Fever Nightmare

HIGH Astounding production values for a game of this scope.

LOW A few frustrating and over-scripted enemy encounters.

WTF The story doesn’t start making sense until the very end.

Inmost is a cinematic platformer. That happens to be the label for any side-scrolling game with story elements and relatively realistic jumping mechanics, and Inmost definitely qualifies. However, in this case the term takes on a new meaning.

While Inmost offers navigation puzzles and scripted chase sequences like many cinematic platformers do, the focus lies in its narrative and the way it’s told.

Since the actual point of the story doesn’t become clear until the final moments of the campaign, the remainder of Inmost is all about setting a tone and establishing a sense of place. The developer does this with memorable imagery, twisted dream logic, and a touch for the theatrical that we rarely see in a game this small. It truly is cinematic in every sense of the word.

Hidden Layer Games ostensibly consists of only two people, and while the credits indicate that they had some help, it’s nevertheless astounding what they were able to pull off with such limited resources. While screenshots may underline how striking Inmost’s pixel art is, they certainly don’t convey how exquisitely it’s animated, nor how well the sound design attributes to the overwhelming sense of dread.

(This is one of the few 2D games I’d recommend playing with headphones, if possible.)

Inmost flits between three different storylines. The bulk centers on a bearded man in what appears to be a modern setting overrun with monsters made of thick black goop. The man doesn’t talk, so we don’t know what his ultimate goal is, and the few NPCs we run into give little context as to what’s happening. The guy can jump and roll easily enough, but otherwise has no real combat capabilities. His portions of the campaign have a slight Metroidvania bent, as they’re set entirely in one large level that expands as his inventory grows.

The second storyline puts us in the shoes of a young girl, and it’s set in and around the house where she lives. The fact that she’s so immobile – lacking the ability to even jump – nicely complements the small setting we’re exploring, since the simple task of reaching a high shelf takes careful planning. These sequences are the most dialogue-heavy of the bunch, as the girl is constantly having conversations in her head with her stuffed rabbit who encourages her to unravel the house’s mysteries.

The final thread is the most asynchronous, as it concerns a knight in ostensibly medieval times who goes around collecting crystals for some sort of tall shadow monster? Or something? He has a sword and a grappling hook, so these portions are the most action-centric, while giving us the least to chew on narratively.

For about 95% of its playtime, Inmost is tight-lipped about how these three stories relate to one another. Are they occurring in different time periods? Different realities? Is one a construct of another? Do they share any common characters? The logic of it all is incredibly foggy, and what miniscule specks of world-building Inmost offers will only further confuse players.

I obviously won’t spoil the details but Inmost does have a point, and it’s a poignant, deeply resonant one, reserved for its final moments. While players will ultimately need to fill in some of the blanks themselves – and I’m sure plenty of the imagery is there just to be unsettling – no one who completes Inmost will walk away wondering what it was ultimately about. If anything, a little more ambiguity during the climax may have been welcome. Hidden Layer hides its light under a bushel for the majority of the running time, only to lay it on a bit thick towards the end.

A lesser title may have lost me in the run-up, but even when I had no idea where Inmost was going, I still found it utterly engaging as a tone piece. I think of the scariest games as being the most immersive ones, and due to its side-scrolling perspective and pixelated visual style, it’s not like Inmost ever made me forget that I was playing a game. But its atmosphere is so potent that I’d unflinchingly label it as effective horror nonetheless. It instilled a creeping sense of dread within me and caught me genuinely off-guard in a couple of cases.

In contrast, whenever Inmost is simply a videogame, it’s disappointingly ordinary. The puzzles aren’t generally obtuse, but the near-monochrome color palette – though gorgeous – can often make it difficult to discern which objects are meant to be interacted with. Meanwhile, enemy encounters tend to involve instant death, and while frequent checkpoints make these sequences relatively painless, the fact that frequent checkpoints were necessary speaks to how perfunctory the encounters are.

While the actual play of Inmost is inoffensive, the non-story portions of the campaign felt like they were inserted so the game would avoid the stigma of being a walking simulator. Even with the hindsight of knowing where Inmost ends up, there are long stretches of it that feel negligible, as they’re not particularly enjoyable and they don’t necessarily reinforce the eventual message.

I still recommend Inmost for having a clear and heartfelt thesis, for trusting players to go along for the ride, and for providing plenty of eye- and ear-candy to keep them enthralled along the way. As disorienting and alien as Hidden Layer’s world feels, I imagine most players will be surprised by how strongly they relate to its characters by the time the credits roll.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Hidden Layer Games and published by Chucklefish. It is currently available on PC and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately five hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Blood and Violence. This is a dark, grim and surprisingly scary game, and while blood is infrequent, it’s used to powerful and unsettling effect. And for as fanciful as the game initially appears, it delves into some extremely heavy material later in its campaign. This one is considerably less kid-friendly than it may look.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialogue is subtitled, and while the game explicitly recommends playing with headphones, this is simply to maximize one’s enjoyment of the sound design, as audio cues play no vital role in the game itself. It is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. There is no control diagram. The B button is used to jump, A is used to roll, and Y is used to interact.

Mike Suskie
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9 months ago

it was fun but the story was a bit weird. very good art and music and atmosphere but some game play elements are a little annoying. its cute