If Inside proves anything to Mario-obsessed Nintendo fans, it's that there's more than one way to skin a platforming cat. Which is a bizarrely grotesque image to contemplate. But then, Inside is full of bizarrely grotesque images. This is a thoughtful, masterfully-paced platform-puzzler with one of the most queasily fascinating settings in modern gaming. It's deeply disturbing stuff, but with a commendable degree of subtlety and restraint.
Rather than opting for the obvious jump scares of Resident Evil Revelations 2 or the schlock horror of Outlast 2, the Danish maker of Limbo - which actually hit Switch at the same time as Inside - has stuck with the creeping discomfort and relentless melancholy of its earlier game. Once again you play as a largely defenceless child, making your way from left to right through a nightmarishly hostile world.
With Inside, though, the dark fairy tale tone of Limbo gives way to dark sci-fi. Our protagonist is seemingly on the run from a monstrous corporation that conducts grim experiments on live creatures - including humans. Starting out in a dank forest, your journey will take you through converted farmyards and inky black lakes, with a prolonged final stretch that takes you deep into a vast compound.
Death is always around the corner in Inside, but these are not your typical video game terminations. They're often depressingly realistic in their banality, from the sickeningly curt thump of falling 30 feet onto concrete to the scrabbling twitch that precedes drowning. There's no life limit here (nor any UI for that matter), but you'll want to avoid fatal mistakes just to stop from wincing.
Thankfully, your interaction with this brutal world is simple enough: move with the left analog stick, jump with 'B', and use with 'A'. All three of those commands will be employed in a range of ways. We won't spoil the more outrageous examples, but with the 'A' button alone you'll be pushing and pulling boxes, opening grates, and flipping switches.
All of this reflects what a tactile game Inside is. Coupled with some sterling animation, there's real weight and heft to every action you perform in the game, while you often have to take into account the amount of time it will take our struggling hero to perform a certain command. This is as much a physics puzzler as a platformer. The graphics are also quite stupendous at selling all of this to you. Allied to the impeccable animation we've already mentioned is a detailed comic book art style that mutes the colour palette but exaggerates light and shade. If we've ever seen a better use of shadows in a game, we can't remember it.
This is yet another beloved indie game that runs and fits beautifully well on Switch. When docked, those gorgeous graphics really benefit from the increase in resolution and a more immersive screen size. However, the slow-paced 2D platforming still works very well in handheld mode. Plug in a set of earphones to get some of the game's immersive sound pumped directly into your brain, and Inside won't suffer at all on that portable screen.
If we were to issue any sort of warning here - beyond the fact that this probably isn't a game for very young or squeamish players - it's that Inside isn't terribly long. Most players will be able to breeze through it in five hours or less, and you can make your own mind up about whether that presents value for money at its launch price of £18 (which is, of course, a couple of pounds more than other versions). All we can tell you is that Inside doesn't waste a single second of your time. It's entirely free of pointless padding and dull repetition, deftly remixing and swapping out ideas almost at will. What's more, there are more memorable moments packed in here than in most games three times the size.
Inside is a grimly beautiful platform-puzzler that, while brief, is packed full of jaw-dropping highlights. While its dark tone won't be for everyone, it's all been executed brilliantly, with gently taxing physics-based conundrums woven into a haunting wordless narrative.