The Inner World reaches into a particular piece of nostalgia in my mind that I don’t think about much: 90’s cartoons. Specifically, 90’s cartoons created by Nickelodeon. With it’s muted colors and characters whose design are a mix of grotesque and charming, it would be unsurprising to see a The Inner World series along with Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, Doug, and Rugrats.
The game creates a fictional world called Asposia, whose inhabitants- the pale-skinned, pointy-nosed Asposians- live on the inside of its surface instead of outside. These people depend on wind spouts that power everything on the planet, though now only one of the three wind spouts is working and even then it isn’t working that well. This last spout is run by dictator-like priest named Conroy, who preaches social conservatism as a way of appeasing the gods. The wind gods themselves are dragon-esque creatures named basylians, who appear every now and then to turn people into stone.
It’s in this world that we meet the game’s protagonist: Robert. Robert is an Asposian who lives under the cruel guardianship of Conroy and has a distinct nose with four holes from which Robert can produce music. As the game begins, a pigeon has managed to snatch away from Robert Conroy’s most beloved pendant, forcing the young boy to chase after it and explore the world he has been kept from his whole life.
This initial premise leads Robert to Laura. An orphaned girl whose life in harsh Asposia has taught her to be street-smart, Laura helps Robert learn that the problems plaguing their world have a sinister reason behind them. Together, they go forth to try and fix them.
Neither Robert nor Laura themselves are particularly interesting characters. Laura is far too self-serious to ever be charming and the narrative never delves into her character much to say something interesting about it. Robert’s earnestness sometimes feels like it comes from an inability to comprehend the world instead of just naivete, making him read a bit daft. To be fair, while setting up one’s protagonist as an actual good person that can be rooted for instead of the “dark and gritty” character that has become cliché in modern stories is an admirable move, I often never cared for seeing what happened next to him. The structure of the game seems to be okay with this though, and attempts to make it up by positioning them as the straight men to the world’s characters.
This is a fine strategy, but only works when those characters have something compelling about themselves, even if in small chunks. Unfortunately, the range of side characters are mostly dull cliches. The idiot guard; the giant who prefers a delicate profession; the senile, old man; none of them do anything besides what one would expect them to. A lot of this weighs on the dialogue, which never feels more than rote.
As a side note, there’s a really distasteful moment in the game where a female character is called “bitch” with a casualty that really surprised me. Perhaps its the result of the translation, but it felt completely out of tone with the game and character.
The puzzles in the game are boring as well. It’s not that they’re inventory-based (as that’s a throwback that I can get excited about), but that they made me feel clever. Often, I could pick out the solutions to a problem within the first few seconds that I walked into the screen, and even when I couldn’t it took only a little prodding around the room to figure out what would be the next step. There are two puzzles that end up on either ends of the extreme. On the worst end is a baking puzzle where acquiring the ingredients requires far too many steps and ends up being tedious instead of simple. One fantastic puzzle involving a spring and glove twisted the trope just enough to make me laugh when I had figured out the correct way to implement it.
While the puzzle solving is dull, credit is given to the developer for following the current of making every intractable point in the game clear with a mouse press, and for having a sly hint helper that doesn’t straight out give the answers.
With it’s wonderful art style and earnest protagonist, it’s unfortunate that The Inner World doesn’t live up the quality an initial impression promises. Its throwback attempt at puzzles is a neat design choice, but doesn’t do anything worth writing home about. While it’s great to see the 2D adventure genre still alive and well, The Inner World is an unremarkable one.
+ Well done hint system
– Dull writing
– Rote puzzles
1 (RIP) to 4 are varying degrees of a bad game. A 1 (RIP) being a game you would actually pay money to not play, and a 4 is something that just fails to reach even the not-so-lofty level of “mediocre.”
The Inner World was developed by Studio Fizbin and Headup Games. It was published by Neko Entertainment. A copy of the game was provided to Ripten for review purposes.