Remember Strider? How about Shinobi or Metal Slug? These are all well-loved games from the side-scrolling action genre which, until the rise of indie gaming, was an exclusive resident of the 8 & 16-bit era. Emilie COYO recalls these titles fondly, and their debut game, Infinite – Beyond The Mind, attempts to pay homage to this classic genre. Heading into Infinite – Beyond The Mind, you might expect a nostalgia-driven experience with some fun, retro action and a dorky but endearing plot. Sadly, the final product manages to be anything but.
Damsels In Distress
The story begins in that eventful year of 20XX with Tanya and Olga, two women with special powers. At the game’s start, you’ll choose one of these characters to play as while the other is kidnapped by Queen Evangelyn, the dictator who helms the militaristic Beljantaur Kingdom. From there, it’s your job to take down the Queen’s forces and rescue your spiritual sister before her powers are used for evil.
Anyone hoping to get wrapped up in an evolving narrative throughout the game, though, will be sorely disappointed. Zero context is provided as you flit between jungles and army bases, so you’ll emotionally check out well before you reach the game’s obligatory ice level. The only cutscene occurs moments before the final boss, which proceeds to dump a sudden and underwhelming backstory on the player. More uncomfortably, it then attempts to ‘do an Undertale’ by calling into question how many people you’ve killed along the way in an effort to make the player feel the pangs of cognitive dissonance. It rings hollow, especially when campaign progression is frequently gated until you’ve murdered waves of bad guys. It’s a contrived and unfulfilling story which is all the more aggravating to endure because the actual game leading up to this conclusion is deeply frustrating.
A Long Way Down
It is, however, fair to mention that the game’s boilerplate, hack-‘n-slash gameplay is perfectly adequate. Combat is a little weightless, and enemy quantity typically stands in for quality encounters, but overall, the game is bug free and the controls function to an acceptable standard. There’s even some fun to be had during the shmup-style levels that’re interspersed throughout the campaign. It’s a shame, then, that the missions themselves are unexciting to conquer and full of maddening design choices. Stages feel endless due to lengthy stretches of empty space and mandatory mid-level wave combat encounters that always manage to overstay their welcome. The sides of spikes hurt you, and some vehicles smash into you from off-screen, resulting in undeserved damage. Before you’ve even pressed ‘Play,’ you can automatically attribute 80% of your total deaths to the numerous insta-kill bottomless pits that litter the game’s second half. Restarting a stage after falling to your death is a demoralising prospect, especially when the slog to regain your progress is lengthy and fraught with unengaging combat. When you factor in the game is a whopping 16 chapters long, that feeling of miserable exhaustion after you die may determine if you actually have the patience to see the game through to the end. Then there are the compulsory turret sequences…
Turret sections have long been the subject of ridicule in gaming, but at least they serve some purpose. Even during their most shallow incarnations, they cleanse the gameplay palette and offer a fleeting power trip to the player. The first turret you see in Infinite – Beyond The Mind evokes fond memories of piloting the mechs in Metal Slug, but once you jump inside and start shooting, all those happy thoughts disappear faster than a speeding bullet. Aiming the guns is achieved through a wide and lazy turning circle, so it’s a struggle to take out incoming threats. If the turret takes a hit, an eternity passes as you wait for the stun animation to end. After it does, more foes are ready to attack, thus freezing you in a lengthy cycle of stun locks which is only broken once the gun is destroyed. Turrets can be a fun reprieve, but here, the sight of one elicits thoughts of dread.
By far, though, the game’s most egregious issue is its inconsistent difficulty. You’ll breeze through the game’s opening levels only to get trapped in a stage that suddenly expects far too much from the player. Unless you played the optional tutorial, at no point does the game try to layer in or teach its wall jumping mechanic. As a result, it leaves players ill-equipped to deal with the later stages where, in a brazenly misguided attempt to replicate Half Life’s Xen levels, the game suddenly decides its strong suit was always its platforming. One late-game boss even has the gall to engage you in a room where a pair of climbable walls are the only thing separating you from an insta-death pit of rising toxic gas. This is officially where the game hits rock bottom, and I can personally say that it’s one of the most infuriating and misconceived boss fights I’ve ever had the displeasure of experiencing.
Game Over, Man
Character design is also oddly unappealing. The look of sub bosses appears to be lifted from the depths of DeviantArt and the overall visual tone never knows if it wants to be cute, sexy, or scary. An early indicator of this arrives in the form of the game’s first boss:, two shirtless dudes strangely introduced as ‘Royal Guards’. In almost any other game, this would establish a jovial, tongue-in-cheek tone, but here it sets a lewd precedent that uncomfortably lingers in the mind like an embarrassing memory.
The one thing Infinite – Beyond The Mind has going for it is some genuinely decent pixel art, particularly the game’s backgrounds. Detailed mountain ranges and cityscapes briefly catch the eye when starting a new stage, and they follow the action smoothly, thanks to multiple layers of parallax scrolling. On a technical level, the graphics are of a high standard, but the art direction really lets the side down. Virtually every level uses the same military aesthetic to the point where stages begin to blur into one.
More damning is the unoriginal turn the visuals take in the game’s final act, which is entirely derivative of Aliens. The penultimate level is a Facehugger hatchery, its boss is literally a Xenomorph, and the final encounter is fought in front of a (say it with me) giant air-lock. It’s immeasurably disheartening to see the weight of the game’s finale so shamelessly rely on nostalgic goodwill rather than try to establish its own identity.
There’s an underlying sense throughout Infinite – Beyond The Mind that the developer has a technical, but not an emotional, understanding of what makes a compelling game. Thankless gameplay and an undernourished plot make this an adventure that’s near-impossible to recommend. The game would earn some favour if it at least tried to show off a new idea, provide a creative wrinkle in the gameplay, present an original moment in the storytelling, or offer some spark that says, ‘Look at me and pay attention!’ Instead, it’s an indie game with some OK pixel art, and in 2020, they’re a dime a dozen.
This review was based upon the PC version of the game. A review code was provided for this purpose.
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