Initial Release: 16 January 2018
There’s a good game somewhere in InnerSpace but it is unfortunately buried under meandering exploration, imprecise controls and the constant reassurance to the player that what they are doing IS interesting. The final hour of the game is a joy to play, taking all of the best parts from the game up to that point and condensing them into a well-designed and delightful experience. Had the rest of the game been the same, I would have enjoyed it exponentially more.
After a successful KickStarter campaign back in 2014 developer PolyKnight Games’ flight exploration game InnerSpace has finally made its way into the hands of players. The game tasks players with controlling a flying cartographer and sets them off exploring the inside-out worlds of the Inverse. The Inverse is made up of a dozen or so connected worlds each with different mechanisms, colour palette and relics.
InnerSpace places great importance on these aforementioned relics from the get go. A talking submarine of sorts repeatedly tells the player how amazing and worthwhile these relics are and sets the scene for what is essentially a chilled-out collectathon. Trouble is, none if it is particularly compelling. The game likes to remind you just how amazing everything you’re discovering is but due to the confused nature of the upgrade system and the strange tactile nature of the relics screen, it never quite comes together. Frequently I found myself confused as to exactly what I was supposed to be doing and exactly what purpose the relics served.
The game features simple flying mechanics in which the player can drift, dive underwater and use perches to survey the surroundings. InnerSpace requires the player to explore every nook and cranny of its admittedly very pretty hub worlds. My main issue with this was with just how difficult it is to fly with any sort of finesse. There are wing upgrades which make you slower or faster but the act of flying through a narrow chamber is tricky. Things get worse when you inevitably crash into something and are bounced around the environment like a ping pong ball.
Each stage culminates in a puzzle section involving an ancient demigod which are welcome breaks from the aimless meandering of the rest of the game. So much of my time with InnerSpace was spent frustrated, unsure as to what to do next. There are vague hints to be gleaned from your submarine friend but with the abstract nature of the puzzles there is just so much time wasted. I also found myself getting lost, a lot. While there are slight differences between each environment, it can be easy to get them mixed up which just adds to the time treading water. The game introduces new elements to break with your craft so frequently that it is really a guessing game as to whether crashing into something will have any effect.
There is a real glimmer of hope in the game’s final stage. This section is decidedly more linear, pointing the player towards the next objective. If the rest of the game had been like this I feel that I would certainly have enjoyed my time in the inverse a lot more. This final section culminates in a touching and visually stirring crescendo of light and sound which left me wondering why the same level of detail and care hadn’t applied to the several hours leading up to it.
The sound design on the other hand, is impeccable from start to finish. Each slight change in direction, each dive towards the ground is complimented by a musical cue. The way the environment responds to the player’s prodding and poking is also a delight to behold. Glowing light indicates points of interest and levers drip with oozing pure light. The overall art direction is relaxing, elegant and vibrant. I just wish that the level design was up to the same standard. There’s a real disconnect between the form and size of the craft and the areas which are to be explored. The inside-out nature of each area is incredibly confusing, especially when crammed onto the handheld screen of the Switch. The Joy-cons also seem woefully unsuited to the level of finesse and manoeuvrability demanded of the player.
The lack of a hover mechanic definitely makes things a lot harder than they need to be and some craft upgrades make it near impossible to navigate. The underwater areas are a welcome break from this however with the overall speed of movement decreased. I found myself constantly holding the craft in the slowest speed possible in order to make the twists and turns necessary to proceed.
There is a loose narrative presented here but it is mostly added dressing. There are ancient Gods which used wind to power a civilisation. The player must awaken these Gods and discover more about the world around them. The game goes all in on its exploration and archaeological theme which does at least give it a different angle from the other passive, environmental narrative games out there.
There’s a good game somewhere in InnerSpace but it is unfortunately buried under meandering exploration, imprecise controls and the constant reassurance to the player that what they are doing IS interesting, promise. The final hour of the game is a joy to play, taking all of the best parts from the game up to that point and condensing them into a well-designed and delightful experience. Had the rest of the game been the same, I would have enjoyed it exponentially more.
Verdict: 5 Out of 10
We were provided a copy of the game for review purposes by Aspyr