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December 2022


Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment
Developer: Yaza Games
Release Date: 2023


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Switch/XSX/XOne/PC Preview - 'Inkulinati'

by Cody Medellin on Oct. 7, 2022 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Inkulinati is an ink-based strategy game straight from medieval manuscripts, where a rabbit's bum can be deadlier than a dog's sword.

If you've been playing games for a long time, you relish the opportunity to see something offbeat: something no one ever thought to do, something you'd rarely see because there's too much risk involved, and something that niche audiences would absolutely gobble up. Inkulinati is one of those games. The gameplay at this early stage complements the intriguing premise very well.

Inkulinati starts off with you undergoing a final trial before graduating to becoming an inkmaster. The master holds a party after you defeat him, and during that get-together, Death accidentally kills your master when his scythe falls. He offers to resurrect your fallen master, but you need to find and defeat the other inkmasters before he can do that.

For the most part, Inkulinati is a side-scrolling strategy game, which is a rarity in the genre. You have to worry about elevation and distance but not if you're on the right pathway when attacking, defending or moving. You initially have your inkmaster on the field at the start of any battle, and while you can't move or attack on your own, you can summon different soldiers that fight in your stead. You start with regular swordsmen but eventually gain access to bowmen and spearmen among other types. Each has their own attack range and special moves, such as being able to hit enemies on both sides or unleashing a wide volley of arrows to hit multiple people. Battles end when all enemies are eliminated, unless another inkmaster is on the field — at which point they become the main objective to end a fight.

The side-scrolling nature of the game opens up some nice opportunities that aren't usually available in the 3D space. The main action you'll use often is push to get objects in front of you or to move allies out of harm's way. The 2D space means that you can move more spaces than you normally would, since no two things can occupy the same spot. This brings up opportunities where you can also move enemies into environmental hazards like fire or push them off the platform to their doom.

The main thing that makes this stand out is the adherence to the game's theme and the absurdity that goes along with it. All of the soldiers you summon on the field are anthropomorphic animals that are literally drawn onto the field. They spray ink when hit and leave behind an ink puddle when they die. The inkmaster on the field is an illustration of yourself, so your real-life inkmaster can be seen prodding the page to injure opponents or swiping on the page to move their illustration along. It's one thing to see your soldiers push objects and enemies to their doom, but seeing a gloved hand come in to do the same is ridiculous in a good way. Battles always take place on a book laid on a pedestal or on a grassy knoll, and every action is written on the margins, where no action takes place. It's one of those things where you need to see it in action to get a better understanding of how charming it all looks — at least until you decide to use a fart to temporarily lower your opposition's stats.

The game also introduces the idea of boredom into the mix. The conceit is that your inkmaster grows increasingly bored of drawing the same soldiers over and over again, so the cost of drawing them increases the more they are used in battle. You can try to use those same soldiers in arena combat to drop their boredom rating, but the more common solution is to have a wide range of characters to draw, so boredom naturally diminishes. It's something you might do anyway since the different animals mean having the same soldier type with different attributes. The presence of boredom essentially forces people to do this instead of sticking with a golden squad set from start to end.

The presentation so far is great thanks to the dedication to the theme. The medieval aesthetic means that the artwork looks clean whether in still form or animated, with adorable images throughout. It also works well when put up against the real-world elements like grassy fields and the various hands that come in to manipulate things. There are no voices except for man-made animal noises, but the music is upbeat with a light medieval theme that fits well with the rest of the game.

We got the chance to check out the demo for the game on a Steam Deck, and like many recent titles for the PC, it feels right at home on the system. The art style lends itself well to the point where resolution only matters if you put the game on its lowest possible setting. Things you'd normally worry about, like frame rate and texture quality, are also nullified due to the style and slower nature of the game. Battery life is roughly around five hours at full charge, so you can get quite a bit out of it before you need to plug it in. Although the game has controller prompts, controller support isn't in yet, but the trackpads do a good enough job that you won't miss them for now.

Inkulinati fills in all of the boxes for those looking for something different. The change to a side-scrolling strategy game is fresh enough considering how uncommon it is, but the ink-based theme makes it fun. The dashes of humor really make you want to stick with the title, as it already feels like there's going to be plenty to keep you busy, both in and out of the campaign. If there are no delays, we shouldn't be waiting too long for Inkulinati's full release.

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