I review a lot of puzzle games. Some are good, a lot are bad. But none have really resonated quite like inbento.
This indie puzzler will have you making simple Japanese-style dishes by arranging ingredients into a square grid. On the surface, it probably doesn’t sound particularly appealing. In practice, it’s absolutely brilliant.
Just like an actual bento, inbento’s presentation is top-draw. Everything you need – the controls, the recipe and, of course, the puzzle itself – is laid out right before you, as if you were making the food yourself. It’s a brilliantly designed user interface. One that was clearly designed for mobile, but one that translates seamlessly to console.
Meanwhile, its art style, pastel colour scheme and gentle soundtrack make inbento a beautifully simple, and almost therapeutic, experience.
And things wander into the dangerously adorable when cats – yes, cats – are thrown into the mix. Told through a set of images, inbento’s story revolves around the relationship between a cat and her kitten. It turns out that you’re making these increasingly complex bentos for him. It’s a touching story and one that is remarkably powerful, certainly more so than it has any right to be.
Like all good puzzle games, inbento takes a simple concept and masters it. You’re given a small grid, some ingredients and a picture of the end result, which you’ll need to replicate. It starts off simple enough – a piece of rice here, a block of seaweed there – but it soon descends into a game of culinary Tetris as more and more ingredients are introduced. Pieces begin to overlap, and you’ll need to consider not only the individual placement but the order in which they go into the bento box too.
Things get even more complex when new mechanics are thrown into the mix. Not only will you need to cut up blocks to make new shapes, you’ll soon have to deal with pieces that can’t rotate, pieces that can duplicate and pieces that can swap places with others.
These mechanics allow for some pretty difficult puzzles, by themselves. Once you get to the end game and start tackling levels where several mechanics are in play at one time, inbento strays into the absolutely mind-bending. Luckily, puzzles can usually be solved in less than six or seven moves and the game features an undo button – a solid feature in its own right that really encourages experimentation without fear of having to restart.
You’ll find that inbento not only features a wealth of interesting mechanics, but introduces them in a way that feels natural. Rather than just dumping a mechanic onto the player every few levels or so, inbento decides to introduce a new mechanic roughly every chapter. As the game advances, mechanics from previous chapters slowly begin to be added on top, until puzzles become a mess of brightly coloured blocks and mechanics.
It’s a really steady difficulty curve. And not only does this allow the player to really learn and understand individual mechanics, it avoids players becoming overwhelmed by introducing too much, too quickly. Which, for a game that becomes as difficult as this, is remarkably important.
The amount of puzzles available in the game is a real positive too. At 127 across fourteen chapters, players are getting plenty of content for the relatively small price tag.
Just like actual Japanese food, inbento goes down an absolute treat. With its beautiful aesthetic, touching story and deviously challenging puzzles, there’s something for everyone to appreciate. The game is perfect in both bite-sized chunks and extended sessions, and the gameplay is designed to be challenging but not overwhelming.
If you’re in the mood for a new puzzler, pick this one up. And if you’re not… pick this one up anyway. Quite simply, this is one of the best puzzle games going.
Start snacking on ibento on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One – find it over on the Xbox Store