The ‘90s was the golden age for point-and-click adventure games, with the genre spawning some of the most popular and influential games of that, or any, era. In the following decades, the genre fell out of favor almost entirely as graphical power and more visceral thrills were favored over the gentle, cerebral joy of solving (often infuriatingly obtuse) puzzles.
Now, point-and-click games are most certainly back, albeit occupying a far smaller niche in the industry than when they were in their prime. Tending to be smaller projects from independent studios and often funded with Kickstarter, the modern point-and-click adventure’s raison d’être is largely to court the attention of older gamers wanting the revisit the glory days of the genre.
The Inner World is a prime example of this new wave. It attempts to recapture what made the genre so successful all those years ago, and with its comfortable, familiar mechanics and hand-drawn aesthetic, pulls it off admirably. There are even moments when its attention to detail and high level of polish bring it right in line with some of the true classics of the genre. The slavish dedication to recapturing those past glories is sometimes to the game’s detriment, but for the most part it’s a rip-roaring success.
The world of the title is Asposia -- a huge, spherical hollow encased by endless soil. The most important consideration for the Asposians living in such a mysterious realm, as you can imagine, is air, and Asposia is ventilated by three huge wind fountains. The gentle balance of this world has recently been disrupted, as the wind has begun to peter out and the vengeful wind-gods have begun to attack, turning the hapless Asposians to stone. Only one functioning wind fountain remains, presided over by the last wind monk, Conroy, and his apprentice and court musician, Robert. A series of unexpected events then throws Robert into an adventure that leads him on a path to the very secret of the wind itself.
If you’ve ever played a point-and-click adventure game, you’ll feel right at home from the very start with The Inner World. You control Robert, moving him around various areas. Looking for clues, and solving puzzles by combining and using items you find along the way. As you begin to explore, you’re immediately struck by what a graphical accomplishment the world of Asposia is. Beautifully-crafted hand-drawn backgrounds bring each area to vivid life, with a quirky art style that is highly reminiscent of what is regarded by many as the pinnacle of the genre, 1998’s The Curse Of Monkey Island, the third game in that seminal series, and the first to employ a similarly cartoonish style. Along with the catchy ambient music, the quality of the art contributes to the game’s strong sense of place. So much of the success of a point-and-click adventure depends on players wanting to spend time in its world, and in Asposia, developer Studio Fizbin has created an intriguing setting that, although perhaps not as instantly endearing as other adventure games I’ve played, won me over with its charming eccentricity.
The favorable Monkey Island comparison is also true of the wonderfully animated characters populating the world, though their actual personalities are a little more hit-and-miss; I found Robert’s childlike naivety reasonably endearing, and some of the supporting Asposians, too, were pretty charismatic, but others were instantly forgettable. The writing is of a high standard throughout, though, with the conspiracy-laden plot and off-kilter game-world putting me in mind of that other seminal Lucas Arts adventure, Grim Fandango. You’ll genuinely want to get to get to the bottom of all of Asposia’s numerous mysteries, and you’ll probably chuckle plenty along the way, too: The Inner World is consistently funny, shot through with a vein of subtle, ironic humor and plenty of meta-references (try a particularly obscure item combination, and Robert teases, “That’s just a random guess, isn’t it?”). This wit is one of the game’s real strengths, as are the slickly-delivered performances turned in by the voice cast, which both contribute to the game’s admirable level of polish.
The Inner World is certainly classy for an indie production and has clearly been a labor of love for the developers, who have recreated the look and feel of the genre in painstaking detail. But in preserving the style of its illustrious predecessors, The Inner World does reproduce some of the unfortunate flaws of the genre too. The dialogue is often great, but the way it’s written often has characters interrupting each other, and as the audio doesn’t overlap, there’s awkward pauses galore. This was an issue in 90s when voice-over was far from standard, and I can’t believe developments in the years since haven’t made this problem obsolete. Equally, though the puzzle design is generally good if not overly challenging, and most of the puzzles make sense in the context of Asposia’s warped logic, there are still moments when solving a particular problem requires just a logical leap too far. Many would argue this isn’t really a fault, but simply a trait of the genre (and there is a well-implemented, multi-tiered hint system here to help player out), but if The Inner World is going to have appeal outside of nostalgia-seekers, it needs to be approachable for new players without experience of this ‘moon logic’.
These are minor grumbles, though, a result of The Inner World’s insistence on evoking memories of some of the genre’s true classics. It’s a brave strategy; by doing this, it invites comparison to some of the best games of all time. The fact that I came away with such a high opinion of The Inner World speaks volumes for the fine quality of this obvious passion project. The developers have succeeded in creating a modern adventure game that has appeal for newcomers, while also drowning longtime point-and-click fans in waves upon waves of nostalgia. Even the unwelcome return of some of the genre’s enduring flaws can’t detract too much from a thoroughly delightful experience. For all kinds of gamer (but especially those of a certain age) The Inner World is certainly worth a visit.