There’s a mind-boggling degree of variety out there on the eShop right now, with multiple genres and virtually all tastes catered for in one way or another. But there isn’t much out there that’s downright weird. Or nothing that even approaches Infini, in any case.
The world of games is a pretty conservative place when you really get down to it. Anything that doesn’t easily slot into a neat category or evoke familiar sensations, tends to be approached with trepidation and even downright hostility. Under these conditions, it only takes a slightly left-field sense of humour or an original art style for a game to be hailed as daringly fresh.
That’s not what we’re talking about when we say that Infini is weird. Make no mistake, this game is wilfully different, from its bizarre art style to its psychedelic storytelling. Even its gameplay mechanics are several degrees off-kilter; it’s a twisted take on the spatial puzzler that we haven’t really seen before.
It’s one of those simple-to-grasp, tough to master, even more difficult to explain affairs. In each 2D level, your avatar – a personification of hope, no less – finds themselves falling through space according to the laws of gravity. That, at least, is a pretty reliable constant here.
But there’s evidently some unusual Portal-like jiggery-pokery going on at the periphery of your Switch/TV screen, because when Hope disappears off the bottom of the screen, they reappear at the top. The same thing goes for the left and right edges, which wrap around in a similar fashion. Think Super Mario Bros. 3’s Battle mode, Bubble Bobble or TowerFall.
Contact with a level’s maze-like barriers spells failure, but by using the shoulder buttons to zoom in and out – with Hope always as the focal point – you can ‘edit out’ sections of the level. If you can’t see it on screen, those barriers effectively phase out of existence, enabling you to magically hop across to another section. Supplementing this core system are buttons to slow or speed up your descent, to halt it, and even to reverse your fall when you reach a certain point.
Those are the basics, but the implementation of them can be simultaneously ingenious and befuddling. Your brain really needs to adapt to a new way of thinking – sure, there’s a wall there now, but what if there wasn’t? Where would that bring me out?
The execution of these portal-hopping acrobatics isn’t flawless by any means. There’s a certain clunkiness to the movement; an in-built imprecision that, together with the nature of the game, tends to necessitate multiple restarts even when you know precisely how to tackle a level. It can be quite frustrating, especially as Hope doesn’t seem to scale exactly in sync with the environment when you zoom out, which can often lead to you clipping into a wall you were formerly running parallel to.
Meanwhile, the sheer jumble of elements – many of which you’ll have to feel out for yourself to get the true measure of them – will lead to a lot of trial and error. It’s a good job, then, that levels restart instantly with a press of the A button whenever you collide with a barrier or enemy. Throw in the fact that the suitably discordant soundtrack is on one constant loop, and restarting multiple times soon becomes a natural part of life with Infini.
What will prove more divisive is the look of the game. You can tell from the screenshots what we mean, even if you can make neither head nor tail of what’s going on. Infini’s art style is a real mish-mash of unorthodox styles, with backgrounds that sometimes look like an extremely low resolution or Insta-filtered photograph, and sometimes like a rave record cover from the early ’90s.
Meanwhile, the characters resemble hand sketches from the fevered imaginations of at least four different children. When combined into one of the game’s bonkers cutscenes, they can start to resemble a collage filled with cut-outs from a number of different old magazines and newspapers. We can’t say categorically you’ll like the approach that Canadian developer Barnaque has taken with Infini’s presentation. In fact, we’re fairly confident a lot of people will hate it. All we can say with any degree of certainty is that it makes the game look and feel like no other, and that we found it to be bracingly fresh.
As for the story, it’s as unhinged as the rest of the game. Besides Hope, you’ll encounter representations of Memory, Poetry, Peace and other metaphysical concepts on your journey to escape Infinity. One of those manifestations is a dog, by the way. Because why wouldn’t it be?
Infini, to put it in the UK vernacular, is a ‘Marmite’ game. It’s a game most people will have an instant visceral reaction to, whether that be love or hate. But even if your first response is a negative one, we’d urge you to give it a try. Let it soak in for a while. Whether you ever fully embrace its weird world, Infini is at its core a very clever spatial puzzler that will demand plenty of creative thinking from you. And we could all do with a little more of that in our games.
Infini is a deeply unusual spatial puzzler with an ingenious portal mechanic. Its rough, abstract art style and psychedelic storytelling won’t be for everyone – or even for most people – but it deserves to be played and savoured as a genuine attempt to do something new.