This story-driven exploration game shines most in its gorgeous art style but is held back by its far too subtle placement of clues.
There’s something profoundly peaceful about aimlessly drifting through the vivid, spectral worlds of InnerSpace. I’d have enjoyed its simple flight controls, elaborate counters, and alluring soundtrack more if it had given a little direction and earlier access to its more interesting vehicles.
Set in an alternate dimension, InnerSpace is all about exploration and discovery. Led primarily by my own intuition, I made my way through deciphering cryptic puzzles throughout a series of vividly colorful cave-like worlds, filled with a seemingly endless amount of hidden pathways to explore. InnerSpace shines in its pastel style color palette and tranquil setting, including a tundra-filled ice world complete with falling snowflakes and drooping icicles, as well as a vast hub-world packed with artifacts that give clues to the story of the planets’ rulers from long ago.
The real mystery is what you’re supposed to be doing.
The puzzles themselves, however, were mostly simple once I finally figured out what the objective was. For all InnerSpace’s talk of uncovering the fate of long-lost civilizations, the real mystery is what you’re supposed to be doing here, and I constantly found myself frustratingly in search of what I needed to do to progress.
As I made my way through the many layers of the Inverse, I spent the majority of my time wandering each area to tediously collect scattered relics and energy pickups that would eventually unlock new airframes. They’re a good reward because each of them grants you upgrades like faster flight, the ability to dive underwater, and increased durability—despite death not being too big of an issue, with the only penalty resulting in a quick respawn to your last checkpoint.
For example, the Zephyr Spark is an airframe designed with only one thing in mind: Speed. The Astral Key, on the other hand, lacks traditional flight control but makes up for it with its to ability maneuver in some pretty surprising ways. It’s just a little unfortunate that InnerSpace’s most exciting airframes can only be unlocked after around eight hours of the 10-hour campaign. They can be a joy to pilot, but once you complete the story there’s no real reason to jump back in and take them out for another spin.
There’s a striking sort of purity about InnerSpace.
There’s a striking sort of purity about InnerSpace that invites comparison to other games in the exploration genre. It has that same elegant feel of movement and subtle push toward discovery that I’ve enjoyed in similar exploration games like Abzu and Flower, and it builds a simple-yet-memorable adventure around it. There’s even audio feedback for various maneuvers you perform, like the sound of piano notes playing as you carve through turns while using the Piano airframe. That gives the whole experience a very Flower feel.
InnerSpace’s biggest highlights are its Shadow of the Colossus-style boss encounters.
However, unlike most story-driven exploration games, some of InnerSpace’s biggest highlights are its Shadow of the Colossus-style boss encounters, which act far more like bite-sized exploration puzzles than traditional conflict-driven battles. Carefully guiding your way down the narrow spine of a behemoth-sized dragon can be awe-inspiring the first time you do it, but again, due to the subtlety of how clues are hidden and the lack of any instruction, encounters often overstayed their welcome. One boss, in particular, had me frustrated and scratching my head for nearly two hours trying to figure out what I was supposed to do. As it turns out, I’d already completed it by accident, but it wasn’t until I had traveled back to the hub world that it prompted me that I had completed the boss encounter. That said, these puzzles can still make for some great “Ah-ha!” moments once you finally figure out the actual objective.
And that’s the biggest downfall of the otherwise surreal and calming InnerSpace. The meat of a good puzzle is about trying to achieve a goal, but here it’s about figuring out the goal and then going through the motions.