There’s something to be said about ambition and creativity carrying a project through some of its weaker elements. I like to think of those two features as being that one super buff friendly dude in the gym. The guy who just wants to help you lift that weight you’ve been really battling with. For the most part, you except his help and you appreciate his assistance, but you also know that you’d probably be crushed without him. For me, Inked kinda feels like that oddly specific and perhaps strangely conceived metaphor. A game driven by an impassioned creative vision that just battles to support itself once that initial creativity wears off.
Inked is an isometric puzzle-platformer following the journey of the Nameless Hero in his pursuit to rescue his lover, kidnapped by Adam, their creator. Without getting into philosophical ramblings on existential dread and cosmic terror, Inked presents itself as an artist’s sketch and it looks phenomenal. Every object, environment and puzzle is presented in different pen scratchings simulating a hand drawn sketch come to life. One could be forgiven for thinking this may become monotonous, but different environments and themes allow for an exploration of this art style that is truly impressive. The game really commits to this style going one step further to even explain the isometric camera angle as the eyes of the artist looking down into his sketch pad. A great deal of thought was placed into Inked’s presentation and is the strongest aspect of the game.
This attention to detail also spills over into the game’s music, which is both hauntingly beautiful and calmly ambient. Never swelling to overpower the game, the music is expertly composed and inserted to enhance each environment’s atmosphere. Sometimes brash and empowering, other times calm and relaxing, Inked’s soundtrack features the same level of hand-craft care and attention to detail as the game’s visuals.
Yet despite how great the game looks, one quickly runs into problems with its gameplay. The Nameless Hero will be required to solve numerous puzzles in his journey aided only by his pen with which he can create a selection of simple geometric shapes. There are some unique and inventive puzzles and while they may not be the most challenging there are some real head scratchers, for better or worse. Some solutions are incredibly obtuse and implement mechanics that are only introduced once and never expanded upon resulting in frustrating moments of, “How was I meant to know that, Inked The Videogame?”.
What lets these puzzles down even more is the forced perspective placed on the player due to the isometric camera angle. As much as I really appreciate its creative implementation, I suffered numerous deaths because I couldn’t see what I was doing or the perspective was skewered in a way that a jump looked far closer than it actually was. This becomes a further problem when the placement of objects becomes hindered due to the camera sometimes not accommodating for depth in the screen. I’m torn about the implementation of the camera. While I appreciate the commitment to a specific and designed vision, the shortcomings of it can’t be overlooked so easily when I became so frustrated because of visual inconsistencies resulting in cheap deaths. It should be noted that an update was released to provide an alternative control scheme to make precise movement a little easier, but even then, it feels like sticking a plaster over the forehead of someone with radiation sickness and saying, “All better”.
The other faltering aspect of Inked is its story and it really upsets me to type that because not only does it start with such promise, there was also clearly a great deal of care placed into it. Without getting into spoilers, the narrative deals less with the journey of the Nameless Hero and more with his creator, Adam. It’s a story about loss, grief, and art. It’s about how and why we create, how human beings deal with trauma and the great emotional weight one can attach to fiction when dealing with depression and unstable mental health. These are all lofty and heavy concepts and I applaud the writers for tackling some seriously painful topics, but the story collapses under its own weight delivering a message that illustrates a misunderstanding of what depression really is or what the recovery process is really like.
This doesn’t take into account the voice acting which ranges from acceptable to just…ham-fisted. It really takes you out of the experience when a character is furious and screaming in rage but kinda just sounds like they’re challenging the Power Rangers to a fight. What makes the story worse is that it kind of just…ends. What tries to build to a cathartic and emotional final confrontation (which is also undercut by a frustrating and repetitive final boss) just cuts short and doesn’t wrap up in any kind of satisfying way.
Which is all to say that I really wanted to like Inked. Hell, I wanted to love it. A gorgeous puzzle game telling an emotionally driven and evocative story? Yes please, I’ll take two tickets and sit in the front row. But the weight of the game’s ambition, writing and some questionable, albeit very clearly designed decisions, detract from the game and result in an experience that is just okay. A gorgeous okay, but still an okay.
Last Updated: February 11, 2019