Adventure Game Logic 101
I strongly suspect that The Inner World is going to be one of those games that very cleanly divides adventure fans between those who enjoy its unapologetically old-school sensibilities, and those who find it unnecessarily drawn out and even tedious. It’s quirky, cute, sometimes charming, and occasionally even clever, but it’s also a paper-thin tale that’s utterly, and somewhat tiresomely, dedicated to the warped conventions of “adventure game logic.”
The Inner World takes place on the inside-out world of Asposia, a hollow “planet” in a universe composed entirely of soil. The air that gives it life comes in through three great “wind fountains,” and while the actual origin of the wind is a mystery, one thing is certain: it is slowly dying out. Only one wind fountain remains functional, guarded by the Abbott Conroy and his young assistant Robert. But things go haywire when Robert, a rather simple sort of fellow, befriends a pigeon; the pigeon makes off with the Abbott’s most treasured possession and before he can be stopped, Robert takes off in pursuit – his first-ever journey beyond the castle’s protective walls.
The opening sequence very quickly sets the tone for the game, with simple yet surprisingly emotive hand-drawn graphics and excellent voice acting; and if there’s any question as to the gravitas of the narrative, it’s answered immediately by the Abbott’s baritone command following Robert’s surprise departure: “Bring me the hedgehog!” I was smiling throughout the introduction and laughed out loud at that line, but as I dug into the game I found that it wasn’t able to maintain that level of sweet (and wonderfully strange) charm.
The Inner World is somewhat more difficult than most modern adventures; although “obtuse” may be a more accurate term for it. There’s a lot to look at and plenty of conversations to have, and thorough exploration and attention to detail is vital. But while grasping the solution to a problem is often fairly straightforward, figuring out how the developer wants that solution executed is a different matter entirely, and one that may test your patience. Getting things done often comes down to the “try everything on everything” approach, which works well enough for the most part but certainly isn’t the ideal way to play; or you can just rely on the hint system – one of the highlights of the game.
Instead of just providing a solution or an obvious hint or two, The Inner World offers many gentle nudges in the right direction. It will eventually cough up a direct answer, but not before giving you every possible opportunity to figure it out (mostly) for yourself. It’s really well done, and ensures that adventurers of every skill level can get through the game without surrendering themselves to a walkthrough.
My real complaint about The Inner World is simply that it failed to engage me. The story shifts fairly quickly from slapstick hijinks to heroic fairy tale, and while that’s not a problem in itself – the two generally go together quite well – there’s never anything about it that feels particularly epic, or even interesting. What little momentum the plot does manage to build is too often brought to a halt by the dense puzzles, and the world of Asposia itself, while a potentially fascinating place, remains a largely unpainted canvas and never really comes alive.
More significantly, the characters that inhabit it are what you might call a mixed bag. Most of them are pretty good – Robert’s bottomless naiveté is fun, and Steve and Pete are easily one of the more interesting video game duos I’ve seen in a while – but Laura, Robert’s partner for most of his adventure, is decidedly unlikeable. She’s headstrong, brash, world-weary, and loud – the absolute opposite of Robert, in other words – but while she was presumably intended as a foil for his sincerity and sweetness, she’s really just a jerk, to the extent that I actually found her presence distracting.
I had some minor technical difficulty at the end of chapter one, in that chapter two wouldn’t load until I manually closed and restarted the game. There were also a few instances in which it simply refused to acknowledge mouse clicks for 15-20 seconds; when I first ran into the problem I thought it had locked up, but I regained control after a bit of fortunate patience, and while the forced delay is annoying, it’s not actually damaging in any way.
I feel like I should have enjoyed The Inner World more than I did, which makes it all the more disappointing that I didn’t. But the excitement I felt at the start of the game had petered out by the midway point as it shifted gears from a very oddball comedy romp to a conventional, puzzle-based retro adventure. It’s great if that’s what you’re after, but the high hopes I had after the very promising previews just weren’t quite met.