Whenever the style of an old hardware is utilised for creating a game, I believe it is important to see how well it represents its limitations. Surely, some liberties can be taken like having the game in widescreen for getting a better view or other minor updates that do not break the beauty of working within restrictions set by the developers themselves. However, when you go with the mindset of what the Game Boy, the original PlayStation, or even the Atari 2600 could do in their original days, it is important to keep it as faithful as possible for creating solid immersion. If this does not happen, the project might come of as just a cheap gimmick for using nostalgia to sell itself. I say this, as I found Inmost an utter puzzling title in many regards, with its presentation being the most obvious one.
I did not feel any solace
The plot of this game is truly hard to summarise for an introduction, as there is not much I can tell without spoiling important events. Basically, it revolves around three characters that are named after their roles: the girl, the hero, and the knight, all of them being connected somehow. While I would love to say that their connections and symbolisms are subtly showcased throughout the game, that would be an utter lie. There are only a few specific moments that relate to the characters’ pasts or to tell about their sufferings, making everything feel shallowly presented and implemented.
It was not until the ending that their connections and the overall theme of Inmost were shown, which is terrible considering nothing was building up to these results in any strong or clever ways. The theme of pain is placed everywhere to try to give it a foothold, but never explored upon. This also goes for elements like the shadow monsters, the glowing crystals being called pain, and even the symbolism of the knight. In fact, the plot will abruptly take a backseat every now and then, to the point where it feels non-existing. This makes every character forgettable, and only a couple of scenes have some decent setups to make you care enough to ponder about what is going on.
The only exception to this tragedy, is the imaginative little girl who is playing around with her plush bunny. She is an adorable character and one who is easier to study due to her clear interactions to the events going on, which are being explored upon both through her fantasies and the everyday life’s difficulties. This is also strengthened by the moments when the game focuses on utilising visual storytelling, making you pay attention to subtle details. Unfortunately, while a teatime with a stuffed bunny and an imaginary cake made for one of the funniest takes on the egg vs the chicken, it was not enough to save what is a story that truly does not tell anything.
None of the other characters have any clear development in showcasing their struggles, which is strange when Inmost hammers in pain as a theme that is supposed to be there. This is all topped off with a forced narrator that tries to connect everything with another story that is just there for no real reason. It tries to be poetic, but comes off instead as pretentious and forced. The brilliance of subtlety, is to experience the themes throughout with a revelation during or towards the end. Instead, everything in this title is ruthlessly thrown in at the last moment for the sake of giving this story any reason to exist. It is like a punchline, where the setup was never told.
Story Score: 2.5/10
Makes you pay attention, but not much else
Throughout this four hour side-scroller, you are taking the control of the three protagonists, each getting their own segments and comes with their own unique mechanics. Starting off first, we have the little girl who has limited abilities. She can barely jump, climb, and crawl. That is it, but this is done in order to put a focus on the puzzles. While they rather need a keen eye to be solved than anything else, they require enough input from the player to keep them engaged, even if the puzzles never become challenging. The bigger problem here comes rather from the slow storytelling. These are definitely strong and well done, but I was definitely watching more cutscenes than actually playing the game.
This shares some similarities with the hero, despite that he has a heavier focus on puzzles and platforming. Yes, this regular man can actually jump high up in the air, crawl, and dodge-roll. While his gameplay revolves around finding the right items for their correct purposes and neither being particularly hard to do, it is more interactive. He also has a bigger world to explore, but the game is overall quite clear about its linear journey, so you will never get lost. However, due to his segments being much longer, they will get quickly repetitive and unengaging, especially since the puzzles never evolve from being fetch quests.
Lastly, we have the knight. He is the only character who cannot jump, but instead can actually attack enemies thanks to his sword. You see, the rest of the characters have to avoid combat all together, while the knight can slash with his sword and kick. Unfortunately, these segments are short and the enemies are rather underwhelming, making the combat just a bore in the end. Even the back-dodge was barely used, and while the grappling hook made for some fun traversing, his regenerative health makes it all too easy. His segments are probably the weakest part of the entire experience.
However, Inmost’s biggest problem lies in both its structure and overall gameplay. None of the puzzles were creative or interesting, as the game was always straightforward on what needed to be done. The atmospheric parts were poorly implemented as well, since they were just cutscenes telling you what was going on, taking away the controls from the player. Speaking off, the controls were rather sluggish and not intentionally done so to give the characters any form of weight to them. Everything felt delayed without any clear visual cue to why this was the case, and even if this was not a big issue, it became a constant annoyance.
There is nothing here that comes of as creative forms of interactivity. Just have a keen eye and you will be going through the motions with some atmospheric moments. Inmost simply struggles being engaging as a game. This is especially damaging whenever it directly tells you what to do, destroying this title’s focus on immersion. I will state again that the little girl’s segments are the strongest parts of this adventure, as they are solid combinations of atmosphere and interactivity. Sadly, that is only a third of the game, and only moments of the hero’s segments were above average. This game presents a troubled journey that can make your mind go numb.
Gameplay Score: 4/10
The importance of limitations
I love the aesthetics pixel art can provide, and having Inmost utilising it with a focus on few colours is wonderful. While it clearly looks better than what a Game Boy could do, it still contains a bit style look and tries its best to let the colours set the mood. In other words, the game is sort of emulating an early GBA-title that has the colour limitations of a GB game. The style is magnificent and presents a damaged castle, underground caverns with terrifying creatures, and an unnerving home to name a few locations.
It makes each character set in a specific location memorable from the visuals alone, and while they are simple in design, they convey strong emotions through clear animations and have subtle highlights to make each of them distinct. I also love the aura the characters have to highlight them in-game, making them not clash with the environments due to the limited use of colours. Everything is brimming with minor details, be it the leafs in the trees, cracks in the walls or pickled jars that contain what a child would believe are green fingers. Although, the monsters are just black blobs of constructions or traditional animals with nothing interesting to them.
Sadly, there is a bigger problem that breaks the immersion. Rain is clearly not in bits, the strange glow is done by modern technology, and the fog is not pixelated. All of these truly hurt the experience, as they are constant effects that does not meet the ideal limitations set by the developers themselves. There is a lovely use of colours for depicting emotions, but the modern implementations destroy the solid atmosphere that the game tries to get forward. This is especially a shame, when the developers can make shadows turn into creatures subtly with pixelated graphics, showcasing that they are not unfamiliar with this art style.
As for the audio, the voice actors are wasted on this title due to their unnatural presence in this old school game. Their voices are not even bit crushed to simulate the hardware Inmost represents, making them rather damaging the immersion even further. If nothing else, the echos are well implemented, as they make every jump, roll, and even falling to your death feel significant. However, one area I can praise this title for, is with its soundtrack. It is not chiptune, but truly enhances the mood due to its compositions. The music has a heavy focus on the piano with unnerving pieces and peaceful tones, with the bombastic tracks containing violin and trumpets entering as wonderful contrasts for the dire moments. It is a symphonic soundtrack that fits the atmosphere of this game, but not necessarily the technological style it wants to replicate.
Presentation Score: 6/10
Pain and memories
As the hero, you can find small crystals that are literally meant to be pains, with there being 85 in total. They might be hidden in chests, in a corner or be straight up invincible. Yes, you will need to randomly jump in order to find some of them, and it is utter bollocks. Going your way out to find them all is truly not worth your time in any sense. As for the other extra, they come in the form of collectables that are meant to reflect about a past long gone. While I liked the idea behind them, they never told anything significant that you would not experience throughout the game normally. Honestly, they are just useless trinkets that try to add to the atmosphere with nothing meaningful. Going for 100% in this game is truly painful and worthless.
Extra Score: 1.5/10
This is a strange title that tries to be something with no real regards on how to properly execute it. Inmost is severely straightforward with its puzzles, has a presentation that breaks the immersion constantly, and can honestly feel full of itself with a story that is unfinished. The game has some strong moments and a world I wish I could be enthralled by, especially when the puzzles require a keen eye and make you look at its details. Unfortunately, it fails because of the odd design choices and the monotone gameplay. I would rather recommend Nihilumbra for a better experience in terms of dark themes and light puzzles.