Germany really is the country that cares the most about adventure games today. With companies like Daedalic and King Art lovingly creating multiple entries to the genre, they may not match the perfection of LucasArts (indeed, they may be riddled with flaws and translations issues), but they're damned well trying. And now add Studio Fizbin, with a fantastic little game, The Inner World. Here's wot I think.
There's something rather lovely here. And it's not just one of the most infuriatingly, adorably sympathetic main characters in ages. It's also a graphic point and click adventure that focuses on conversations and inventory puzzles without being ashamed of it, and further, remembers how those puzzles are supposed to work.
You know you're playing an adventure game when the first puzzle is trying to get a worm drunk.
Asposia exists in a universe in which everything is made of soil. This soil planet has its population living on the inside edge of its hollow middle. Wind once poured in through holes, powering the city's wind turbines, but now that wind is fading away. The city's leader, a powerful and domineering man called Conroy, preaches austerity to his people in the hope that this will convince whatever controls the wind to bring it back. And assistant to this Conroy is one Robert, a young Asposian who seems distinct from the rest because of his flute-like nose. It can play tunes.
Another species call the Basylians are petrifying the people of Asposia, both literally and metaphorically. Stone statues of former residents litter the lands, striking fear into the hearts of all. Conroy explains this is because of their sinful ways, and maintains they should pray to the wind gods for safety. Robert, meanwhile, falls down a rubbish chute.
So begins the adventure of this ridiculously lovely and naive little guy, as he attempts to recover an item stolen from his beloved master and father figure, Conroy. Stolen by a pigeon, belonging to a rebellious young lady called Laura. Together, and apart, the pair of them get involved in the larger goings on of Asposia, uncovering... the secrets.
The game is defiantly old-fashioned, and served well by it. Hand-painted backgrounds are gorgeous in their 2D ways, while absolutely every action is animated. It's beautifully voiced throughout, and with occasional slips, the translation (and more importantly, the humour) is mostly superb. What stands out, and has the potential to put people off I would imagine, is the character drawing itself. During the main game, things are pulled out far enough for it to work. But when closer, for the cutscenes, it's crude, and there's no getting around that. Clearly by talented people, the style of scratchy Flash-drawn doodles may attempt charm, but doesn't quite achieve it. Even lacking hand-drawn shading, they just look a bit incomplete. And it's a shame, because everything else here is splendid.
It's a gentle, sweet little game. And not even that little, coming in at around seven hours. Robert is the antithesis of the current trend of having unpleasant lead characters - he's so crazily optimistic and honest that you want to hug him and protect him from the world. Even Laura, whom you play as occasionally, manages to be acerbic and pessimistic without being a downer - she's spirited and passionate with it, and plays as an excellent foil for Robert's ingenuous sincerity.
The Inner World is further packed with some really memorable characters. The Gorf, Steve/Pete and a particularly terrifying hedgehog feel like they could have come out of a classic 90s adventure. Conversations can be very long (I have done some excellent doodles during them), but they're really fantastically voiced - something that really cannot be taken for granted - and often very amusing. The writing is great, and for once the humour has transitioned extremely well. The only issue is that actors were clearly not recorded together, and a lack of adequate direction means intonations are often in the wrong place, or meanings changed. But it's minor, and doesn't spoil things on this occasion. Mostly it's just utterly beguiling.
I was really taken with the puzzles, and the difficulty level is just right - as in, they're often damned hard or obscure, but when solved, feel weirdly fair. Occasionally I felt that frustration of a correct solution only leading to a scripted fail, but more often you'd get a satisfying sense of progression. And because all of the human race had their patience glands removed in 2002, there's also a comprehensive set of hints built into the game. These are especially impressive, offering an elaborate array of nudges rather than just plain telling you what to do straight away.
It's obvious that a great deal of love has gone into The Inner World, because a great deal of it comes back out again as you play. The overall story feels like a modern fairytale, with all the requisite darkness and sadness. But it's told by upbeat, kind and heartfelt characters in a way that's so sorely lacking in modern adventures. Add to that one of the best translation jobs I've seen, a bunch of superb puzzles, and genuinely memorable characters, and you've got a modern point and click adventure to recommend without reservation.
The Inner World is available via Steam, and costs only £9.