Save the little hipster ink blots!!
Inklings is a new game in the Lemmings style of puzzle platformer which has been around since the early 1990s and has dropped in popularity in recent times in spite of translating fairly well to touch controls. Inklings brings a lot of style and charm to the table along with some really fun and challenging puzzles. The main stylistic motif of Inklings is the hand drawn or hand painted backgrounds the game uses to really admirable effect. Outside of a couple of design missteps Inklings is a really good exemplar for this style of game.
At its heart Inklings is a Lemmings style puzzle game. For those who haven’t experienced that type of game; it consists of a two dimensional stage, made up of platforms, environmental hazards, and an exit. The stage is populated with automated characters, the titular Inklings in this case. The object of the game is to get the Inklings to the stage’s exit while avoiding the various environmental hazards of the stage. In service of this goal players are armed with a variety of tools which can affect the Inklings themselves or the environment of the stages.
Inklings manages to hold up fairly well as an example of this type of game. The puzzles are varied and require clever solutions. One aspect of the game that is a staple of the genre is the way puzzles have multiple solutions. Stacking games like Tetris or match-three games like Dr. Mario, Puzzle Fighter, or, Candy Crush which have one way to solve the puzzle and rely on a ticking clock mechanic to create challenge, or in the case of Candy Crush make puzzles occasionally unsolvable to force in game purchases. Lemmings style games, like Inklings, give players multiple options to solve puzzles and create challenge using level design. The best versions of this type of game get players thinking like level designers to solve the puzzles by using subtle environmental cues and the worst just throw players in the deep end with no clues to the solution whatsoever. Inklings is pretty firmly in the former category but a couple of stages drift towards the latter.
The puzzles in Inklings are fairly clever and challenging at in the early game and get really formidable by the end of the game. This difficulty ramp is a bit on the severe side. The first ten or so puzzles are fairly easy and are set up to extend the game’s tutorial and teach the player useful skills. After those introductory stages the difficulty ramps up significantly. Inklings has the feel of a game made by fans of the genre for fans of the genre. Other puzzle games like this have hint systems to help out players who get stuck. The version of this in Inklings takes the form of tooltips shown while stages are loading. This is a totally acceptable way to implement such a system but in a few cases the hints are a bit too vague to be much help, but this feels more like a design choice than an error adding to the sort of for us, by us feel of the game.
The difficulty ramp of Inklings is exacerbated by the design choice to lock new stages behind completion of previous levels. The game has three sets of stages divided by their art style and difficulty level. When a player has solved seven puzzles in one set then the next set of ten is unlocked. This has the effect of punishing players for getting stuck on puzzles. The more puzzles are finished naturally reduces the number of stages players will have available to play. Locking up puzzles in stages just means that players have fewer options to play when they get stuck. In addition to that, locking up puzzles is redundant because Inklings does a good job of organizing stages by difficulty and art style. Adding some kind of progression system to a game is often a good idea but in this particular case it detracts more than it helps.
One of the stronger aspects of Inklings is the unquestionably charming style of the game. Is mentioned above, the game is divided into three sets of stages each with a distinct art style. The first set is positively adorable kid art, the second is made up of sketches and the third is hand painted. All the art is really fantastic but one small missed opportunity is the lack of in game history of the painting styles on display. It wouldn’t have taken much to annotate the later stages with a bit more information on the paintings being used by the game.
The charm of Inklings really comes from its visual style. In addition to the hand drawn backgrounds, which are quite well done, the inklings themselves are simple but cute as are the animations accompanying the various tool powers. The sound effects for those same tools are also quite simple and charming. The soundtrack is a fairly interesting, synthy, down tempo score. It is good but a bit repetitive in the event of a getting stuck in a puzzle. While the soundtrack fits in well with the overall style of Inklings when a player gets stuck on a puzzle for an hour or two the somewhat short loop of the score becomes slightly grating.
Inklings is currently available on Steam for $9.99. With about thirty-five puzzles to play the game isn’t the biggest game of this type but the level of difficulty adds a lot of length to the game as long as players can cope with being stuck on the occasional puzzle.
Overall, Inklings is a really charming, fairly small and challenging Lemmings style puzzle game. While the game has a lot of style and is a lot of fun it doesn’t really add too much of substance on the gameplay front. There is also one glaring, unnecessary restriction to level variety. Finally, Inklings really feels like a game made for fans of the genre and not so much for those uninitiated into the intricacies of this kind of game.