Platforms: PC and MAC
Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Studio Fizbin
Publisher: HeadUp Games
When it comes to setting, story and characters I now find myself turning more and more to the point and click genre for originality. Perhaps it’s because they’re a relatively niche games by today’s standards and thus developers feel more free to experiment, to create unique things, but I’ve found that it’s within games like The Inner World where I find the most interesting universes to explore and people to meet.
Though point and click games may seem simple and easy to create at first glance, nothing could be further from the truth. While the core concepts of the genre, and therefore the basic gameplay mechancis as well, may not have changed very much over the years, creating a truly great point and click game requires the deft touch of a talented team. Adventure games don’t have the popularity of shooters, and so its small fanbase has a high number of veterans with hundreds of hours under their belts that demand the best, and luckily for them, and for me, Germany has become the de facto source for the best. Daedalic are the current cream of the crop, putting out consistently great titles like the Deponia series, Memoria and Night of the Rabbit, all games with beautiful graphics, strong stories and enjoyable gameplay. But now a young new group called Studio Fizbin is looking to make its mark with The Inner World, their first released project.
The Inner World is aptly named indeed. The Asposian people, who sport striped noses and arms, live within a hollow sphere in a universe made entirely of soil, as improbable as that may sound to you and me. Three great Wind Fountains not only supply the Asposians with the air required for life, but also power the many wind turbines that provide people with electricity. Over the past 15-years, though, the wind has slowly vanished, leaving a single solitary Wind Fountain trickling just enough air into the world for people to survive, while terrifying flying creatures called Basylians whose gaze can turn unfortunate people to stone terrorise the already frightened Asposians. In this bleak world a man by the name of Conroy, one of the three Wind Monks, has emerged as a religious leader of sorts, preaching to the Asposians that they must keep the Basylians happy, for they are Wind Gods and clearly they must be displeased.
As the player you take control of Robert, the adoptive son and apprentice of Conroy. Naive and innocent, Robert has led a cloistered existence having never left the palace that Conroy raised him in. Robert’s main duty is to play a single note for Conroy using his unique flute-nose, but when a cheeky pigeon flutters in and steals Conroy’s prized possession, Robert finds himself outside for the first time ever and caught up in a mad adventure where he meets plenty of strange people and must ultimately save the world. Because, you know, saving the world is where it’s at.
Well acted and equally well written Robert quickly proves to be a brilliant character. With his innocence and lack of knowledge he proves to the be perfect eyes for the player to see the world through, his questioning nature and wide-eyed look of curiosity matching that of the player’s. Despite the comically cartoon visuals The Inner World has a decidedly more adult edge to it than you might first expect and it’s incredibly fun to watch these moments fly completely over Robert’s innocent little head. While I’m sitting in my chair stifling a grin poor Robert is completely bamboozled by what’s just been said or suggested. The games sense of humour has survived the German to English translation very, very well, and even though there are a few darker moments within the game kids can still play it and enjoy the antics, their own bemusement at certain things reflected in Robert’s slightly confused expression.
Other characters throughout the game also shine, with highlights including the incredibly poisonous Gorfs and the odd split-personality of Steve/Pete, whose background, once uncovered, proved him to have surprising depth. Aside from one or two exceptions the dialogue sparkles, injecting most situations with a touch of natural humour and charm while giving the Asposian people their own unique vibe. Alongside Robert for chunks of the journey is Laura. While Robert has been hidden away for his entire life, Laura has been on the streets for the entirety of hers, making her personality almost completely opposite to Robert’s. Sadly this dichotomy doesn’t get played on anywhere nearly as well as it could have.
Whether entirely deliberate or not The Inner World also touches upon some much larger themes. On the surface its a lighthearted adventure game, but put just a little thought into it and you’ll start to notice some heavier ideas like the oppressiveness of religion. And then there’s Robert. As the story progresses he remains largely naive and innocent, yet throughout the course of the game he has stolen numerous items and even killed in the name of his quest.
The story falters in a few key areas, though. The opening hour or two are fantastic as more and more of the world and its characters are revealed, creating the perfect foundation for an intricate plot and detailed lore, but after that it falters, eventually stumbling into a fairly predictable plot that follows most of the “saving the world” conventions, all while refusing to delve any deeper into the unique world that the developers have created. It’s like they had the basic premise for the game’s world, but never got around to fleshing it out fully, and that just left me wanting so much more having been given a taster earlier. Meanwhile a romance sub-plot feels pretty poorly handled. Robert and the rest of the characters do manage to keep it all afloat and interesting, though, even if the rather abrupt and disappointing ending leaves you feeling a little let-down. Most of all it just feels like more could have been done with this wonderful world and some of the earlier themes that the game looks set to explore but never does, such as Robert and his evolution. Ultimately, even with these flaws the story is highly enjoyable.
The Inner World is a very traditional point and click game in the sense that it continues the trend of baffling leaps of logic that are bound to leave some people cursing the developers name. One of the game’s opening puzzles sets the tone for what is to come: faced with a worm who won’t come out of its hole the solution is to get it stupid drunk, before then tying it to a stick in order to create a handy catapult. It’s clearly a bonkers solution to the problem at hand, and one that doesn’t come readily to mind when attempting to think your way through the situation. But my complaint isn’t that The Inner World has a warped logic, because after all many of the greatest adventure games, both old and new, have had some seriously wacky puzzles. No, my complaint is that The Inner World fails to communicate its unique brand of logic to the player, and doesn’t feel constant in how that logic should be applied, leaving you to mindlessly click on things until something happens.
It all comes back down the fact that while adventure games may look deceptively easy to make, they’re really not as truly brilliant puzzles require tremendous amounts of skill, time and thought to create. The difficulty must be balanced out, and there must be a threat of thought that the player can follow in order for them to come up with the solution. There’s a key to creating an adventure game that uses a much more bizarre sense of logic than our own, every day kind, the kind that you’d think of as common bloody sense. When we see a problem we think of a simple solution, but in adventure game land the developers often attempt to come up with the most round-about method of solving said problem as humanly possible, thereby giving us reason to stretch our minds a bit. The developers, then, need to subtly communicate to the player how their world’s logic works, usually through carefully written item descriptions and dialogue. The correct use of a few key words can clue a player in, gently prodding them in the right direction. In the very best examples of the genre the player doesn’t even realise that those hints are there until that eureka moment. Finally, the game’s logic must feel like it’s consistent. Despite the apparent insanity of it all there has to be some clearly defined rules that the player can work with, otherwise every puzzle ends up leaving the player feeling a tad bemused.
The Inner World almost manages to do none of these things, favoring obtuse solutions to the majority of its conundrums. That’s not to say all of the puzzles are bad: there’s definately some solid head-scratchers in there that feel satisfying to solve, and even a few moments of true greatness. In these far too few examples the developers successfully indicate their logic to the player. . But for every one of these puzzles there’s several duff ones with baffling solutions.
Thankfully the hint system is one area in which the developers have gotten things right. While Daedalic games, my current favorite point and click developer, have been struggling to create a hint system that simply just works (they’ve been truly useless), The Inner World has marched in and presented us with a damn fine multi-layered one. There’s usually numerous hints for each puzzle, and each of those gently nudge you along, providing clearer and clearer clues until it eventually it takes pity on your pitiful wreck of a soul and tells you the solution outright. I’m almost hesitant to admit, even as a point and click veteran, that I used the hints quite a bit during the 7-hours it took me to run through the game. Much of that came through being unable to wrap my head around the game’s logic, though.
At least controlling the game is easy enough. By clicking on an object a small box pops up giving you the option to examine or use the item in question. A more standard control scheme would have been to simply have each action mapped to each of the top mouse buttons, but this works equally well, even if it is arguably a touch slower to use. The inventory sits at the bottom of the screen and is accessed by simply bringing your cursor down to it, where you can then combine items by dragging them to other objects within your seemingly infinite pockets. Finally, Studio Fizbin have adopted the Daedalic method of highlighting objects: by holding down the spacebar or the mouse button any interactable object is shown to you, ensuring pixel hunts never bother you again, although if you want the truly authentic experience then you can choose to simply avoid this feature.
It looks pretty, too, or at least to me it does. The art style, as you can clearly see in the pictures adorning this modest jumble of words, is certainly striking and plenty of love seems to have been put into it. As with any unique style there’s going to be some who hate it and others that love it, but from my perspective it looks damn fine and suits the nature of the game’s themes and characters beautifully. My only complaints here is that they could have made an effort to match the movements of characters mouths to the actual words, and during cut-scenes things do look a little rough. Otherwise this is a lovely looking game.
Okay, as we come closer to the end of this review there are a few more problems I want to get off my chest and out into the open. There’s a slight delay when using objects or combining objects that while not very long did begin to irritate a little. And when you move between environments a loading screen pops up that usually lasts a few seconds. It might not sound like much, but when you add each loading screen up over the course of the game it can be a little annoying. Obviously the developers are a smaller company, but I honestly feel that in 2013 we’ve moved past the point of needing loading screens in point and click games. A couple of crashes also occurred during play, though thankfully the autosave system is pretty good.
I enjoyed my with with The Inner World, but it’s an adventure game held up by its story, characters and world over its puzzles, which are decent but not amongst some of the finest examples within the genre. More importantly the developers, Studio Fizbin, are just getting started, and considering that this is an incredibly promising foundation for them to build on and expand.
Finally, even though pricing never comes into my final scoring, it’s worth pointing out that The Inner World is just £12 on Steam, and at that sort of price it’s more than worth picking up if you’re a fan of the genre.
+ Unique world.
+ Great characters.
+ Fun story.
– Puzzles are okay, but nothing more.
– Some baffling leaps of logic.
– Loading screens?
The Verdict: 3/5 – Good
The Inner World is a fun adventure game filled with wonderful characters and set within an interesting universe, but the puzzles are a little lacking.