Exploration takes center stage in the story-driven flying/puzzle game Innerspace. While the atmosphere is excellent, some nagging issues hold it back and likely to leave you frustrated. Come inside to check out my full review!
Flying games have always been among my favorites and InnerSpace is nothing but flying around and discovering new stuff. Couple that with my love of all things Nintendo Switch (though it has also launched on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One) and I was eager to check out the game.
The end result is something that straddles the line between cathartic mind-boggling frustration. It can be so relaxing to explore the various areas of the game, but the lack of direction in what to do next, odd gameplay choices, and a steep learning curve on the controls holds it back. Let’s dive into it a little bit more.
As I mentioned, InnerSpace doesn’t mess around with its gameplay; it’s flying game and that’s all you’ll be doing. You awaken within the “Inverse,” a strange world that was once inhabited by ancient beings who vanished long ago. You’re tasked with exploring their lands, uncovering relics and clues to determine what happened to them and how things came to be.
From beginning to end, this game is all about exploration and the story helps to drive that home. It’s pastel backdrop gives the game a dreamlike quality, which along with the narrative focus, feels instantly familiar to gamers who’ve played similar story-based puzzle games.
InnerSpace is a fairly peaceful endeavor and when I say it’s all about exploration, I mean it. There’s no combat in the game, so you won’t be blasting your way through enemies. There are boss “battles” in the game, but even these take on the form of more specific puzzles you’ll need to solve.
Your time will be spent finding relics and artifacts that not only move the story forward, but provide upgrades to your ship. These upgrades allow you the freedom to explore in more ways than before, with one giving you the ability to dive underwater, another that helps you break through rocks, and improvements to your overall health capacity (though dying in the game isn’t all that big of a deal).
InnerSpace pulls off a genuine sense of freedom, making it feel like you don’t have limitations in where, and how, you explore the Inverse. Once you’re past the first few stages where you’re taught the basics, the game cuts you loose. The only limitations you’ll find are when you need to solve puzzles to access new areas, or require an upgrade.
The game stands out visually, and while its aesthetic is outwardly simplistic, it is nevertheless eye-catching. The music in the game completes the peaceful experience without being over the top and matching the distinct style within the game.
The musical cues that offer hints to the location of relics and other important things in your surroundings blend in nicely to the rest of the soundtrack. All in all, between the soundtrack and visuals, InnerSpace has a compelling style that blends well with the concept and gameplay. The game easy to get sucked into, which makes its shortcomings all the more frustrating.
What Falls Short
The flight controls themselves are fairly straightforward, allowing you to jump into the game fairly quickly and begin exploring. However, they’re a bit too simple and the lack of depth makes them far more difficult to master than they should be. While it's easy to fly around, I never felt like I had enough specific control over the ship to do what I wanted to. The result was an embarrassing amount of flying into walls, and continually missing entrances to passageways that shouldn't have been difficult.
This isn't entirely a failing of the controls, however, as much of the confusion and steep learning curve from the outset has to do with the level design. The idea of the Inverse is that it's basically a series of inside out worlds. It's an odd idea, but makes sense once you're playing. What this means, is that every location is essentially viewed through a fisheye lense.
This distortion makes it difficult to fully understand the spatial location of objects in my area and how to get to them. It's super disorienting at first (or any time you jump back into the game if you've taken a break) and takes quite a bit of time to get used to, which isn't helped by an all too liberal rotation mechanic in flight.
The problem isn't made any easier by the fact that I never felt like I was actually piloting my ship through the worlds. Rather, I was plagued by a sense that I (the ship) was staying in one fixed spot with the surroundings going by me. Almost like walking on a treadmill with projector screen around me. This isn't necessarily a bad thing (as the flying still feels pretty solid), it continually took me out of the exploration experience the game strives to attain.
It's possible to get past this, though, and enjoy your flying time. The bigger issue with the game is how hands-off it remains. While it's a great thing to have so much freedom, the complete lack of direction makes it difficult to know what to do next. In all, the game will take about 8-10 hours to complete the story...I spent a lot more time, however, trying to figure out what the heck I was supposed to do.
While some of the puzzles are challenging, others are incredibly simple but took longer to solve simply because there's no sense of guidance/direction given. Hell, some of the boss 'battles' I completed happened entirely by accident. In fact, there's at least one boss puzzle I STILL can't tell you how I solved. This aggravation is counter to the peaceful, exploratory nature of the game itself. While I appreciate that the developers wanted to give us this total sense of freedom, a bit more overt direction would go a long way towards eliminating this bit of frustration.
Great Aesthetic, Frustrating Gameplay
InnerSpace does quite a bit right, with simple mechanics, a great concept, and plenty of visual flair. That makes it all the more frustrating that a series of minor problems continue to hold it back. While the story is engaging, and the freedom to explore is great, once you're done there isn't much reason to come back to it.
If you're looking for a decent, but flawed, indie title to pick up on the Switch, InnerSpace isn't a bad choice. If you're gaming backlog is stacked, however, it might be best to skip over it for now and wait on a sale.