InnerSpace (Nintendo Switch) Review

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PolyKnight Games is a small independent studio based in Dallas. With a portfolio of game jam titles and student projects behind them, InnerSpace serves as their first big step into the industry—but is it enough to leap beyond the realm of mediocrity and secure their space as a studio to be remembered?

First Impressions

Starting the game up, I found myself immediately unimpressed. Not by the graphics, nor music; but by a loading screen that felt endless. While it demonstrated an interesting attention to detail in giving you something to do while you wait, I couldn’t help but feel the game would be poorly optimised. After all, games of much larger scale have taken far less time to load. It’s by no means a deal breaker, but at just under 90 seconds from starting the game to the main menu loading, it feels uncharacteristically long. It left an impression.

The main menu itself remains simple and clean, a clear reflection of the menus and UI design as a whole. Stylistically, I struggle to fault it. It feels alien, and yet intuitive—a tone befitting the world itself. Pair this with the mellow sounds of the Inverse pulsating in and out of the background, and you have an image of the world already built up before starting the game. A world both alive and empty; unknown, yet somehow familiar.

Welcome to the Inverse

After a short introduction to the Inverse, you are powered up and ready to go. Before meeting your maker, you are thrown into an empty chamber in order to learn how to pilot the Cartographer, your vessel for the game. This tutorial does well in teaching the player the essentials of movement, but went a little too quickly for my liking. I can certainly understand wanting to throw the player into the game as early as possible; to force them to learn while doing. That said, it took far longer than the allotted tutorial time to break habits built from more than a decade of playing Pilotwings. Despite InnerSpace operating via two analogue sticks and shoulder buttons, I found myself reaching for the face buttons to accelerate and decelerate far more often than I should have. To this end, I would have appreciated a degree of customisation, if only to bridge the gap slightly for players such as myself more familiar with other control schemes.

Once past the tutorial, you… Well, you meet your maker—the Archaeologist. Having rebuilt you from relics of the Inverse, this strange submarine friend is eager to learn more of the world you both occupy. With your ability to fly, and the Archaeologist’s vast understanding and thirst for knowledge, you journey through the Inverse in an attempt to discover its secrets, its relics, and perhaps even a way out.

Rumble Radar

These secrets and relics aren’t always necessarily out of sight, but when they are, the game does a good job in telling you something is near. Enter HD Rumble! The premier feature of the Switch’s Joy Cons, a feature so sparingly used many forget its existence. InnerSpace is largely no exception to this; I struggled to notice its inclusion for a large majority of my play time. This came not from a shoddy implementation, but from integration so beautifully crafted, I believed it simply another part of the game.

Shown above is a snippet of gameplay recorded alongside a microphone to try and show the full experience of playing the game. While barely distinguishable to begin with, a radar blip becomes prominent as I approach a relic; this blip coming from the controller in oppose to the system itself. It truly impresses me the developers put such care into this particular version of the game, especially considering InnerSpace is not an exclusive Switch title. The use of rumble is interesting in how it doesn’t stand out. It feels as though it was put in to enhance the game, in oppose to using it because it’s there; a downfall to many a Nintendo console gimmick. This attention to detail in crafting an environment in which to enjoy the game is something I would be impressed with for any studio, let alone a startup such as PolyKnight.

Restricted Freedom

Throughout the game, I felt a degree of power in deciding the progression. You have the option to explore every crevice and cavern of the Inverse, looking to further the Archaeologist’s research and your own understanding of this confusing world; but you also have the option to continue all the same. It strikes me as the kind of freedom prized by a caged bird. You have the freedom to do or do not within the bounds of the Inverse, but you remain within those bounds with the Archaeologist. You can choose to travel a path of ignorance or enlightenment to your surroundings and, from my experience, the latter proves plenty more satisfying. The fragments of story, of lore, all feel earned in oppose to simply given. The satisfaction of doing what you know you never had to drives you to continue.

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