If you’ve read any of my other reviews you’d know that I’m drawn to games with unique aesthetics and eye-catching visuals. When the opportunity to review Inked: A Tale of Love presented itself I jumped at the chance due to its distinct ballpoint pen art style.
Inked: A Tale of Love is an isometric story-driven puzzle game. The best part about this game is that the developers, Somnium Games, designed the gameplay so that you always feel engaged. Many times puzzle games like this have a lot of downtime, you complete a puzzle and then you have to make your way to the next puzzle and this can easily get boring. Somnium Games have avoided this by creating a visually stunning game world filled with interesting puzzles and also by incorporating a hidden object mechanic into the game. Each of the ten levels has nine hidden canvases that can be found. Some are easy to spot, but others… well, not so much. I spotted one partially submerged in water and many of the others appear to blend into the environment, almost camouflaged. At almost any point you can press the Y button and a magnifying glass pops onto the screen which you can freely move around the current viewable area. When you hover over a canvas the magnifying glass starts shaking, indicating that a canvas is in the immediate vicinity. Finding canvases rewards you with some fantastic concept art, which really gives you a feel for how the ideas and design of the game came together.
The story in Inked: A Tale of Love is moving and gratifying despite starting off a little slow. You play as the Nameless Hero who lives with his true love Aiko. The game has a Japanese-inspired aesthetic, especially at the beginning, and the Nameless Hero and Aiko are dressed in traditional Japanese outfits. After finding an injured bird, Aiko insists that they set off to find the cause of the bird’s injury (which I couldn’t help but think was a weak premise to a story). Soon after the adventure begins you learn that the narrator is the Artist, the creator of the world and its inhabitants, including the Hero and his true love. The Artist went through an extremely tough time in his life and he created this world as a way to deal with his pain. The fourth wall is quickly broken and the Artist tests the Nameless Hero by putting him in a similar situation to his own, hoping the Nameless Hero will react how he himself did. In the end, the story culminates in a meaningful and heartfelt way.
The puzzles in Inked are a lot of fun; there is a great variety of ideas and mechanics introduced as you play through the ten levels. Each level has its own specific mechanics, some of which carry over to other areas. Most of the puzzles are solved by moving objects around, triggering switches, or creating paths for you to reach switches or the exit. Some objects can be pushed around by the Hero but the main mechanic you use is called Draw, which essentially functions as a way a different way to move objects to a new location without having to physically touch it, essentially redrawing them. You can move the objects all around the screen, as well as rotate them. There was only one puzzle that truly had me stumped; none of them are overly complex, which I think is a great trait in a laid-back game such as this. On the other hand, the puzzles stay interesting thanks to the fresh ideas that are introduced as you play and it will usually take a minute or two and some trial and error to figure out how each puzzle can be solved. The desert area introduces fire, which can be moved with the Draw ability to burn the wooden bases of other objects. You can also insert the fire into barrels with the Draw ability and the barrel will rise up in the air, letting you reach a higher platform as long as you were standing on the barrel to begin with. The Ice area has beams of ice that freeze water, if you place fire on the frozen water it will melt; however, it will refreeze again unless you put something in front of the ice beam first to block it.
The art style is definitely the biggest aspect of the game that makes it stand out. I really like how the designers made use of different commonly used ballpoint pen colors in the designs of the different levels. Many of the first levels are focused around water so a blue pen makes the most sense, but then there’s a swamp/jungle level that uses green, and the desert level uses a reddish color. The last two levels use black as the main color. The textures also add to the stunning design. There’s a lot of cross-hatching to give the objects some shadow and depth, and then other elements like the water almost look like they were shaded with light or faded magic markers. I also thought it was nice touch how the Nameless Hero leaves inkblot footprints after walking through water, and later in the game, the rain leaves ink blot marks as it hits the ground. I’m a sucker for isometric view games and it works really well here, the game uses a lot of straight lines and everything looks very clean and precise.
Overall the game’s sound design is well done. The game features an instrumental soundtrack that feels ambient at times but also matches the emotional feel of certain moments. The sound effects work well too. Although they used it a lot, I liked the grinding stone noise whenever any large stone platform moved. The one aspect of the sound design that faltered somewhat was the voice acting of the Artist, there were points where it just sounded a bit awkward and the emotional tone didn’t always come through.
I know some people might criticize me for this, but my biggest gripe with the game is that it doesn’t have any achievements. In my haste to volunteer to review the game, I didn’t check to see if it had any. Almost every game on Xbox has them so I was more than surprised to find out they were missing, and pretty bummed out. On the surface this looks like a fun and quick 1000 gamer score. I don’t know why they didn’t add them, but it seems like a bad decision. I know a lot of Xbox gamers love achievements so there’s a good chance many of them will skip over this otherwise enjoyable game. I did see a reply from the developers saying they want to add them in, so there’s some hope.
Come for the striking art style and stay for the engaging gameplay, that’s my cliched tagline for the undoubtably original Inked: A Tale of Love. It’s a relatively short game (about three to four hours), and doesn’t offer much replayability since there aren’t any achievements, but the game stays fresh throughout by introducing new mechanics in each of the beautifully drawn levels and by featuring a fun hidden object mechanic. If you don’t mind not earning achievements and enjoy puzzle games then this is worth a look.Become a Patron!
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.