InnerSpace (Switch) Review – Great outside, Flawed Inside
Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
Developer: PolyKnight Games
Publisher: Aspyr Media
Release: 16th January 2018
In recent years more and more indie games tried themselves on the, as I like to call it, artistical minimalism, Oure is one of those examples. Unsurprisingly, most of them are rather mediocre, simply because it takes more than a cool looking world to be a good game. InnerSpaceis probably the latest entry in this slowly oversaturated genre, originally funded on Kickstarter it sets out to fly to new heights and just barely misses its goal.
In an abandoned, dying world an archaeologist and a flying plane (?) go on a journey to save the last bits of this world´s long forgotten culture before everything ends. Across multiple worlds, it’s their duty to discover the long-forgotten secrets to conserve it for the civilizations to come.
In contrast to most indie games of this sub-genre, InnerSpace actually features quite a lot of dialogue and text, either in conversations with the archaeologist or in artefacts, the collectables of the game. Nonetheless, most of the written lines focus on the mission, goal or other quests related stuff, while the world still has to be discovered. Yet, the story behind the downfall of the once proud civilization isn´t the actual core of the game as it´s only briefly touched and never surpasses the expectations. PolyKnight Games rather used it as a frame to build some beautiful worlds and have an excuse why the planets are turned outside-in, creating a very bizarre feel.
The actual main part is the flying itself, playing as an airplane of some sort, the only gameplay consists of flying through these various worlds, collecting artefacts to progress and learn more about the world. Considering how many games failed at providing a satisfying system to navigate a plane, InnerSpace does a pretty good job with its simple but fun mechanics. Controlled mainly by the two joy-sticks, one for direction and the other for speed/rotation, paired with a break, it´s possible in almost every situation to stop the wild ride, in case you missed the way or lost coordination. It´s by far not a new implementation but works just as well.
Naturally, though, the typical problems still persist, meaning, when the plane crashes into a wall it doesn´t look good. Since there´s no damage or health, instead of exploding or crashing, the little aircraft just bumps against it until we manage to manoeuvre it out of its misery. On the one hand, removing the danger of dying altogether certainly motivates to fly faster than normal, there aren´t real consequences after all and the gameplay only shines when we fly through the world at a huge speed. On the other hand, however, there really isn´t much to fear in InnerSpace because it´s nearly impossible to get a game over.
In a game where the biggest challenge is to fly around, the lack of consequence removes nearly the whole tension as soon as you manage to control it.
Unfortunately, there´s a far greater problem than just the lack of any real consequences, something rather forgivable for such a game, the lack of communication. Despite its quite extensive dialogues, hints and easy gameplay, InnerSpace fails at the task to give the player a clear goal in many moments. Besides the simple task to find the often unspectacular door in each world, boss fights are a common obstacle as well. While level guidance is mostly achieved through glowing objects or collectables, understanding how to beat an enemy is the real challenge.
Often the game never gives more than a handful of cryptic hints, leaving you pretty much alone in the dark, making minute long trial and error attempts almost a necessity, hoping that one day you´ll find out what to do. At least during my first 3 hours of the roughly 6-7 hours long story, I almost did nothing else than flying cluelessly around until I somehow had the right idea. It´s painful and not fun, trust me.
Otherwise, InnerSpace is a truly beautiful game and almost makes up for the long passages of nothingness with its breathtaking visuals. Every world is completely different, has a unique geometry, new mechanics and overall looks fantastic. Each aircraft, collectable throughout the story, also reacts to the way you control, by making little piano sounds, for example, perfectly mixing with the pleasant background music. Everything about it is beautiful, enchanting and truly crafted with love.
Compared to other indie games attempting to find their footing in this sub-genre, PolyKnight Games did a surprisingly good job with InnerSpace. They didn´t just create a beautiful world but a surprisingly well working gameplay as well. If not for the flawed mission design I actually would have found liking it way more than anticipated … sadly the mission design, unable to properly guide the player is too much of a weight for this little aircraft to carry.
[A Review Code was provided by Aspyr Media]