The Inner World

Thanks to Kickstarter and distribution outlets like Steam, the point-and-click adventure genre has enjoyed a quiet revival.  Talented developers have found a way to tell unique and interesting stories without the huge, eight figure budgets required for Triple-A games.  Headup Games’s The Inner World is a perfect example of the type of under-the-radar game that would have had trouble finding a way to get made six years ago.  It is a cheap and short adventure with an attractive art style, an interesting set of characters, and a decent story.  Unfortunately, it repeatedly falls victim to the gameplay problems that have plagued mediocre entries of the genre since its inception.  So while it makes a good first impression and it might be worth giving a look, the game’s boring pacing and illogical puzzles really drag it down.

The Inner World takes place in the world of Asposia, which resides on the inside of a hollow sphere that is ventilated by wind fountains.  Lately though, the wind fountains have died down, and the world is ruled by a cruel monk named Conrad.  Conrad came to power by supposedly saving the world from the Basylians, reptiles who emerge from the wind fountains to turn people to stone.  You play as Robert, Conrad’s naïve adopted son.  Having lived your whole life sheltered in Conrad’s palace, you finally venture out into the world by chasing after a pigeon who has stolen Conrad’s necklace.  While out in the world, Robert will learn the truth about Conrad’s nature, why the wind fountains dried up, and the sinister secret of the Basylians.  The plot isn’t revolutionary, but the unique setting and the game’s colorful art style still make it refreshing.  Although it is somewhat predictable, it is still an interesting story, and you get to meet some crazy and charming characters on the way.  These characters offer a lot of dialog, which provides the game’s humor and also does a great job of fleshing out this rich and interesting world.  And, for what looks like a small budget indie game, the voice acting is mostly terrific.

To navigate the world and progress the story, you'll engage in typical point-and-click adventure gameplay: collect random items, examine objects in the world, and talk to the other characters.  To solve puzzles, combine or use items in your inventory or present them to characters and objects in the world.  The interface is well designed, but unfortunately, the puzzle solving is a major detriment to the game.  One of the noticeable problems is that almost all of the puzzles in the game are contrived obstacles that feel as if they were put into the game just to block you from moving through the story too fast.  The puzzles don’t integrate well into the story.  Instead, they are mostly boring, mundane tasks that are interchangeable with those in just about any other adventure game.  There are at least four or five “item just out of reach” puzzles that could be easily circumvented if only Robert had a stool to stand on or a stick to poke stuff with.  There are also a lot of puzzles where you can see what you need to do, but there is some annoying NPC in the room that you have to get rid of first.  An early quest involves you following a girl that you just met, but you don’t know where she is.  So, you ask a local citizen, who won’t tell you where she went unless you get her a onesie for her baby.  To make the onesie, you have to find yarn and knitting needles.  That whole section of the game ends up being a dull fetch quest, and it is largely representative of the puzzles that the game has to offer.

The biggest issue with the puzzles are horribly illogical and require you to use the items in your inventory in a manner that defies common sense.  It is a frustrating bugaboo that has destroyed countless adventure games.  The Inner World is a game that constantly pulls you out of its world by forcing you to try and get inside the heads of the developers and divine their intentions.  Many puzzles require you to create a MacGuyver-esque contraption out of junk in your inventory – the type of solution that never exists outside of the logic of a point-and-click adventure game.  One of the worst offenders is a puzzle that requires you to get out of a room by finding a secret switch on the wall.  The solution to this puzzle involves using a toy in your inventory with some powdered sugar to dust the wall for fingerprints.  It is the type of solution that you cannot come up with unless you engage in excessive trial-and-error or use the game’s hint system.  Either method robs you of the satisfaction of feeling like you won the game because you used your brainy resourcefulness to overcome its challenges.  For what it’s worth, the hint system is very good.  Its inclusion signals that, at some level, Headup Games realized that they had some puzzles in the game that weren’t very strong.  Including it was a wise decision, but I would have much preferred if the game’s puzzles were designed in such a way that you didn’t need it.

Depending on how often you get stuck, it should take you about five or six hours to complete the game's five chapters and reach the ending.  The story progresses well between puzzles and it thankfully doesn't overstay its welcome.

For the most part, I found The Inner World to be a dull and unsatisfying experience, punctuated by the occasional interesting story moment or line of dialog from a memorable character.   I confess, however, that I have a lower than average tolerance for boring or illogical puzzles in adventure games.  It is the reason why I mostly abandoned the genre a decade ago.  Your mileage with this game may vary. Even if you don’t like the gameplay, the story and setting are solid enough to where you can get at least some minimum level of enjoyment out of the game.  If you are the type of person who enjoys playing adventure games with puzzles like the ones found in The Inner World, then you may get more than that out of it.