Ever since touchscreens started appearing on every device in the house, the trusty adventure game has enjoyed a renaissance. We’ve seen rereleases, remasters and brand-new series take off on all platforms, and Switch is an ideal home for them. Enter The Inner World, a point-and-click adventure from German developer Studio Fizbin.
Good-natured, naïve Robert is the young ward of Conroy, a shady Wind Monk and leader of Asposia. His apprentice’s unique ‘flute-nose’ has always set him apart from other stripy-noses. The kingdom is beset by fearsome wind-dragons known as Basylians which Conroy placates by ensuring his subjects live sinless, obedient lives. An accident thrusts Robert amongst the proles where he meets Laura, a streetwise pickpocket who lost her father. Their adventure soon reveals sinister goings-on and the true story behind Robert’s unique shnoz.
Visually, The Inner World has a Regular Show/Rick and Morty vibe which looks sharp on Switch, both on the telly and in handheld mode. Those visual influences bring heightened expectations for the writing and, although you’ll rarely be belly-laughing, the dialogue from its cast of oddballs will surely put a smile on your face.
That is, when your face isn’t screwed up in frustration. History shows that even the finest adventure games occasionally drop the ball with an inscrutable or illogical puzzle – we’re looking at you, Monkey Island 2! Some players love pushing through these games, brute-forcing solutions through every possible combination of items and objects. Personally, we feel a bit deflated, retreat to a walkthrough and then fume incredulously at the solution we were supposed to deduce from the tiniest of clues. Ah yes, obviously you’ve got to lubricate the lock with orange juice while the guard is distracted by the flaming sandwich you ignited using spectacles which refract sunlight from a window you opened earlier after flirting with the bank manager across the street. Simples!
The Inner World takes obtuse point-and-click puzzle design and builds a whole game around it. It’s just as well the voicework is entertaining because you’ll need to talk to everybody and exhaust all their dialogue to unlock new options and clues before exhausting them again. It’s not completely nonsensical – and the clues are there if you listen carefully – but you’ll be backtracking and doublechecking quite a bit.
Fortunately, then, a comprehensive hint system is on hand to help you out. Clicking through a branch will give you clue after clue until finally telling you outright how to progress. We saw a similar system in Thimbleweed Park, although it’s baked into the menu here rather than being a cumbersome in-world service. Perhaps we were just having an off-week but completing The Inner World without using the hint system would be a Mensa-level accomplishment, or an epic feat of trial, error and patience. Lateral thinkers may breeze through it, but we went skulking to the hints menu more than we’d care to admit.
Which is fine – it’s there for a reason – but repeated use takes the fun out of puzzle solving. We found ourselves hopelessly combining objects in our inventory. “That’s just a random guess, isn’t it?” Robert comments. Too right, but you do it to avoid turning the hints system into a glorified walkthrough which robs you of any feeling of accomplishment.
Control-wise, you move with the analogue stick and cycle through nearby ‘hotspots’ (interactive points) using ‘L’ and ‘R’. Hitting ‘A’ brings up three icons enabling you to ‘look’, ‘combine’ or ‘use’ whatever you’re interacting with. Your inventory is on ‘X’ where you split and combine found objects. You’ll also get the opportunity to break out Robert’s flute-nose at certain points and play it like an ocarina. Cycling through a load of hotspots to reach the one you’re after becomes tiresome and the puzzling lack of touch support feels like a missed opportunity which could have streamlined the experience.
Yet the characters and world have an offbeat charm which compels you to continue regardless, even though you’ll sense early on where the story is headed. Although we felt forced through desperation into using the mechanical hints system, we ultimately still found enjoyment in Robert and Laura’s adventure.
Despite a disappointing lack of touch support and resulting control irritations, The Inner World has much to like and Asposia’s warped characters are delightful company, provided you’re happy to ask for help when you’re stuck. There’s certainly no shame in that – and the hints system works perfectly – but we didn’t have enough ‘eureka!’ moments of our own to feel sufficiently satisfied with its wilfully obtuse solutions.