Maybe it’s the onset of colder weather, the sense that winter is around the corner, so it’s time to hunker down. But for whatever reason, over the last week or two, I’ve been wanting a more chilled-out, laid-back gaming experience. I wanted to play an adventure game.
It had been awhile — I first dabbled in this genre in my earliest days as a gamer, in the early 1990s, cutting my teeth on classics like “The Secret of Monkey Island.” Since then, the genre, which tends to rely on lots of dialogue, story, and (often quirky and only borderline logical) problem-solving, has frequently taken a back seat to more action-oriented types of games. As graphics have improved, as we’ve been able to render human and alien bodies getting blown apart in ever-more-realistic detail, it’s no wonder that less cognitively intensive genres have caught on. You can’t even die in most adventure games. (“Where’s the fun in that!” a generation of younger gamers screams in unison.)
But adventure games are still around, even if their stature in the gaming firmament has been diminished since their heyday in the 1980s and ’90s, when “Monkey Island” and “King’s Quest” and “Maniac Mansion” ruled the PC adventure-gaming landscape. These games and their ilk, which take place in a wide variety of settings, from the contemporary world to far-out fantasy and sci-fi universes, tended to attract thoughtful players willing to sit through winding, involved story lines, often featuring interesting, fleshed-out protagonists and supporting characters.
Lately I’ve enjoyed one of the newest ones: “The Inner World,” a PC game recently released by the German developer Studio Fizbin.
It’s been nice to take a break and kick back with something a little bit more relaxed, a little bit more contemplative. And “The Inner World” is both. It’s also funny. It takes place in a strange underground land called Asposia. You play the role of the young and very, very clueless Robert, who has a flute rather than a normal Asposian nose (yes, there’s that adventure-game quirkiness). You’ve been raised in a palace as the servant of Conroy, the moralistic spiritual leader who is worshipped by the Asposians as a guardian against the Basylians (like basilisks — get it?), scary monsters who show up once in a while to turn Asposians — but only sinful ones, in Conroy’s telling — to stone.
Sure, the plot deals with religion and judgement and sin and obedience, but it’s also full of very funny moments and great lines. “Garbage is the product of the future,” a garbage dealer tells you early in the game. “I’m a small stitch in the unending scarf of history,” an eloquent tailor tells you a bit later on. A lascivious bartender whispers to you about her biggest sin, her voice growing inaudible so you, the player, can’t hear the no-doubt-sticky details, but then she finishes her story thusly: “And that’s how I became the head of the book club.” Nearby, the warning on a label of booze reads, “Content absolutely lethal. Serve with a slice of lemon and a cocktail umbrella.”
I found myself playing the game for a bit, getting through a puzzle or two, then setting it aside and doing something else for a while. For someone like me who dislikes the feeling of being yoked to a game by twitchy addictiveness, it was quite pleasant to remember what it’s like to play a game that’s engrossing, but not obsession-forming.
Sure, there were points at which the quirkiness became annoying, when puzzles had rather ridiculous-seeming solutions, when I felt like I was clicking dialogue prompt after dialogue prompt just to get a hint as to what to do next. But there was some nostalgia to this. There’s no other type of game that turns you quite so endearingly in circles as an adventure game. It felt positively old-school, and in a good way.