We have a new writer inbound, check out SamK and his review of Inner Space (Not the film)
Inner space… Isn’t that a film? “A hapless store clerk must foil criminals to save the life of the man who, miniaturised in a secret experiment, was accidentally injected into him.” Nothing to do with that then. Isn’t there another game called this? No, it’s just such a generic title I thought I’d already played it which is an odd start to a game.
Inner Space is best summed up as a flying collectathon game with an indie darling-like vibe. The more you play the more it reminds you of the free roaming flying sections in Panzer Dragon Saga. Although it’s less engaging than journey or other indie titles with the same ilk from the start you can still got a wow when unlocking areas, That being said it’s niceties come with a lot of caveats that result in it being a real mixed bag.
For a flying game the controls are functional but the tutorial is absolute garbage. I say functional in the strictest sense but the system for the controls is bizarre. It ignores standard setups for throttle, pitch and the like and doesn’t allow for more customisation than inverse Y. Left analogue is now pitch, strafe and the right analogue throttle and roll. L1 lets you drift which is Inner Space’s primary mechanic. Air drifting takes a bit of getting used to and again the tutorial doesn’t explain it well, if you drift you do get a boost which is pretty cool and you will need to get the hang of it as you’ll spend most of the game relying on it. Essentially the engine switches off and inertia keeps you moving, when your done drifting you let go and your ship gets a little boost Mario Kart style. It’s not the only unique touch though; R1 activates a dive mode where your wings tuck in and you drop into the nearest water. Unfortunately it’s only useful in half the game and makes even less sense in the tutorial as there is either no water or your using it simply as way of telling which way is up. It’s all great when it works and your drifting around tight corners and diving into water but you have to shake off a lot of muscle memory from Elite or Star Wars first.
There is no auto centre ability which most flying games have and this can cause a few headaches trying to tell which way is up. The games levels are often entirely made of soft pallets of floor and sea being the same colours. Once you start to realise the maps are enclosed spaces you’d think the need for a centre of gravity would go but it never leaves, unless you’re in a simple linear path you find yourself having to rethink how to fly. This is usually the case with these sort of experience games and typically you’ll have gotten into the groove mid-game but Inner Space never lets up, even to the end there were multiple times a self righting would have helped with navigating abstract environments.
An experience game at heart, there’s no death or damage simply a rough noise and grating if you hit a wall or floor. Only once did I get the ship so stuck it had to re-spawn me at the start of the level. Slamming into walls and such seems to be an after thought for the development which is odd because you’ll likely find yourself doing that… a lot. There are white blobs that hold your ship still and you can line up your sight with the next target and fire yourself out from them essentially a godsend when your lost and trying to get your bearings but their largely placed in open wide areas where they aren’t needed and not in the small rooms or areas that could use them.
The story is like any indie darling, you get out of it what you put in. You can breeze through the levels and skip past all of the additional text and details or pour over the extra relics and questions you can ask your companion. Ancient powers and demigods harnessed wind powers to change the innerverse and this failed resulting in a blown up sun. It’s up to you and a strange fish-like submarine character to try to fix it all and thus the universe again. There are plenty of collectible trinkets and items to flesh out the world but your mileage will vary depending on how interesting you find relics of the past. Personally I found the most interesting aspect to be the way the relics all need different tinkering to look more into either open, chip, point a light and such. It’s nothing too involved but it’s a nice distraction.
Lack of signposting is a major issue with inner space. It’s a problem from the start and keeps recurring as the game progresses. It’s far too abstract, far too often. When you first start out and your flying around trying to figure out which way is up the camera doesn’t do a good enough job showing you the important aspects. It wasn’t until the second level it becomes obvious who the submarine fish is as the camera doesn’t focus on it until then. The more the game progresses the more the camerawork improves with the end moments signposting where to go brilliantly, it’s just a shame you’ll have hours of tedious, irritating searching for what to do next before that.
The game isn’t without its brilliant moments. The leviathan is one great example of when it gets good. When the game focuses on areas to do, changes the camera for you before letting you loose, gives you a clear target and the game shines. Most of the time it doesn’t though. The game throws you in and goes, “here’s an area you figure it out”. Games can be great if the area your exploring has some signposts but if you don’t hit that shiny lever in the right direction and the right way with your ship? Then good luck figuring out what you can and can’t interact with! Expect a lot of slamming into cracked windows only to find you can’t go through them unless it’s white cracks and only some of the time. Slamming into walls because the tight turn is too tight for your ship and a lot of “ok now what?”.
The game can’t help but be compared and pushed to others as the more you play the more it feels like a hit list of other great titles. The colour scheme feels like a subdued The Witness without the bold colours for guidance. The simple polygons and soft palettes work feel like Journey and do work in the games favour sometimes but can cause the screen to be a visual mess at others. Inverse ancients wind power demigods all look a little strange with a mix of bold coloured ships run through a filter, pale coloured water and particle effect collectables. Also there is a very strange slight motion blur and filter on the screen (which is why a few of the screenshots have a strange Anti Aliasing like grid when you pause it). In motion it can look stunning but that’s only when everything is working in its favour, most of the time it’s just a cluster of pale brown/grey translucent stuff with particles thrown over.
Still everyone loves an interesting loading screen, Who doesn’t love rolling circles around? It’s a nice feature and given the game doesn’t have many heavy loading moments it works well. It helps the games text is scaled well and there’s nothing difficult to read. It all rounds out to a strange mix of stunning moments of beauty and clusters of particle mess or barren underwater areas with nothing in. It seems like each area has 1 area well made and 1 area just left as necessary for the surrounding world system.
Plinky plonky music that skirts the line between abstract soft and mashing the keyboard. Inner Space is trying so hard sometimes and pulls off the notes that make you feel great and then will mess it all up by just changing those notes to noise. The resulting mix is a sort of chilled out Stranger Things vibe at the start of the game that forgets what it’s doing by the end. There are a few clever little things though with the Piano ship playing little notes when you rotate and tilt but causing other ships to be dull by comparison with either no sound or a low tone when drifting.
Collecting or doing anything in the game results in musical notes and little chips of music that reminds me of Electroplankton on the DS. The game feels very much like Eufloria with music when it’s good thats soft and doesn’t overpower the experience. It’s just sadly inconsistent with some notes just being long singular notes. It got so bad at one point, I thought the game had broken and pausing the game was a welcome relief the noise.
The game is short but most exploration collect heavy games are. They don’t overstay their welcome and just get the good stuff out the way. Inner Space is no different. There are new ships to collect by finding relics, relic parts and all the wind in the world. Also given the fact the screen is so cluttered most of the time you’re unlikely to find it all on your first play-though. Wind collectables are random, some blobs worth 1 some 9 some 10. Some are stationary, some fly away and some are mission ending.
That’s really all there is to it though which would be fine if the Story was interesting. It’s a short one that does make some abstract sense but you shouldn’t think too hard about it. Also the story does warn you of a “this is the final mission” moment so you can go back to previous areas and get the missing wind. There isn’t much incentive to do so though and that’s another thing that lets the game down.
A game where your best memories are marred by many many frustrating ones. Simple flaws that add up over time taking away from the good times. There are great level moments and when your plucking wires with your wings and nailing corners it’s super. The problem is there are too many, “smash my ship against it hoping it might break/lead to something else” moments to call this great but enough “oh wow” moments to call it good.
Worth gonna go back to? No. Absolute trash? Again no.
There are plenty of good moments, chasing a big flock of butterflies and nailing the flying fish trophy come to mind. The problem is its equal parts flying free and smashing into walls, looking for the next progression point and tedium. It’s a shame, it feels like it has a huge amount of potential, a companion that actually gives advice, a soundtrack with more than a few good notes and a customizable control system and it could have been so much more. It’s still worth a look if you fancy flying around just don’t expect to find your inner space. Inner Space receives a Thumb Culture Bronze Award.
Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this review.