The loss of a loved one is a terrible thing. It’s something everyone has to go through at some point in their lives. We’ve all been there. It can either break you, or make you a stronger person. Guilt, grief and depression have remained a prominent storytelling tool throughout the history of entertainment medium. What happens when you combine a story about guilt and grief with clever puzzles in a video game? Let’s find out shall we?
Inked is an isometric 2D puzzle-platformer developed by Somnium Games and published by Starbreeze Publishing. The game was released on the PC via Steam on 26 Apr, 2018.
Story & Narrative
Adam is a successful comic book writer whose life falls into shambles after the loss of his wife. In an act of self punishment, Adam takes to writing comic books again. He writes the story of the Nameless Hero, a ronin, a man feared by all but one; his lover Aiko. Adam sees the the ronin as a reflection of himself and takes Aiko away from him. You play as the ronin in his quest to save Aiko and redeem himself. Throughout the game, Adam creates various traps and puzzles to hinder the hero’s progress, hoping to inflict pain and punishment on the hero and thereby punishing himself. It’s up to the player to aid the hero in his quest to save Aiko.
The story of Inked genuinely surprised me. I did not expect such an emotional and self-conscious story from a simple looking puzzle platformer. Like discussed above, the story deals with themes such as guilt and grief. While neither cutscene or narrative heavy, Inked tells its story through Adam’s dialogues and subtle clues in the environment. There are lots of moments in the story that the players can relate to. I felt sorry yet hopeful at the same time for both Adam and the hero. The engaging story and unique self conscious storytelling made it worth seeing the game to its end. In a few words; simple, but powerful.
Gameplay & Mechanics
The gameplay in Inked revolves around the hero traveling linear, yet large levels solving various puzzles and overcoming obstacles in your path. Instead of a sword, the hero is equipped with a paintbrush with which he’s able to conjure up various geometrical shapes and tools. You start out with the ability to draw simple cubes and spheres. As the game goes on you unlock more of these including a ramp, a plank, a small-sized turbine etc. These are used to solve the various puzzles spread across the levels.
The puzzles range from simple shape and color matching ones to physics and element based puzzles. Each one feels handcrafted, creative and requires different approaches be solved. There are large gaps to be crossed, platforms to be climbed, hazards to be avoided, and doors to be opened. The developers has made sure that your brain is utilised to the fullest when solving these. Inked is quite long for a game of its type. If you’re an expert in puzzles, you can probably complete the game in about 10 hours. But for an average player like me, it can take about 15 or so hours. The variety in each puzzle and the compelling story saves the game from becoming repetitive.
But all is not perfect. For starters, there are no hints or tips on how to solve any of the game’s puzzles. A lot of the puzzles can be figured out simply by brainstorming, but there are a few of them that requires you to think in a way widely different to what you’re accustomed to. There are puzzles where I have literally spent up to an hour thinking what to do, because I didn’t know where to even begin. Of course solving these puzzles nets you that moment of pure satisfaction and purists may end up loving this approach. An average player, not so much. However, the devs are looking into adding hints to difficult puzzles. So that’s good news.
Another problem I had are with the controls. It is strongly recommended that you play with a controller as keyboard controls are clunky and not precise enough. Even with a controller, there are several areas where it ends up feeling very tanky and hard to control. This holds true for the boat rowing areas and precision platforming sections. Object placement with the controller is not as smooth as it should be, resulting in puzzles taking too long to complete.
Then there is the issue of depth perception that comes with the isometric camera angle. This results in inaccurate alignment of objects and difficult platforming sections. I’ve executed several jump attempts thinking I had everything aligned up and ended up one or two inches further away from my target. This can cause a lot frustrations and even rage quits during timed puzzle sections. While the game autosaves before each puzzle, the permanent save slots are located far apart from each other. This results in the player forced to clear out several puzzles in a row to reach the save spot before ending the session.
Visuals, Performance and Sound
Inked absolutely nails the visuals department. The game sports a unique comic book art style, one which looks like someone drew the world and everything in it using a ballpoint pen. Each area is handcrafted and objects and characters are very well detailed. All the environments look beautiful and unique despite using a limited color palette.
The game ran at 35-55 FPS on an i5 7500 and GTX 750 at 1080p. I expected Inked to run a bit better even on the given specs considering the fact that there doesn’t seem be a lot of graphics effects happening on screen at a given time.
Inked features a soundtrack that fits the tone of the game perfectly. It’s mostly low key melodic tunes that amplify the state of powerlessness and emptiness that has filled the hero’s mind. It’s sad, haunting, yet there’s a shimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. It’s the kind of music that makes you wish there was more. Ambient sounds are also well done although they belong to the minimalist category.
Inked is a solid puzzle platformer with a beautiful art style, creative puzzles, fitting soundtrack and a unique story. Despite the various control issues and some frustrating puzzle sections, the game ultimately is very fun and can even be enjoyed by people who are not the biggest fans of the genre.