Platforming games, along with scrolling shooters and PAC-MAN, tend to be the first things I think of when the discussion of oldest gaming memories come up. Not because they were the first games I played, but because they tend to be what I associate to classic old-school gaming. That’s probably because many of the classic titles I can remember back to are those such as Sonic, Rayman and Abe’s Odyssey, all of which are games many of us have enjoyed thanks to the simplistic yet genius designs that comes from a platformer.
What if I were to tell you though, that as old as those classics are, they provided more than needed for the average enjoyable gaming experience? I’ve recently been hands on with one of the latest platformers to arrive on Xbox One, one that ditches all the extra graphics, the deep mechanics and the engaging story for a much more simplistic approach – yet still holds enough quality to be added to the list of exceptional platformers.
The game I’m talking about is INK of course, the new fast-paced experience that’s all about using bright colour to paint and uncover your surroundings. If I were to give you a general idea, I’d say INK is what you could expect to find if you were to mix together indie gems The Unfinished Swan and Super Meat Boy, before adding a blast of Microsoft Paint in for good measure. The object of the game is to make it through all seventy-five levels, defeating all three of the bosses along the way.
To beat a level, players must reach the multi-coloured cube at the end. Sounds simple I know, but it’s not. Each stage starts off as a completely blank screen, a fresh canvas if you will, with players able to see nothing other than the small white cube that they control. To uncover the rest of the screen, players must cover the surrounding walls and platforms in paint, with paint expelled from the cube every time you make a movement of any kind, whether that be simply sliding left or right or jumping around.
For the main part that’s all you ever really need to know for INK. Every level provides the same basic premise, and in the early ones you aren’t required to do much more other than simply uncover the area and reach the end whilst avoiding the many drops that will see your unsuspecting cube falling to its death.
After the tone is initially set, enemies are slowly introduced to the game. First up are other cubes, each of which must be destroyed – by jumping on them – to unlock the multi-coloured progression cube at the end of the level. Fortunately, enemies are visible from the start of a new level and don’t need to be uncovered with paint, helping give a rough idea of where walls and platforms might be.
Progress a little further and other hazards such as spikes and machines that fire deathly shapes are introduced, both of which can destroy your cube on contact, with the shapes that are fired even capable of following your movements.
If you progress through enough stages, then you can find yourself arriving at the door of the bosses. There are three of these in the game, with a new boss arriving in each world. The term world isn’t something that’s ever defined in the game, and other than the achievement description for beating an entire world without dying, there’s not really anything to show that worlds even exist. That in itself is a slight shame, but nevertheless there are three, and each one consists of twenty-five levels before culminating in a boss fight.
Unfortunately, given the encouraging yet challenging difficulty of the rest of the game, the boss fights feel somewhat uninspiring. This is due to just how easy each of the bosses are to beat. You see, each one follows a specific pattern and beating them requires nothing more than being jumped on a few times before they explode. It is therefore relatively easy to see progress onto the next set of challenging levels. Whilst this isn’t a major issue of course, it would have been nice to have seen a little more challenge from something which is expected to be harder than the standard sections, especially when death is usually just around the corner.
Death is something that you’ll find happening a lot within INK, either due to mistaking a jump and falling to your death, or becoming a victim of the many hazards throughout the game. But despite the constant worry of death, the game never feels unfair. After all, should you possess the skill, INK can be finished without dying at all, and anyone wanting to nab all 1000 gamerscore will need to ensure a death free run has been completed in order to pop the necessary achievements. I however am not quite so skilled and found myself popping the life out of my little cube on countless occasions – all of which was due to my own mistakes I must add.
However, even though this would probably be enough to frustrate me, dying in INK doesn’t see progress wiped entirely, and instead any area that has already been covered with paint remains painted even after death. This is a great feature, and one that not only assists with swiftly progressing back through a stage, as you can now see what’s around, but helps the game feel balanced.
INK may sound very basic – and for the most part it is – but the gameplay is exceptionally enjoyable. The difficulty curve is near perfect, the quick restart after death invites players to have another go, and the need to paint your surroundings before they can be seen gives off a strange sense of exploration to the levels. Later levels are incredibly challenging, but with a constant feeling that the next go could be the one to see progress, and the stages themselves usually over in less than thirty-seconds, INK provides all the necessities to ensure an engaging game. It may well have been nice to have seen a little more challenge from the bosses, and maybe a little extra variety in terms of enemy type, but my overall opinion of INK is very high.
With all the usual babble coming into question in terms of graphical and story quality, it’s nice to see a game come along that can prove that simplicity can make a great experience, and even though INK will probably only take you a couple of hours to beat, it certainly ranks up there with the best platformers out there.