[REVIEW] InnerSpace (Switch)

The secrets of the universe turned inside-out.

One cartographer… on a mission… to find a cure. Turns out the cure is actually the “finding” part as PolyKnight Games‘ cool innergalactic project a few years in the making InnerSpace turns the idea of outer space on its head if it had one. Life itself is a mystery and InnerSpace is all about exploration both in its worlds and their creation. Imagine if gravity had an opposite force in forming a planet. Take a snow globe for instance. Imagine its contents are the same found in a lava lamp. Shake it, drop it in space, and you have this game. The beginning of InnerSpace might have you question the purpose of what you’re doing, but once you nail the controls and uncover more secrets, it soon will click. InnerSpace is relaxing and beautiful.

I very well may be upside-down.

Here’s one: What do you call water over your head? A sea-ling.

Left is up is down is right.

Most importantly, in order to have a good time, players need to get familiar with the controls. Oddly, the amount of buttons used are minimal. The game first opens with a tutorial for you to get comfortable with flight. The left analog stick controls direction while the right analog stick allows for tilting and adjusting speed. Yes, you can do a barrel roll. Pushing the right analog upward will increase speed while pulling it downward will decrease speed. Default settings for vertical movement are inverted, but players are able to change it at any time. What makes InnerSpace, a special case, is that players will always be moving no matter what, with the exception of perches where players are able to pause flight and take off again. To put it simply: you will be crashing. A lot. You may even find yourself stuck in a situation you can’t fly out of. Luckily, you can take quite a bit of damage until the level reloads again for you to get back to exploring. Your aircraft will show some smoke hinting you to stop taking damage. Once you stop taking any damage, your “health” will return to normal. I found myself wanting to hover in position in order to observe and make decisions based on that, but resulting in flying passed my desired point of interest very often. There is a drift mechanic by pressing ZL, but its behavior differs between the airframes.

Airframes can transform for underwater voyaging.

Airframes are the vehicles you are piloting. They do more than just whiz through the air as pressing ZR will transform its shape into a vehicle that can submerge underwater. You begin with a basic airframe which is slightly slower than the others and can’t dive, albeit a sturdy vehicle. Soon you’ll discover parts and relics which are then turned into new airframes for you to use. Drifting is practically the same for all vehicles. When headed towards a direction at any speed, holding ZL to drift will act as a cruise control. Meanwhile, you are able to rotate your airframe where releasing drift will provide a nice boost in that direction. It’s a nice way of creating sharp cornering for yourself. At any time when exploring you just need to chill for a moment and look around you can fly into perches which are white transparent spherical objects found all over. At first I was wondering why, aside from specific dialog moments, players must always be moving. It seems kinda silly for a game about exploring environments to not seem lax when it comes to maneuverability. However, while that may still ring true even after have completing the game, the more progress I made on my initial playthrough the more I realized that I was okay it. In worlds with a beautiful art style which feel lucid, that feeling of always flowing with it felt more consistent with each passing moment.

Relics are animated step-by-step and provide context.

Wait a minute now. Who am I and what is my role in the universe?! Ah, such answers are needed for this so-called life. And I don’t know. What I do know is you play as a cartographer in order to perform the task of research provided by the one simply known as the Archaeologist. The Archaeologist is the one who in fact created you. You take the form of artificial intelligence collecting the information needed. You are the airframe itself and you can take on different forms. We never actually get to see what the Archaeologist looks like, but only that he/she resides in a mobile vehicle that resembles a submarine. You, the Cartographer, and they, the Archaeologist, work together to solve the mysteries of the universe. At any time you are lost or need guidance, you can fly directly to them. What is more essential about doing so is your role in delivering the relics you’ve found, which is also handy for upgrading to new airframes and moving forward. Not all relics are required to be found, however. You can swap to any of the airframes you’ve acquired in the pause menu.

A demigod. Intimidating, yet majestic..

The entire story is told through the main narrative with additional information provided from the relics you find. The basic gist is that Wind is life. It moves for reasons possibly unknown and it carries the memories through the ages, creating and destroying. The puzzles found in the environments often require player intuition. There are no instructions given and it’s up to exploring and trying what works. Scattered around, usually in a specific formation, are actual Wind. Much like the art style in general, they are prismatic in design. Collecting these white orbs adds to your Wind count and completing certain puzzles or unlocking a relics potential requires a specific amount. Usually following along a line of Wind will lead you to a new area which may hold a relic; some of which are whole and those that are not are instead pieces of relics. They make noise so being nearby any of them will cue a sonar-like radar sound. Likewise, the HD rumble is put to good use here. The closer you get to a relic the more intense the vibration beats become. You could play InnerSpace without sound and get the cue, or vice-versa and it would still work. However, InnerSpace is very much an audio-visual experience.

It’s like a fever dream you don’t mind having.

There’s something about the atmosphere InnerSpace presents that feels alive even when most of the experience is quite isolate. Whether it was the developer’s intention or not, there’s a certain organic personification in its worlds. For example, it feels like the idea of a universe giving birth to another. Flying through tight corridor tunnels feels like I am but one blood cell traveling through a vessel and that whatever my role is, I do in-fact have a part in the universe. There are structures and other pivotal moments in the game that share that same vibe. The story as told in context isn’t going to hook anybody. Without spoiling anything, however, the presentation does it justice and is quite beautiful in its own right. Immediately, the art style may seem not as detailed and textures simple & flat. Which is correct, but don’t let that fool you. It’s very colorful and is a beautifully animated game. There’s lots of neat effects and touches that detail everything nicely. The sound is integral to its visual counterpart and very atmospheric. It’s a chill time. The game runs mainly at 30fps (with the exception of one section running higher than that, but not consistently?). There’s a long loading screen before going to the main menu when you boot up the game followed by another loading screen once you select your file, though that one is much faster. It’s nothing too serious as once you are in a world it’s pretty much all yours from there. The game isn’t short, but just shy of what I was hoping for. It’s probably less than 10 hours across the board.

Summary
InnerSpace started off with me not knowing what to expect, but continued to get better and better. It's not perfect. It feels clunky when you keep crashing into walls when you don't want to. Flying around feels satisfying, though. It's beautiful to look at and relaxing to play while maintaining a fun factor. It's a unique game that is well executed and we need more of these.
The Stellar
  • Beautiful art design.
  • Exploration is relaxing and thoughtful.
  • Flying feels good.
The Lesser
  • Flying into walls doesn't feel good.
7.7
Solid
Gameplay - 7.25
Visual - 8
Audio - 8
Value - 7.5

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