Fly through a giant crab’s innards. A giant crab that lives in an inside-out planet. Video games are weird!
Video games have long had a reputation for being about fighting, killing and rescuing something or other from something else. In recent years though, we’ve seen the growth of narrative-centric gaming experiences, which focus more on exploration and discovery than on direct conflict. It might be argued that this is a modernisation of the golden age of point-and-click gaming, removing esoteric puzzles in favour of common sense and discovering how the gaming world works to continue the story. Innerspace is very much the latter, but it sets out to forge its own path. Whilst there is clear inspiration from classic games, they remain as just that: inspiration, allowing Innerspace to be its own game rather than a clone of those that came before.
We begin as the Cartographer, some sort of aerial drone created by the Architect, which is some sort of submarine. We are tasked with finding out about the ancient civilisations that existed in the worlds of the Inverse centuries ago, through discovering the relics they left behind. It seems, though, that some of these relics may be more alive than we might have expected — they have their own tales to tell to those who are worthy of them.
After a brief tutorial explaining the controls (left stick for pitch and yaw, right stick for rolling and throttle, triggers to drift and dive, which all worked well on the Switch) we are set loose into the first world. I will say at this point that motion controls would work very well here. The shape of your aircraft ties in very well to the shape of the Joy-Cons, so I’m surprised this wasn’t implemented in the Switch version. I expect this is due to the cross-platform release, but it would have been nice to explore the worlds using this method.
Anyway, the worlds in this game are spherical, but they are inside out. Imagine being inside a very large ball with terrain on its inner surface and you have a rough idea of what to expect. It’s very hard to get your bearings at first, and I found myself getting a little lost, but thankfully the first world is fairly small and allows you to acclimatise yourself to navigating the caves and lakes ahead of you.
Each world contains relics for you to find that fill in the back story and add flavour to the world — as well as unlocking upgrades for your drone. You can also collect Wind, small orbs that act as a currency of sorts. You don’t really need to collect many relics to advance the story, but it does add a lot when you consider this is a narrative-based game. The real goal in each world is to unlock the gate to the next world and find the still living demi-god in each before proving your worth to them in a boss battle of sorts. These creatures take the form of giant animals, such as fish or crabs, and act as a puzzle to defeat.
There’s clear inspiration from Shadow of the Colossus here, as you need to figure out what mechanic you need to make use of based on visual cues. Often you will have accessed the boss by using the skill in question (such as knocking over posts by flying into them in the right direction), and you now need to use that skill under pressure. The Leviathan, for example, is accessed by breaking stalks around the world to open up new paths. You “defeat” the boss by using the same mechanic in a more challenging way. There is no fail state (that I’ve found) in this game, so the challenge comes from how well you can control your craft when there are so many things going on at once. Maybe you’ll need to navigate a tight space at speed, or dash at a moving target. Failure to do this right the first time just means you can circle around and try again, which is a minor penalty at worst. Success leads to the creature telling you a little more about the world before sending you back to the hub world to move on.
As was mentioned in our recent preview, the game looks beautiful, reminding me of Wind Waker but with softer colours. Lighting effects look great (especially underwater) and areas of significance stand out without the game having to be explicit. Highlights such as gusts of air or a line of Wind orbs bring your attention to something you might want to explore. The worlds after the first area are fairly large and I noticed the draw distance wasn’t all that great and there was some slowdown from time to time when there were a lot of detailed objects on the screen at once. This may be down to the Switch having slightly weaker hardware, and the game may run smoother elsewhere. The sound is wonderful throughout, though, with great pieces of music all the way along. Calm, serene music plays during your exploration, whilst more energetic pieces come out when you face a “boss”, with the movement of your craft also playing into the sound. Increases in speed play musical notes and picking up Wind orb play different sounds in a sequence. This reminded me of Rez due to the link between your vessel’s movement and the music being played.
The whole game is fantastically calming (although it does become a little darker towards the end). Even during the confrontations in each world, I rarely felt stressed and simply enjoyed the experience of flying around, looking for the next area to explore or interact with. When I felt like I had explored everything and couldn’t work out why I hadn’t found the next demi-god, I’d spot something poking out of a cave, or a flag I hadn’t noticed before and I’d set off down another rabbit-hole of tunnels and chambers. The simple act of flying around was a joy most of the time anyway, so even if I was lost, I’d likely still be having fun exploring.
Innerspace is quite a unique game. I’ve certainly not played anything like it in recent years, and I’ve found exploring its world and backstory to be a very enjoyable experience. I would recommend giving this one a try, as I don’t think you’ll find a similar game on the market right now. There’s a great world to explore out there, so go and see what you find!