In the Shadow of Others
From the moment the somber yet atmospheric music graces the title screen of InnerSpace, it was clear that PolyKnight Games was emulating the beautiful success of other games like Journey and ABZU. The difference here is that you take control of a sentient spaceship that travels through the ephemeral Inverse searching for historic artifacts that tell you of the inhabitants that once lived in the world as well as help you upgrade your own mechanics.
Reaching for Greatness
From that synopsis alone, you might be intrigued to hear what InnerSpace has to offer. Where differences start to occur, though, is when the game starts rolling. You’re given a quick tutorial on how to control the ship and, thankfully, it controls very well. It feels fluid and responsive, despite it taking a bit to get used to the button input.
While the ship itself controls very well, it’s a shame that the world isn’t always built to highlight the freedom of piloting it. Tight corners and cramped labyrinths can make it a nightmare to navigate, as the game will constantly bounce you from wall to wall, and you have to let it play out until you can take control once more.
The reason I highlighted this area first is because that’s the premise of InnerSpace. It has a fantastic foundation, but so many of its final design choices actually hamper what it tries to achieve. It’s reaching for greatness, but never quite gets there.
For example, the game sends you on a quest to find several artifacts across several different worlds, which are open-ended maps. That sounds like fun on paper, but the game never clearly gives you any sort of direction or way to find them easily. Often times, I was left flying around for minutes on end just trying to discover the next collectible and what my next objective was. It doesn’t help that a talking boat known as the Archaeologist only gives vague instructions on what to do.
Shades of Blue
At its start, there’s a subtle beauty to InnerSpace in the visual department. Blues, purples, and oranges are planted throughout the screen, making your ship stand out from the environment. Unfortunately, these colors are repeated throughout the game, making each world in the Inverse blend together. From a visual standpoint, there wasn’t much to differentiate the sections of the game.
This issue is further enhanced by the presence of water. The ship has the ability to turn into a sub to go underneath the waves in search of more artifacts. While it controls as well as the regular ship does, it blends together with the color palette to create a fairly uninspired design. After playing for about an hour, you’ve seen everything the game has to offer in the visual department.
Speaking of which, that brings me to a serious issue that PolyKnight needs to consider fixing if it wants to continue promoting the game: the frame rate on the Nintendo Switch version isn’t good. With the right specs on PC, it’s not hard to get InnerSpace running at full 60 fps. Unfortunately, the Switch version feels more like the 15-20 range. Jarring motions make navigation that much harder, and the problem isn’t fixed in either TV or handheld mode. It made the gorgeous moments of the game difficult to enjoy. On that note, the game needs some work in the programming department as well, as I encountered a few glitches that forced me to reset the game.
What’s Waiting to be Discovered
Many times in the game, I could feel what PolyKnight was aiming for: a sense of wonder and exploration as you flew through this dream-like world. However, so much of the design takes away from their vision, constantly at war with themselves. InnerSpace had the potential to be so much more, but ends up falling flat.
I don’t want to be too harsh on the developers, as I guarantee they put their blood, sweat, and tears into this project, so I hope this can be constructive for them. That said, there are some things they do well. The different ships, sound design, and controls all work well.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: A review code for InnerSpace was provided by PolyKnight Games for this InnerSpace review.