermind is a clever, revealing and fascinating exploration of mental health. The characters that make up your patients are believable and brilliantly voice acted, the locations and puzzles you explore are crafted to represent and encapsulate the trauma of the patients splendidly, and figuring it out and experiencing perspectives that you might not have otherwise experienced is highly satisfying and intriguing. There’s certainly a ‘what if’ niggling disappointment at how much more this kind of concept could be explored if narrative was more what the developers wanted to focus on, but that’s not what Nevermind is about, and what it does focus on is very well-crafted.

Thanks to Xbox and Flying Mollusk for supporting TiX

In Between review

I have to admit, I didn’t know what to expect from developer Gentlymad’s In Between. I’d watched a few of the trailers and it looked intriguing if not a little puzzling. What could this journey through the mind of one unlucky individual offer that other puzzlers cannot?

So, In Between is set inside the mind of a man hit by a cruel twist of fate. Controlling him, you are both on a journey through the protagonist’s head. This world does not seem to obey the laws of physics however. The aim of the game is to free your mind by negotiating the 60-plus levels of puzzling goodness. Each of these puzzles will require your skill, speed of action, quickness of thought and all of your analytical, puzzle-solving skills.

First impressions of the game are good then. The graphics switch from full-on, almost street graffiti inspired interlude cut-scenes to the atmospheric, sepia toned seriousness of the puzzle levels. They’re beautifully rendered and hide a multitude of small quirks. Cogs move in the foreground as you move around, platforms glide and deadly caltrops rise and fall as you move. They’re all fluidly animated and make you really think about your next move.

In BetweenThe main character is also well drawn and slick. The mechanics of the game means that you can alter the point of gravity for him to get around the various puzzles and obstacles on the level arena you’re playing. Not that this is an easy process. The right stick controls the gravity while the left moves you along that platform. It’s a strange concept to get used to and it took me a few levels to really get my head around it.

Handily, there’s a tutorial chapter to guide you through the basics. This pushes you gently through the action at first, but once you’ve completed that, you’re pretty much on your own. It’s a good introduction, but it doesn’t necessarily prepare you for the next chapter of levels, where the designs, obstacles and extra elements get really devious.

The level designs lend themselves well to the game. It’s a good thing too, as with only 60 or so levels to play through, you’d make pretty short work of this title without them being a real challenge. There are lots of obstacles to negotiate and the developers have really thought about where they are placed and how you’ll need to get around them. Finding the escape formula may not be enough though. There are other hazards on the screen that will be out to get you, besides the laws of gravity and physics. The second chapter introduces the concept of darkness and fear. This has a tendency to creep up on you from the left of the screen unless you turn to face it. Even then, it will only retreat so far and you’ll face a race against it to get to where you need to be. Get swallowed up by this darkness and it’s level over.

In BetweenThere are other aspects to the obstacles too. It’s not just about moving the character. Some levels introduce a green normality area, where the right stick will not allow you to change the focus of gravity. It will, however, still affect the strange face-blocks that materialise when you stand on the blue platform switches. These can then be manipulated around the gaming area with the right stick to solve another puzzle, or part puzzle. Getting this wrong can be frustrating and if I’m honest, you’ll die lots of times before you’ll get it right. It can be immensely frustrating to get just close enough to the glowing portal to escape, only to slightly mistime a jump or drop and have to start from the beginning. On the larger levels, luckily, there are checkpoints to restart from but even they are devilish to get to.

So, the levels are well-designed, if devious, and the graphics are atmospheric. The transitions between level chapters gives a nice balance to the storyline, although the story does seem to jump between childhood memories and present day a little too much. This doesn’t make much difference to the way the game is played though. One good thing is that once a chapter is unlocked you can attempt the levels in any order. Handy if you’re stuck on a particularly tricky screen. To unlock the next chapter, you’ll need to complete a specific number of levels in each chapter. In the Tutorial, I didn’t notice that it had skipped to the next chapter, leaving three levels untouched, until I delved back into the Tutorial chapter. Just something to bear in mind if you want to beat all of the puzzles In Between has to offer.

The audio in-game is a little odd. There are certain areas of some levels that will trigger an explanation or voice-over but other than that, it’s ambient background stuff for the most part. It lends well to the overall feel, but it’s fairly unremarkable to say the least. I’m not expecting thumping techno, given the nature of the game, but a soundtrack that’s a little more memorable might have been preferred. The cut-scenes for In Between have more in the way of speech with some interaction, but little else to promote the backstory.

In BetweenOverall then, In Between is a very slick, atmospheric puzzle platformer, with a twist. That twist allows more three or four dimensional thinking when it comes to solving the puzzles that it offers. The graphics and animation are well executed and the gameplay itself, while often infuriatingly unforgiving, rewards with a sense of achievement when each level is complete. Bear in mind that with just 60 levels, if you’re particularly adept at non-lateral thinking, this might just be too short. If not, then you’re staring down the barrel of a fiendish puzzler that will keep you swearing at it for hours.

Thanks to Gentlymad, Headup Games and Xbox for supporting TiX