Ever since the release and breakout success of Yacht Club’s love-letter to retro gaming, Shovel Knight in 2014, a strong trend seems to have developed in the indie gaming industry, to cater to the high demand of a nostalgic audience.
From Hollow Knight and Cuphead in 2017 to Dead Cells, Celeste, and The Messenger in 2018, to Katana Zero (which was nominated for Best Independent Game at the Game Awards) just last year, there have been some truly amazing retro-inspired platformers in recent years, for which I’m incredibly thankful for. The Messenger and Celeste, in particular, have become two of my favorite games in recent memory. These games didn’t just provide a homage to retro platformers, but pushed them forward, building on the established tried-and-true gameplay of the classics.
Story & Narrative?
Honestly, there’s not really much of a story, it’s more so just an alternate version of the save-the-princess plot of the Mario games, and an excuse to go crazy on an army. Basically your friend Olga (if you choose to play as Tanya) or Tanya (if you play as Olga) has been abducted by the world-dominating evil Queen and you gotta go save her and defeat the Queen. This premise immediately falls apart if you choose to play in co-op, since both Olga and Tanya are fighting together, in order to save… whom?
Also, the lack of transition between stages was awkward at times. One second you’re on the ground and in the next stage you’re flying in the air, and a few stages later you’re on a bullet train. I mean, like I said I love the level variety but narratively, there’s pretty much no connective tissue between the stages at all. But since this is a gameplay-focused game, it doesn’t detract from the overall experience in any significant way.
And, this might be a nitpick, but the name of the game itself could’ve been better since it doesn’t even remotely represent what the game is. At first glance, I thought this would be some sort of psychological narrative-driven walking simulator. In an interview, the developer said that the name represents how difficult it can be to change the world and the dream to make it possible at the individual scale. I respect that, but it still doesn’t really represent how the game plays in my opinion.
Gameplay & Mechanics
Infinite Beyond The Mind is a 2D side-scrolling action-platformer – emphasis on the action – that prioritizes a fast pace and intense beat-em-up style combat as opposed to meticulous platforming.
Over the course of its 16 stages (each divided into multiple 2-3 areas/levels) you’ll face a seemingly never-ending horde of enemies: foot soldiers armed with a wide variety of weapons – from simple pistols to shotguns, to grenades, rocket launchers, flame-throwers (these are extremely annoying) and miniguns, and everything in between; various kinds of turrets and drones; and, what I found most satisfying, an impressive assortment of vehicles: bikes and trucks to tanks, helicopters, and full-on missile-shooting jets. Hell, there are even tractors (for some reason)! In the later levels, there are even non-human enemies, and that not only broadens the enemy variety that much more but provides visual variety as well. Suffice it to say, the enemy variety is amazing and mowing everyone and everything down single-handedly really does make you feel like a badass one-woman army.
However, after the first 9 or so stages, you’ll have to earn this feeling, as the levels become much more challenging even on Normal difficulty, and you can easily find yourself overwhelmed and suddenly playing a bullet-hell game. I did not expect it to be so challenging, especially after breezing through the early levels, but for those of you looking for a challenging (but fair) action platformer, this is definitely a good one to tackle. Hint for the stage 15 boss: you can dash consecutively in the air (being used to Celeste, I didn’t even think to try this and died continuously for an hour or so). However, there is an Easy mode for more casual gamers as well.
You can play as one of two characters – Olga and Tanya. Unfortunately, this is only a visual change and they both play exactly the same. The moves you have at your disposal are extremely minimal: You have a simple slash attack, an invulnerable dash, a double-jump, and an emergency help-me-please button which calls for support, and has a limited number of uses and probably best left for the bosses. There’s also a stamina meter for your dash, failing to keep an eye on which will result in you falling helplessly to your death after attempting to dash over a gap.
Each stage ends with a boss fight, most of which are fairly interesting and fun, and sometimes very challenging, but nothing super innovative. There are also a few flight combat levels in between (think of the airplane levels in Cuphead) which offer a nice change of pace from the melee on-foot combat and allow you to shoot ‘em up instead of beat ‘em up for a while.
There’s a time bonus and, while there are health pickups and extra lives to find on each level, there’s no other incentive for exploration. And, other than a few areas in each level, you’re allowed to just run past all the enemies if that’s what you want, so the pace is actually literally in your hands. The game definitely encourages you to keep moving forward and not bother with anything other than annihilating the army, which is just fine with me. Plus, the verticality in some levels is impressive as you can choose to run on rooftops or stay on the ground, or both.
A couple of minor things that unfortunately took away from the fast pace and intensity of the game: the tank (you have access to stationary mini-tanks every so often) controls very clunkily and just slows you down, and climbing ladders after running around is noticeably slow for some reason.
Anyway, the gameplay is definitely the star of Infinite Beyond The Mind, and it’s incredibly satisfying thanks to its fast pace and simplicity. The enemy variety, including the bosses, is impressive as well. There’s also a shared-screen co-op mode, and though I didn’t get a chance to try it out (what with the lockdown and all), I’m definitely glad it exists and I’m sure it’ll only be that much more fun playing with a friend.
Length and replayability
There are multiple endings, a good, a bad, and a neutral one, according to certain things you can do in the last level, so you don’t need to replay the whole game to see the other two. Unfortunately, there’s no way to replay stages (unless you made a save at that stage) which is a real shame, I would’ve liked to replay some of the stages without having to replay everything preceding them.
It took me 6-7 hours to beat Infinite Beyond The Mind on Normal difficulty, but I’m not exceedingly good at platformers, I’d say I’m slightly above average. If platformers are your bread and butter, it’d probably take around 4 hours to beat. On Steam, there are achievements to unlock which provide replayability, however, some of them are bugged as of May 16th (getting the achievement for beating the game on Easy mode when you did it on Normal can be annoying), though the developer has acknowledged these and has promised to fix them. All in all, it’s worth the 349rs price point.
Visuals, Performance & Sound
The pixel art, especially in some of the later levels, is pretty great, and the game definitely succeeds visually (in addition to the gameplay) in creating that retro, nostalgic aesthetic. The characters are drawn in charming chibi-style pixel art and it’s always fun to look at while you kick the crap out of hordes of the cute soldiers. There’s a nice variety of environments as well, with different color schemes, so it doesn’t feel repetitive despite some similar levels. While the foreground art sometimes leaves more to be desired, the backdrops are consistently gorgeous and impressively detailed, ranging from blue skyscrapers to sunset-orange shipping docks, to rolling purple hills and violently red foundry interiors. Also, I’m a sucker for pixel art explosions and this game does not disappoint in that regard. There’s plenty of pretty explosions to admire, in fact, I was constantly reminded of the chaotic and explosive gameplay of Broforce.
The old-school music in Infinite Beyond The Mind is reminiscent of the Mega Man soundtracks, or, more recently, The Messenger, and this again helps pull off the retro aesthetic. Some of the tracks were actually surprisingly catchy and I found myself humming a couple of times. The 4th stage, shown above, is probably my favorite one(not counting the last few stages which I won’t mention to avoid spoilers), with the rolling hills and gigantic moon in the background, and a really great addicting soundtrack, ending with a very fun, challenging boss battle.
I’ve always had a soft spot for 2D platformers. Their focus on simple but challenging gameplay, that’s not overshadowed by useless special effects and state-of-the-art graphics, appeals to my love of pure, unadulterated sweaty-palms gameplay. In that regard, Infinite Beyond The Mind definitely succeeds. For ₹ 349/$9.99, it’s a worthwhile purchase. Just don’t expect anything out of the ordinary.