Reviewed on PC
Inked begins with a betrayal. Our nameless hero, a figure constructed from blue ink on white paper, is punished by the hand of his own creator. His love, a woman born from pink ink who paints and brings peace to our heroic warrior in doing so, is snatched away, literally cut out of the world by the all seeing power who both created and rules this papery realm. And so, with the return of his love in mind, our hero sets out against seemingly impossible odds.
After that brief set up, Inked begins giving players a drip feed of concepts and tools with which to progress. Being a puzzle game, lateral and logical thinking is the order of the day and Inked serves up some tasty thought provoking moments. The core concept is your avatar's ability to draw objects into existence using his lover's pen, a replacement for a sword that had been cast off as the hero began what he had thought to be a new life with his lover.
To start with you'll only have access to one object at a time and only one shape and are set to work solving simple puzzles that push you to take your tools to their limits. Progress unlocks the potential for more objects to be drawn at a time as well as expanding the selection of things you can build to include ramps, balls, bridges and more. As each limit is lifted and your toolbox grows, the puzzles gradually ask more and more of you, requiring combinations of previous solutions or testing your ability to recognize the need to block holes and trap escaping water to make floating boxes rise or create routes for a ball to travel down and drop into a hole, unlocking your route forward. Alongside the puzzles are collectible birds hidden in hard to reach places or down obscured routes, adding an extra challenge to those looking to squeeze more from each area before moving on.
With enough trial and error, most could and would likely progress through the game, but the way concepts are introduced and tests of a player's comprehension are metered out combine to give those paying attention everything they need to logically approach a puzzle and see their way forward without falling back on a brute force approach. Staring at the screen for a few moments upon arriving in a new area, comparing your tools against the environment and seeing exactly how to apply them is thoroughly satisfying and provides some lovely eureka moments.
To compliment the gameplay and drive you forward through the levels, various narrative elements are scattered throughout each area and serve to tease you with hints at an underlying reason for this world's hero being punished so cruelly by his own creator. A narrator reads the various sentences that litter the landscape, their tone at times shifting from benign neutrality to anger or paranoia, slowly building a clearer and clearer picture of the conflicted person creating this world and it's events. It helps maintain a tone that somehow elevates the puzzles, the sense of a pressing mission and a righteous battle against the master's hand makes each solution feel like a step toward truly understanding what is happening and what happened to provoke it.
At times you will find objects from the real world, things such as newspaper clippings with clear connections and purpose in terms of answering the question of why our avatar in paper land is made to suffer as he is. My mind echoed with thoughts of Bastion or Braid's past successes in marrying narrative and gameplay concepts as the plot revealed itself, Inked deserves to be held next to them as a worthy and successful attempt at the same objective. I can write no more without spoiling the story, but it's safe to say that those with a place in their hearts for romance or sentimentality will have it touched at least a little.
Supporting and adding to the ambiance of Inked are a combination of graphics in the style of ink on paper. Sharp and crisp lines sketch out the game world, small touches in the animation here and there help the constrained visuals, the way the avatar jumps and runs informing just a little bit of character in the way the little guy holds himself for example. Shading and colour are limited by the ink on paper aesthetic, but the previously mentioned effort to marry elements of gameplay and narrative stops that limitation from being a detriment and instead allows it to add to the tone and feeling provoked by playing the game.
Music, in turn, also compliments the Japanese theme that is so clearly present, allowing focus with quiet ambiance during puzzle sections, swelling as plot points reveal themselves and adding tension to unexpected moments such as the hands of the creator shifting the paper you stand on and creating a landslide.
In all, Inked is a very pleasant puzzle game that will provoke enough head scratching and satisfying moments of breakthrough for players without frustrating or overwhelming.