A lone warrior wanders the land of a sparsely illustrated comic book in search of his lost love, while an illustrator directs the fury of his own personal loss at the man he drew on the page. Inked is a curiosity on many levels, touching on themes of grief and sadness through a striking and often beautiful landscape.
At its heart is a puzzle game, pulling you in as a third party to mediate the tussle between the vengeful puppet master and his creation, helping the hero to survive by manipulating the geometry of the landscape and creating a path for him to move ever forward. Switching his sword for a pen, the hero can create cubes, ramps, wedges and spheres, along with more complex items as he progresses. Each out-of-reach ledge or impassable canyon has a means of escape, so long as you can arrange the objects in a specific order to create a bridge or rudimentary staircase.
Interestingly, some of the early areas are tougher than many of the later ones, since they rely on fashioning a crude hotchpotch of pieces together and hoping the physics engine will be lenient enough to allow you to proceed as you jump on yet another wobbly ramp. Haphazard placement, gritted teeth and trial and error is normally enough to see you through, but it’s only after you traverse the monochrome levels and move into more colourful landscapes that the game finds its feet.
As new puzzles involving pressure pads and light make their debut, so too does a more engaging art style. Buses — a recurring enemy, intent on mowing you down for reasons revealed after the first few hours — can be diverted through cunning geometric placement, while the illustrator himself physically intervenes to alter the landscape in numerous enjoyable set pieces. Later sections of the game are themed, from the cherry blossoms of the Far East to the red hues of the Old West, complete with cattle-horned buses which need corralling and cuboidal alligators requiring entrapment.
Puzzles are mostly logical, with some notable exceptions which need extreme lateral thinking to progress. One instance of powering an ice machine is particularly troublesome, whilst the less said about an encounter in a pit with some buoyant crates and a torrent of water, the better. The controls are as much to blame as anything here, since the manoeuvring of shapes around the landscape requires you to first select an object with the right thumbstick, place it with one trigger and dismiss it with the other, all while moving your hero with the left thumbstick. Throughout the entire experience it never felt natural, and mistakenly choosing the wrong input proved to be the bane of ultimate enjoyment right up to the game’s end. Switching to mouse and keyboard fared no better, though it certainly made navigating a supremely awkward boat around a swampland a little more bearable.
Even with such control issues, Inked still has much to recommend it. The excellent music is themed along with each level, and the checkpoint system is very generous should you make a mistake. For every hair-shredding puzzle, there are another three which provoke nods of approval — and often wonder — at the creativity of Somnium Games. Planes, trains and automobiles are among the many vehicles your penned protagonist will utilise on his path, and when you are granted the use of flame and fans amongst the more rudimentary blocks, the quality of the experience jumps up another notch again.
The story, while signposted almost immediately, has a poignancy which many people will relate to, although the quality of the voice acting — in particular the illustrator — strays too often into ham territory, diminishing an otherwise touching tale. Should you fancy a bolder challenge, numerous caged birds are scattered throughout for you to locate and free, though we cannot attest to the durability of your controller should you decide to undertake this task.
At around ten to fifteen hours depending on your level of perseverance and aptitude, Inked provides a unique take on the puzzle genre, but doesn’t outstay its welcome. Though its faults are numerous and the physics engine which the core gameplay hangs off creaks worryingly in places, its charm and personality more than make up for its deficiencies. Indeed, not knowing where the game would take our hero next was a genuine and welcome surprise. For a fledgling team, Inked is a confident debut showcasing an array of talent and it offers plenty for the studio’s future titles to draw on.