In the pixelated world of Inmost, every step is an adventure.
Inmost is a 2D platformer which takes players on a spine-chilling journey through a dreaded abandoned castle and the grounds that creep around it. It’s difficult for a pixel platformer to convey true terror, but unfortunately for myself – and for those behind me in the line at EGX 2018 – Hidden Layer Games look set to scare the pants off you.
Inmost already has its fair share of accolades under its belt. With the first prototype winning the award for ‘Best Indie Game’ at a DevGamm contest in Mink in 2017, it wasn’t surprising that the title was soon picked up by indie publishing giant Chucklefish. They describe the platformer as an “atmospheric, story-driven puzzle platformer,” with an intricate narrative set across two worlds.
The three main playable characters range from the fantastical to the outright creepy. While a stranger explores in search of answers, a little girl is locked in a house, and a knight is trying to break the contract that he made with the keeper and creator of this world. Inmost artist Alexey Testov shared that there are many other characters in the game whose own stories are intertwined with the main plot, and it sounds like there may be brief opportunities to step into these other characters’ shoes. According to Chucklefish, the narrative weaves together a tale of suffering and sacrifice against a mystical backdrop. How exactly a family gets caught up in the middle of it all isn’t clear, but it seems linked to the arrival of a mysterious stranger.
From the start, I was really blown away by how gorgeous the game looks. Every single pixel feels like it was laid down with a great deal of attention to detail, from the relentless raindrops hitting gnarled fairytale trees to the flickering candles of the dungeon. One feels inclined to compare such attention to detail with that of Kingdom: New Lands, but the palette of Inmost feels much darker and more sinister. It’s almost always ghoulish, with the occasional splash of red or a dim otherworldly pink glow of the horizon in the distance providing the only relief from the enclosing darkness.
Exploring what looks like the dungeon of an old house or castle and solving the various puzzles required to progress offered real insight into the strengths of this title. Challenges ranged from pushing a hay cart against a gelatinous horror until it exploded, to figuring out how to fire a giant crossbow to continue your mission. Speed and dexterity quite quickly prove to be essential to survival, unless you enjoy being impaled repeatedly, but on the whole, the game doesn’t feel unfairly punishing. Rather than the fast-paced kill-athon of the likes of Super Meat Boy, for example, Inmost offers a far more meditative approach to difficulty, encouraging detailed problem-solving tactics and lateral thinking. Layers upon layers of puzzle await this labyrinth of exploration until players recede into the furthest depths of its narrative core. It’s a structure that reflects the multi-layered nature of this narrative, and certainly explains the experience’s name.
Alexey muses that it had been important for him to find the right word in naming the game. After pottering about on Google Translate, he searched through various synonyms until he found “inmost”. A sense of dark enclosing within a maze of layers complements the game’s logo, which includes an ouroboros as the ‘o’. “The things it symbolises in mythology are directly related to the plot of the game and its image can frequently be found in the game,” Alexey explains. Intriguingly, he also mentions that the Ouroboros is one of the game’s characters and can even be seen in the trailer (if you pause at 0:48, you will see it glow behind the throne of a mysterious gigantic figure, and it appears again in a different setting in 0:53).
It’s difficult to build a significantly creepy experience without sophisticated sound design. Indeed, one of the things that stayed with me the most was the crispness of Inmost’s audio. The ominous tinkling of piano keys creates a distinct sense of isolation, yet at the same time has you peering around every corner in case of unexpected company. All the music you will hear is written exclusively for the game by a talented composer named Alexey Nechaev and the results are impressive.
Overall, the demo offered insight into an incredibly tense but deeply layered narrative with sophisticated and distinct artistic direction. The gameplay itself lives up to the precedent set by its dressing. Monsters come in all shapes and sizes and often move with significant speed, only intensified by a heart-pounding screen shake and dramatic music. In these moments, a player would be given mere seconds to comprehend and respond to life-threatening situations. After the first encounter of this kind, each step felt like a delicious threat. All of this culminated in a brutal encounter with the demo’s final monster, leaving a genuine taste of terror in the mouth.
Published by Chucklefish, Inmost will be coming out in 2019 for the PC and possibly other platforms. Stay tuned for more news on the game’s website or Twitter. When it comes out, I’ll definitely be playing it in the dark, with headphones, and plenty of chocolate for the panicky moments.