The Inner World is a classic style 2D point 'n' click story adventure (a mouthful I know) developed by first-time Studio Fizbin and published by HeadUp Games. It originally debuted back in 2013 but has finally released on consoles, most likely due to its upcoming sequel. With Double Fine continuing to pump out remasters and gamers moving towards the modern story-driven titles of Telltale DNA, many would be sceptical of the quality and success of a traditional game releasing this market. This title is not only true evidence that modern control and classic design can blend perfectly, but also that even with an onslaught of recent AAA blockbusters, small team developers can craft truly special experiences on a fraction of the cost. The Inner World isn't just a great game, it's one the best stories I've ever had the pleasure to play.
You can purchase The Inner World on the Playstation Store for £11.99/$14.99
The wind has disappeared. Fear grips the world of Asposia. Monsters rise from below to cast those seem unworthy into stone. All whilst a conniving dictator, Lord Conroy, positions himself as saviour and rules through the misfortunes of others. You play as Robert, servant to Conroy, though completely unaware of his terrible ways and dark lies. What begins as a simple errand, sends young Robert down a well of secrets and truths. His target turned friend, Laura, will aid him through the dangerous lands, and help him decide who should be friend or foe. Something poor Robert has clearly not been capable of beforehand.
Both the world and the characters that inhabit it are simply fantastic: memorable, vibrant and diverse. Whilst the surrounding cast of weirdos and freaks are all electric with character, it's the protagonist, Robert, that steals the show – an endearing and with a heart of gold, containing more light and humour than all others combined. His naivety is both tragic and laughable, constantly remarking his complete misunderstanding of events and refusing to see the dark intentions of his leader Conroy (until later on). However, the story doesn't have emotional weight as one might presume, instead focusing on the humorous side of the plot – which involves innocent people being turned to stone in their masses. As most great stories in the past have informed us, the tone and feel of the world are found in the reactions of the protagonist – this couldn't be truer here. From Roberts youthful and innocent perspective, we get to see through a colourful lens and laugh at the often ridiculous circumstances we find ourself in.
As mentioned, all of the supporting cast, whether you travel for multiple hours with or simply meet for a brief moment, are all utterly fantastic. From the flirtatious overweight barmaid to the blunt-talking poisonous frog – every single encounter is compelling and often hilarious. Witnessing Roberts reaction to each personality consistently brings a fresh perspective, opening up every corner of character is every single person, whether it's a lazy guard who won't give you his lunchbox or a receptionist suffering from severe duo personality disorder. This isn't just a bunch of obstacles in order to create puzzles, these are deep unique people with an interesting story to tell. I can't understate how of the dozens of characters – not one is is boring in any degree. I have major respect for the writers here, who have not only crafted humour that hits its mark frequently at the perfect pace but more importantly, they've created a cast that I actually wanted to hear more from. I wasn't skipping the dialogue to find where the next missing object was, I was willing to hear everything.
Asposia itself is also beautiful, twisted and colourful – all simultaneously. It has a musty and well-worn feel, in part due to an incredible amount of detail in the bricks and buildings that curve and mould around you. Apartments stack tenfold in the distance, clothes and rags hang down the walls and small pockets of destruction showcase a frozen moment of time – a line of stone statues with faces of fright and panic. This level of commitment to the hand drawn backdrops continues through the forests and underground chapels until the very end. It creates this world that has a real sense of past. A lived in feel that emits the belief that this town has existed for hundreds of years. Furthermore, due to the structure of this point and click, each explorable level is concentrated with effort, meaning no shallow filler like many other titles. (open world etc) This craftsmanship of world building are the foundation for any great story, and The Inner World absolutely succeeds.
Where the story of The Inner World is exceptional, the gameplay fairs weaker due to a poor controller optimisation on this console port. The gameplay of any point and click adventure will be of the point and clicking variety. In that, there are multiple interactable objects on the screen you have to click on to utilise them in various ways. As this game is built for the more modern audience (more on that in a bit), all points of interest are marked with white dots. This removes the incessant clicking of every single thing on the screen until something happens. Then each item can be interacted with. Some you can simply look at and make a quick comment about (a poster), but many can be combined (a machine), picked up (a stick) or investigated. (a map) The problem is actually selecting them. You see, unlike many titles where you manually move a cursor to the desired point and then interact, the PS4 port of The Inner World requires you to use the shoulder/bumper buttons (L1 & R1) to toggle through every single point on the screen.
To make matters worse there is no clear order in which the toggling goes through, seemingly not left to right or up and down. This means for the majority of the time you will be mashing the buttons and going through every single interactable object before you finally land on the one you need. This creates an unnecessary sluggish feel to the gameplay and a tedious act throughout. It's unfortunate, as I mentioned earlier all the dialogue is superb, so you probably want to hear Roberts input on everything. It's a serious misstep and one which ultimately is fixable, evident on the PC version. It doesn't destroy the experience, but it does slow it down considerably. Let's hope if the sequel comes to console, they will fix this annoyance.
Otherwise, everything else is solid. Interacting with items is easy and intuitive. Looking at your inventory and combining things is a couple of clicks away. Moving around is fluid, and as the areas are relatively compact, you won't have to backtrack walk large distances to get a specific item you need. Speaking of items, the puzzles are great. Nearly all are clever and interesting, with sometimes very surprising results. Some are nonsensical, and the characters acknowledge this, but it's never of Double Fines standards where you need a pen and paper on standby.
A very modern addition is the Tips system. (not inventive I know). At any point in the game, you can pull the left trigger and a list of your current objectives will appear. You can select one (like a quest log) and view more information about it. If you continue to click X you will unlock more and more guidance on how to progress. Eventually, you can have the entire puzzle solution clear as day right in front of you. Describing which items you need, where to get them and how. This obviously removes much of the challenge found within puzzles, but for someone who dislikes the absurdity of many traditional point n click puzzle logic, I found this to be a helpful addition. Of course, you don't have to use it, trophies are attached to both ignoring it and overusing it, and it's always hidden away. It made me have a more relaxed experience and soak in the story at my own pace, removing any headaches or trauma caused by banging my head into the wall.
As mentioned above, the visual storytelling here is excellent. The Inner World displays a very unique, almost retro, feel to it. The crisp hand-drawn style lends itself well here, giving the impression of a playable cartoon, but more of the comic book variety. Despite being 2D, the graphics have impressive depth. The characters pop from the environments, contrasting their lively personas with the dark and murky backgrounds. It's clear that an enormous amount of effort was put into these designs, just as much went into writing and performing them. Each one has a stance, a profile and an animation behaviour that perfectly compliments their personality. Layers of details fall into Asposia, firmly placing it as a memorable and compelling place to play in. This is all thanks to the incredible artists, who denied a generic cartoon vibe and desired something far more atmospheric and dark, without making it depressing (or apocalyptic). I would also mention the beautiful cutscenes, which whilst they are indeed fantastically animated, are actually less impressive due to the entire game being as charming and consistent as it is.
Perhaps this is the part where I tell you that The Inner Worlds soundtrack or voice work sucks, well I couldn't be farther from the truth. As the menu boots up and a charming and simplistic melody starts playing, you already start to understand the heart and soul this game possesses. Melodies like this continue throughout the game, and whilst none better the main theme, all are well performed and enjoyable, without overstating the importance of its music. I would've like to seen more, but as the prominent sound is the voice work, I'll settle for less. Sound effects are nice, having one for each interaction is welcomed. Ambient location music is also pleasant, with the sound of birds and crickets in the forests – but it doesn't go beyond what you may expect.
Voice work is stellar – exceptional actually. Robert is softly spoken and adorable, whilst Laura is harsher and far more confident, guards lazily mumble and the pigeon squarks, well like a pigeon. The word I gravitate towards frequently is eccentric. Each performance gives it there all, fulfilling the design of the character with a charismatic voice that breathes life into the drawings. On many occasions, I was grinning for a minute straight, such as when I met an absolutely bonkers receptionist that switched between his clumsy high pitched rambles about cookies, to an upper-class egomaniac – seriously funny severe bipolar. I'm really getting tired of saying this, but every single one delivers. Impressive throughout, all worthy of the incredible writing.
The Inner World is simply amazing. Hilarious, charming and endearing – qualities Robert himself possesses. The beautiful world of Asposia is one to remember, and of course, the characters that live there. I met a diverse bunch of nutters whilst journeying through the 6 hours campaign, and I remember each and every one of them. Whether it's the unique hand-drawn style or the unrelenting dry and witty humour, there's a lot to like here. Studio Fizbit has crafted an impressive first title that has finally made its way to console, and whilst it may suffer from a tedious control system, its interesting puzzles and helpful tip system will make the ride much more pleasant. If you're a fan of Double Fine or any story-driven indies (Oxenfree etc) then I strongly recommend you check this gem out. I'm now going to sit here patiently and wait for the sequel.
|+ Memorable story and characters||– Controller issues|
|+ Superb witty wriitng|
|+ Hand-drawn art style|