There are many stories about omnipotent creators shaping worlds as players move through the fictional lands created, rolling dice to see who lives and who dies. This meta device used in games is prevalent in the likes of The Stanley Parable and the excellent Lost Words: Beyond the Page. So is the case – and you’ll want to bear with me here – in Inked: A Tale of Love, as you are playing as a character on screen, who’s been created by an artist, who is attempting to influence the world and decisions as you move through it. The artist’s motives are unclear at first, but you soon realise that the whole game questions the notion of story, love, and control. But thankfully Inked is also a cracking puzzle game. Let’s put pen to paper and dive in.
Inked: A Tale of Love comes with a lovely story that is full of fourth-wall-breaking madness and intriguing premises. Inspired by Japanese folk tales, you play as a nameless hero who, now that the land is peaceful, puts down his warrior sword in retirement. However, the love of his life Aiko, a painter and lover of the natural world, is worried about something hurting the birds so they both go on an adventure to find out what’s going wrong. It soon ends in mystery and heartbreak. But then there is hope.
The other element on top of Inked: A Tale of Love is that we – the player – get to see the god-like presence of the artist drawing the world, changing it as it goes. First of the presence of this artist/god is peaceful and pleasant, happily telling the story of the nameless hero and Aiko. But soon the two begin to see glimpses of the artist’s heartbreaking past and this affects things, so much so that the artist starts making some terrible decisions; ones that affect the hero and change the whole course of the narrative. It works fantastically, draws you in and ensures that Inked has a very satisfying ending.
Inked is set over 10 minimalist worlds, and these take you through different environments – a water world, desert, and a surreal abstract void, being just a few. In each of the worlds there are several puzzles to solve, as your hero attempts to battle through and carry on his journey. Thankfully you’re kitted out for the job and in your arsenal is one great piece of kit – that of a magic paintbrush. You see you can’t jump or fight or anything like that in Inked, but you can walk upstairs and can pull certain objects and operate pads that trigger the opening of certain doorways.
The paintbrush in each puzzle area will highlight a small number of objects that can be moved around the level, repositioned, and manipulated. For example, at one point the hero is found walking along a pathway, but there is a gap stopping his route across. With the paintbrush, there might be a square block he can grab, placing it in the empty gap to allow travel. This example is the simplest of solutions, and as progress is made a host of ideas come to the fore; you can pick up fire to bring down structures or freeze water to create ice bridges. There are an inventive bunch of puzzle designs that never fail to innovate or push the boundaries of the game forward.
The game design and execution of these puzzles are forever rewarding and it’s difficult to ever get bored or too frustrated in what is being actioned. In fact, I only have one criticism of how Inked plays and that is found in the control system. At times it fails to feel natural and even towards the end of the game I was still getting confused, making the same mistakes during attempts to grab objects. I think the ideal for playing Inked would be with mouse and keyboard, but thankfully it’s never been enough to ruin or dampen the enjoyment of this experience.
And then we have to get on to the visual look and honestly, the hand-drawn style that Inked utilises to draw the world is, in a word, sublime. The developers have decided on the visual style, committed to it, and delivered a beautiful experience throughout. The way the game brings you into the world – one that emerges like doodles on a piece of paper – is superb, but it also delivers in-depth nuanced details and magic which is nothing short of outstanding. I love the character design too, and also the extra weirdness when two life-like hands – they of the artist – come into the world, wiping out pathways or adding touches as you go. The strange abstractness of the latter levels is something that is so well designed that I have been left excited for, and wanting, more.
It’s all accompanied by a delightful soundtrack, with some lovely piano music helping push the action. And then the voice-over which comes from the artist has been delivered brilliantly too.
Inked: A Tale of Love is hugely enjoyable – and whilst you’ll probably realise this from the first few moments, it never disappoints from there on out. The controls aren’t perfect, but the experience as a whole is great; one that is helped by a very good price point.
I’ve hugely enjoyed my time in this universe and can’t wait for the next instalment of Inked: A Tale of Love. Whenever that may be.
Head to the Xbox Store to immerse yourself in Inked: A Tale of Love