Last year, the first person psychological horror game In Sound Mind released on every platform except the Switch. Even though a Nintendo release was planned, it seemingly disappeared off the face of the Earth without a word.
A year later, the game suddenly appeared listed for a spooky October release.
Was it worth the wait, or would we be out of our minds playing it?
Many thanks to Maximum Games for the review code.
HAVING A WALES OF A TIME
Waking up in a strange building that vaguely resembles his apartment block, Desmond Wales finds himself trapped in a nightmare as water floods the city outside, trapping him inside with some strange creatures, psychedelic gas, and an environment that seems to shift around him.
After a little investigative work, Desmond soon realises that learning about his patients will help unravel the mystery of what the hell is going on. Is he having a breakdown? Who is the mysterious tall man stalking him? Why is his cat making conversation with him?
Desmond’s confusion along with the overall mystery of this bizarre world underpins the game and keeps things moving forward as he learns more about his clients and the connection between them. Each patient’s story is compelling, and you’ll find them all endearing as you find out more and more about their lives. The payoff may end up being a tad underwhelming, but each case is interesting enough to make you want to see things through.
MIND OVER MATTER
The strange building he finds himself in functions as a hub world after the opening section of the game, with each of the four floors merely containing an assortment of roadblocks you need to bypass in order to reach the next area. Bypassing these requires items that you’ll either obtain in the apartment building or in the main levels themselves, but will generally lead you to collectibles or one of your patient’s apartment. Within each apartment, you’ll find some information about the client and, more importantly, a cassette tape containing the recording of your therapy sessions. Using these in your office will open up a doorway to an alternative dimension which serves as one of the main levels, and the theming of it will reflect the issues that they faced.
A good example of this is with your first patient: Virginia is traumatised about her appearance, and this manifest itself by transforming her into The Watcher – a wandering mask-wearing spirit that shatters any mirror it sees. Virginia also had an obsession with the shutdown of the local supermarket, so this first level has you exploring an abandoned store whilst avoiding her tormented spirit. It’s a really effective first stage, as the game guides you through each small section in a piecemeal fashion and eventually gives you access to an expansive area that is pretty straightforward to navigate. This level is also where you’ll find your first major item: a shard of glass that allows you to see things that normally are unable to be seen, as well as repel the self-loathing ghost of your former patient.
Every patient is distinct though, and sees you in a vastly different situation. One of your later patients, Max, is an ex-convict who resents his therapy sessions and his spirit manifests itself as a raging bull of anger, which you need to avoid as you explore the railroad area where he used to work. The patients are tied into the levels well, making them feel like they have a continual presence. Whilst unkillable foes can normally be a pain in games like this, the game doesn’t force you to hide and wait, which vastly reduces their potential irritance. The quality of the levels vary somewhat, as the earlier levels are not only stronger in terms of level design, but also lean more into the horror side of things too. As the stages progress, the horror soon takes a backseat in favour of just general mystery and the levels become more open – but also to a fault. Regardless, each level offers a lot of variety and focuses on its own gameplay gimmick that stops one thing from ever becoming too stale.
The core gameplay revolves around both puzzles and platforming, with the latter being more prominent in the later stages of the game. The puzzles tend to be relatively straightforward, if a little cumbersome at times; there are some good ones, such as one revolving around finding postcards of a given price, but then there are also annoying ones that have you doing a lot of repetitive toing and froing such as rerouting power via the use of electronic chips that you have to insert and remove from countless electrical circuits. Again, the variety helps alleviate the frustration of certain puzzles, but it also means that some items are obtained and then forgotten about – leaving you to cycle through more inventory clutter as you search for what you actually need.
Platforming fares better, with many sections feeling a little bit like a Half-Life era FPS at times. There are some cool set-pieces in these moments, such as a part where you leap across a moving crane and is usually forgiving enough to make the first person perspective not too much of an issue. It does happen, such as a later part in the Water Treatment Facility that had me tearing what remains of my hair out, but it’s few and far between.
Aside from jumping and thinking, you’ll also be doing a fair amount of fighting too. Whilst the boss encounters of the game are more like puzzles than combat encounters, you will be required to get your hands dirty when dealing with the main enemies of the game: inkblot monstrosities that usually wander around slowly before spotting you. Their weakspots are their eye, but that can be pretty hard to hit with the pretty clunky aiming and their fast movement speed. Explosive objects can be used to take out the weaker ones, but even that doesn’t help make these gruelling encounters from feeling tiresome. Their general sponginess (especially the giant ogre inkblots) means that your options are to slog away at chipping down their health until they die, or try and run away from them and deal with the inevitable framerate drops. I’d recommend the third option of turning down the difficulty to make them less spongey, but that only helps minimise the length of these dreadful encounters.
Thankfully the performance in general is mostly fine throughout the game, at least in the earlier levels where enemy numbers are kept to a minimum. As enemy numbers increase, you can feel the framerate taking a hit but it’s never to an unplayable degree – even in the final tape which includes an overwhelming number of enemies that you will likely end up avoiding instead of fighting. When the framerate does get low, it can result in some issues with your running jump not working properly, but again it’s not something that happens often enough to make the game feel unplayable.
This acceptable framerate comes at a cost, and that is with the game’s visual presentation: the game looks pretty terrible for the most part. Whilst the hub building isn’t too bad, the main levels are nerfed to an incredible degree. So much so that it makes the larger open areas of the later levels feel impossible to navigate; one stage, set inside a forest, has very few visual landmarks and so the muddy graphics make everything just look the same. There’s no map either, so you can often find yourself wandering and hoping you’ll get to where you need to go.
Even worse, the mirror shard (one of the most important items in the game) has been altered in the Switch version so that it no longer shows a reflection of what is behind; instead, all you can see is just a horrible blur and enemies that are represented as shapeless purple blobs. It’s so ugly to look at that you actively won’t want to ever look at it, except for when you have to – which is actually reasonably frequently as many of the game’s puzzles utilise it. To make matters worse, sometimes it can be a little buggy and just show a completely black reflection where the textures seem not to have loaded. It’s painful to look at and made me want to jab the shard’s sharp edge directly into my eyeballs. No doubt mapping a true reflection into the shard, like with the other versions, would have been way too demanding for the console, but the sacrifice that they made makes you wonder whether or not it was worthwhile finishing the Switch port at all. Even though the shoddy combat and some questionable sections of the game made the game unpleasant at times, it’s the muddy visuals that made the game frustrating to play through.
In Sound Mind starts out really strong, with some great opening areas that are only let down by the game’s abysmal graphics and poor combat system. Unfortunately, as environments expand and enemy numbers grow, the game leans more on its flaws rather than what it does well and leaves a sour taste in your mouth. There’s an interesting mystery at the heart of the game though, and that alone may be worth giving the game a shot … but on a different platform.