It’s time again to take a look at what Germany has in store for point-and-click adventure fans, and this time the international version of Studio Fizbin’s otherworldly 2D comic adventure The Inner World is proof that there’s still enough life left in the old genre so many deem to be dead and buried.
Young novice Robert’s peaceful life as a court musician in the wind monastery of the underground Asposia is thrown into turmoil when the Windgods attack, the wind fountains dry out and he meets the thief and revolutionist Laura when trying to find out why his world and belief in his master Conroy’s doctrines are slowly falling apart.
Narrative flows and flaws
The plot is rather simplistic, and so is the development of the naive main character, resulting in less than exciting and in more predictable storytelling of fairy-tale like proportions with a friendship/love story added for good measure, which only partly succeeds in a convincing way. Having a rather dull protagonist finding out the truth behind the lies he has been fed to over the years by his mentor isn’t innovative, and the gullible remarks of Robert can be quite annoying. But this basic premise is fortunately saved in the course of events by the very funny dialogues Robert has with the Asposian inhabitants. These are not only whacky but also self-indulgent and usually don’t have many nice things to say to the simple-minded fellow. This results in conversations in which he doesn’t realize that he is made fun of, or in which he is not aware of the other’s intentions. The characters are also very memorable and unique, exemplified by a man who has a split personality which lives in a mirror, or a prisoner who tells his tragic story of how he became addicted to knitting.
Crafting a new mysterious world full of wonders
But it’s not only the illustrious cast of NPCs which make it a delight to dive into the world of Asposia. The locations themselves evoke a feeling of lost beauty and forgotten mystery hinted at by weird stone relics or floating glowing creatures which wouldn’t be out of place in a Studio Ghibli movie. The background story of this world is interwoven with Robert’s own fate, but it’s far more interesting to make up one’s own mind before the big reveal than guiding the main character or watching his interactions with Laura. What makes the storytelling also different from other point-and-click adventures with a humorous vibe and comic aesthetics is the inclusion of themes like civil (dis)obedience, and the disparity between personal faith and state religion, which are thought-provoking without becoming too intrusive. These might seem more suitable for a mature audience, but the simple story of Robert’s self-discovery also works for younger players as well (except for some more risqué conversation pieces), something which again makes the storytelling reminiscent of the Studio Ghibli productions.
The puzzle design harks back to the good old days of LucasArts adventures with solutions to problems which are just as weird and crazy as the world the characters populate. This creates some imaginative object combinations and interactions with the environment, e.g. when the scenes of a stage play have to be moved in accordance with a script to reveal a hidden entrance, when bugs have to be insulted in order for them to catch fire in an oven or complimented to make them cool down, and also when building a fake glowing butterfly to attract the real creatures so that they can touch a ticket, turn it golden and thus give access to a new area in the game. If this all sounds rather obscure, that’s because it is, but unlike so many other adventure titles in which chains of puzzles simply stop the flow of narrative, the tasks here are both fun and intriguing. The only problem is obviously that despite few hints by the characters and a hotkey function, the solutions demand a lot of lateral thinking and pixel hunting, though the puzzles are made easier due to a manageable amount of inventory items and areas to visit.
Moving picture out of this world
Graphics are of the highest quality when it comes to fluid character animations and lovely hand-drawn backgrounds, evoking the feeling of watching an animated movie. Especially noteworthy are the cutscenes which tell the background story and are delivered in a wonderful mural painting sort of way, which further highlights the fantastic art direction. There are also other in-game sequences which use zoom techniques and therefore reinforce the impression to watch a movie. The soundtrack is nice to listen to, but it could have been improved on with more varied tunes than the expected instrumental keyboard music one is so accustomed to these days. The voice acting on the other hand is excellent, both in the English and German version. Even the strange and imaginative creature names have lost none of their appeal in the translation.
One of its kind point-and-clicker
Even if the world design with all its weird inhabitants is reminiscent of Daedalic Entertainment’s work, Studio Fizbin offers a unique place to explore with their debut title The Inner World. The look and feel of the game is more in accordance with Studio Ghibli movies in the sense of creating wonder and mystery for both young and adult players alike. Even if the story and character development are a bit too simplistic and lack surprising twists, the individuals with their memorable backgrounds Robert meets on his way more than make up for the narrative shortcomings.
In gameplay terms, The Inner World is very linear with few places to go to in the individual chapters, but there’s enough variety in these locations to surprise. However, this linearity is no bad thing, because the game usually walks a fine line between enclosed spaces and more open exploration, something many contemporary comic adventures (like the Deponia series) fail to achieve when overwhelming players with too many things to do at the same time, while more serious adventure titles often rely on small locations with an abundance of items to combine and therefore suffering in credibility in the process.
As it stands, this is an immersive point-and-click adventure game with imaginative world-building and fun puzzles which might not have the same chance of being a cult classic like LucasArts’ hall of fame titles, but certainly deserves a place on top of the contemporary adventure renaissance made in Germany.
It should also be mentioned that the boxed version published by Headup Games/Merge Games is a neat collector’s edition including an art card, a sticker, the soundtrack, an Asposia encyclopaedia, and a crochet pattern for the character Peck the Pidgeon.
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