Do you remember Super Meat Boy? You know, the brutal platformer that should not have been nearly as fun as it was? The one that was so hard that it broke into your house, spat on the floor, called you horrible names, and ground your spirit into a mushy paste? Okay, good. You do remember. Since you do, IN-VERT should feel very familiar. It’s not familiar in a, “I really wish I was Super Meat Boy” way, but more of a “I’m going to be just as monstrously difficult as Super Meat Boy, and you are going to like it”, way.
IN-VERT is a 2D platformer that comes to us from the Russian developer TERNOX. The game opens with a few cute little drawings that introduce the game’s story. You play as a teensy robot who has awoken in a strange wasteland amid an assortment of broken, non-functional robots. With his memory slowly coming back to him, the little bot-boy is able to recall that he has a master that created him. With this recollection, he begins his quest to reunite with his master. That’s about it for the story and, to be honest, it’s definitely not a selling point.
The game is divided into five different worlds. In between each world you’re given an exposition dump about how the robot is wandering and has a master. As simple and repetitive as that sounds, it can get kind of confusing since the words are written in some pretty broken English. It gives off a distinct feeling that there wasn’t much effort put into localization. However, like I said, the story isn’t a selling point. Luckily the gameplay is much more appealing.
The first world introduces just about everything you need to know. You can jump, and also switch between two different moments in time. Super simple stuff. The jumping and moment-to-moment platforming are brilliant. The height of your jump is intuitively linked to how long you hold the jump button, and the player character has the perfect amount of weight to him. It’s intensely satisfying to control, and clearing jumping challenges makes you feel like you’re a master of athletic hopping. In later moments of the game, I did find that some of the ultra-precision jumps required absolute perfection. This often proved to be an ulcer inducer because IN-VERT’s collision detection is, in professional game critic terminology, freaking wonky. Then again, despite the veins that would bulge on my neck, no moment of failure was enough to discourage me from playing because the downtime between deaths is incredibly short. That is truly one of the game’s greatest strengths.
I mentioned something about switching between two moments in time, right? This is where the game’s title comes into play. With the press of a button, the world instantly transforms. (And I mean instantly. Pressing the time-jumping button too fast will show you why IN-VERT has an epilepsy warning as you turn it on). Platforms that were once nothing more than shadows become solid jumping points. However, platforms that you were once standing on can shift as well. It’s a tried and true formula for many a game, but it works here to great effect. The deceptively heavy weight of the robo-child means that you’ve got to make your time-jumping and normal-jumping decisions quickly. In later levels you’ll be making careful but rushed choices about when and where to jump, and often at times feeling like even Neo himself would be jealous of your effortless grace and doh!…I fell in some spikes…again.
Speaking of spikey, impaling deaths, you may recall that in the beginning of this review I mentioned that this game is incredibly difficult. It’s the Dark Souls of indie platformers with a time-jumping mechanic. Despite the immense challenge that it presents, worlds one through four are a brilliant example of a finely crafted difficulty curve. Each level introduces something that you haven’t seen before. Platforming challenges, small puzzles, moments that require perfect time-jumps, lasers, air currents and more. None of the newly introduced mechanics ever feel like they overstay their welcome, and you’re consistently moved onto new things. Sometimes, the moving platforms from world two will make a surprise appearance and combine with the lasers from world three in what feels like a wonderfully satisfying challenge.
Unfortunately, your knowledge of IN-VERT and the mastery that you grow over time don’t make it into the boss fights. At the end of each world is a boss fight that feels entirely out of place. All of your challenges up to that point were directly related to your ability to pass platformer obstacles and transitioning between time. Almost every one of those levels leading up to the boss fights is a finely tuned obstacle course that tests and builds upon what you’ve accomplished. Any time you fail on those levels, it definitely feels like it was your own folly. The boss fights, on the other hand, want you to simply jump on a large enemy’s head and avoid getting hit. It feels so out of tune with the rest of the game, and the difficulty here can be completely arbitrary. The final boss fight was one that had me dangerously close to drop-kicking my cat, but I eventually beat it. My cat’s fine. Put that phone down.
My opinion of IN-VERT on Xbox One is a bit of a rollercoaster. On the one hand, I think its challenging gameplay, tight controls and beautiful difficulty curve make for an engaging little platforming romp. On the other hand, the boss fights are bad, the story is pointless, and the wonky collision detection can be horrifyingly upsetting. However, also like a rollercoaster, once it was finished I felt satisfied. Satisfied to have come out alive and to have experienced some exhilarating moments. Moments that would have been more exhilarating if it weren’t for the guy in front of me that lost his lunch.