When playing a game, there are certain functions that the player just plain expects to work functionally. In a shooter, one would expect their gun to fire every time they pulled the trigger (assuming it’s loaded, of course). With rhythm games, inputs need to function each and every time, lest the game be deemed “broken.”
In a platformer, one would expect the basics of navigation (jumping, climbing, etc) to be tried, tested, and functioning perfectly. A game may have issues elsewhere, but the core engine is something that must work.
When parts of that central engine fail, though, everything else built around it hardly matters. If things one can normally rely on in a game don’t reliably work, the rest of the experience can sour quickly.
Developed by Emilie COYO and published by Blowfish Studios, Infinite: Beyond the Mind was released on May 7th, 2020, for PC, PS4, Switch, and Xbox One. The PS4 version was played for this review.
Infinite puts you into the shoes of either Tanya or Olga (or both, if you’re playing in co-op mode), two women with some kind of power that’s never really expanded on. Their power catches the eye of Queen Evangelyn Bramann, the head of the Beljantaur Kingdom, who is currently trying to conquer the world!
Considering these two to be obstacles to her ambitions, Bramann abducts one of them. This leads the other (whichever character you choose to play as) to set out on a rip-roaring rampage to save their sister.
The storytelling here reminds me in a way of Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight. Both feel like the creator crafted an interesting story, built an intriguing world around it…and then just kind of forgot to fully implement the story into the game.
Aside from the opening text scroll, there really is no story-telling here. Every once in a while, one of the boss fights you come up against is against a named person who spits out one or two sentences of dialogue, often feeling like the player is expected to know who this enemy is. Aaaaand that’s about it.
To be fair, I didn’t come into Infinite expecting some kind of grandiose storyline. The aforementioned Momodora suffered the same problem but it’s still one of my favorite games in recent memory. The thin plot provides a reason to play and shapes the worlds you’re playing in, and on that front, Infinite mostly succeeds.
What’s at the Bottom of This Pit?
Another day, another indie release calling back to 8- and 16-bit era games. There’s so many of these on the market nowadays, what we really have to look at is what the game does to stand out from the crowd. Infinite‘s unique twist is that…well…it doesn’t really have one.
This is one of the most straight-forward action platformers I’ve played in a long time. Get from point A to point B, taking down everything in your way with a singular attack and a dodge dash, with a little bit of platforming here and there. No interconnected open-world, no weird game-changing mechanics…aside from a few side-scrolling shooter segments, Infinite‘s tight focus on its relatively simple gameplay is almost refreshing.
That is, until I got past the third or fourth stage and started running into some wild difficulty curves. The opening portion of the game is simple, almost painfully so. Enemies go down quickly, attacks are easy to dodge, and most bosses can taken down by walking up to them and smashing the attack button as fast as you can, tanking the damage they put out.
Once I was past the first quarter, though, I wound up on a bit of a roller coaster. Stages started throwing an ever-increasing number of enemies at me, often having them pop up in locations where you’re guaranteed to take a hit unless you expected them to be there beforehand. Bosses began to boast more complicated patterns, multiple phases, and started hitting like a truck.
Increasing the difficulty as a game progresses is to be expected, of course…but Infinite doesn’t do so steadily. One set of stages would have me burning through lives and continues, cursing at my television, while the one directly afterwards would be an absolute breeze, a stage I could complete without taking a hit. Even within different portions of the same stage, difficulty would spike wildly and unpredictably.
It was in the later stages that some cracks in the base platforming began to show as well. The game starts offering up platforming challenges that require precision dashing and wall-jumping, and its in the latter that I found most of my frustration.
Sometimes, wall-jumping just flat-out doesn’t work. Random walls wouldn’t let me start jumping up them. Others that would, my jump input wouldn’t register and I’d fall to the ground. I was able to persevere through this…until a boss came my way that required wall-jumping, and falling off the wall even once during the fight was an insta-death.
Hell, even things as simple as using ladders just straight-up didn’t work some of the time. A few levels have portions which require jump to and grabbing a ladder in midair, and it’s a straight roll of the dice whether your character will actually attach to the ladder or fall to her death.
My frustrations with this were compounded by something I had thought the games industry had long left behind – a punishing lives system. Losing all of your lives at any point during a set of stages means going back and doing the set all over again; not horrible during the first half of the game, but INCREDIBLY frustrating near the finale. These portions of Infinite dredged up long-buried memories of trying to complete Act 6 of the original Ninja Gaiden as a kid.
To end things on a more positive note, I can say that the later boss fights in the game (aside from the wall-jumping one) are often quite fun to play through. Sure, there was some frustration in running out of lives and being kicked back to the beginning of the stage just as I was getting a boss’ pattern down, but finally nailing said pattern and finishing off the fight always left me feeling accomplished.
If anything, I can at least say that Infinite is attractively designed. Each of the sixteen stages you fight through has its own unique aesthetic, keeping the stages you navigate through from ever becoming dull. I wish I could say the same about enemy variety, though; probably about 75% of the enemies in your way are the same three or four variations of “generic soldier dude.”
Aurally, Infinite is…well, passable. The soundtrack is designed well, often sounding like it was created on an old-school console chip. The tracks themselves, though, just aren’t very memorable for the most part. The only ones I can recall are the title screen theme and the track for stage 15, not because I particularly enjoyed them, but rather that they simply stood out over the rest of what I heard on my playthrough.
Overall, Infinite: Beyond the Mind is a fairly straight-forward action platformer that could have been more enjoyable, despite its wonky difficulty curve, if key parts of the platforming engine actually worked reliably. When I wasn’t struggling with jumping walls or climbing ladders, I was having a decent time playing through.
The game is difficult, and I feel the package would’ve been better overall if said difficulty ramped up steadily rather than randomly spiking throughout the game. Most challenges, though, are tough but fair. I am decidedly not a fan of implementing a lives/continues system into modern games, but I can’t say I didn’t get a rush of dopamine every time I finally overcame a challenge I was forced to repeat over, and over, and over.
Infinite would be an easy 7/10…if parts of its platforming engine, parts that are mandatory to complete the game, didn’t rely on a coin-flip to determine whether they would actually work or not. With important functions being so obviously broken, I can’t in good faith give out anything more than a middling score.
Review copy provided by Blowfish Studios for PS4. Screenshots sourced from Blowfish Studios website.