INK PC Review
INK is a deceptively simple game. Five seconds with a controller in your hands, and you’ll understand everything needed to succeed. You are a white square. The world which you occupy initially seems to lack any form or function, with complete and utter darkness strewn out before you. There are platforms out there, you just cannot see them yet. If you move you leave a trail of paint. You can jump, and you can also double jump too. Double jumping causes the square-with-no-name to splash out ink in all directions. Everytime the square touches a surface, be it vertical or horizontal, the double jump is recharged. If the expelled ink hits an object, it will splatter it with paint, making it visible. With enough movement and splashy jumps players can fill up what was once an empty world with a neon rainbow of colours, literally highlighting the correct way through a level, thus helping the square safely reach the end goal.
That’s the basics of INK in a nutshell, but it was probably more wordy and awkward than it needed to be. Let’s try a GIF.
If I was being reductive I would say INK is de Blob crossed with Super Meat Boy, although now I give it some thought it seems a very apt comparison. It takes the fun factor from the best bits of both those games to create something uniquely compelling in its own right. As each level begins, the game asks players to make a leap of faith into the void and hope you land on, or attach to something, before falling to your death. And yes, you will most certainly die a lot playing INK, but that is not something to be put off by.
With so much trial and error at the core of its gameplay, INK is a game that could fall apart in many areas. If the jumping physics felt off it would instantly be less of a game. I think the best way to describe this would be to think of the early 2D Mario efforts. If you alter Mario’s physics even slightly it would drastically change the feel of those game – and likely even ruin them. Thankfully, INK’s jumping physics are very well tuned. There not as loose as what we once saw in Super Meat Boy, nor are they as tight in the aforementioned Mario games, but they most certainly work. More importantly they feel right. I am not sure if there is a right way for a white cube to move, but if I were a lil white cube I would be happy to bound around in this way. Ultimately, all of this means that death rarely occurs in INK from the controls letting you down, and that’s something very worth noting for these type of games.
Whilst INK initially looks very basic, the way it is presented to players is executed fantastically well. It’s full to the brim with smart design decisions. Once you have placed paint in a level it is never removed – even upon death. Furthermore, when you die, paint shoots out from the cube, so the spot where you met your end will be better illuminated when you meet up with it the next time through. The result of this is that players always feel like they are making progress. This is akin to the music never stopping during stages in Super Meat Boy. If the paint vanished every time you died, it would hurt the game’s pacing, and “one more go” appeal. One small change could be a huge detriment to the game’s overall appeal. Like Team Meat’s much loved effort the music never stops in INK either, and if you die you restart almost instantly with zero load times. All of these little touches make INK a game that’s hard to put down. If you have a free two to three hours you might just beat the whole thing in one sitting.
Actually, the fact you can see the end within a couple of hours is arguably the sole negative point to speak about. There are only 75 levels to beat, and they are all bit sized in nature. Thankfully each one of the levels brings something new. Some are contained on one screen, whilst others scroll in various directions. There are big, small, spike filled, and moving platforms to navigate. Further into the game, projectiles that dowse levels with there own paint become an issue, as do collectable items, and various enemies that make life even more difficult. There are a few boss characters to tackle on the way to the end too. The later levels mix and match all the above into devilishly difficult to traverse levels that will test your skills and reflexes. However, there is no getting away from the fact that the game is a bit on the short side. I am familiar with the phrase “leave them wanting more,” but INK left me desperately seeking a whole lot more, some DLC, a level editor! Something! Give me some means to mess around more with this fantastic concept and I’ll be delighted.
I did notice there are a few collectibles to pick up along the way, some which are very hard to get. If nabbing all of these opens up 25 more levels that would be great. I cannot report on this yet, as at the time of writing more than a few are still out of my grasp. One other thing to note is that the game really needs to be played with a controller. You can work your way through early levels with the arrow keys and spacebar on a keyboard (which I did), but somewhere around level 25 hand cramp crept in once the levels started to demand more dextrous leaps.
Oh, and I did notice that bosses take more than 3 hits to vanquish! This is sacrilegious!
You will die many times playing INK, as a whole bunch of trial and error is needed to reach the end. However, I never got mad playing the game. Compared to the number of expletives I shouted at Super Meat Boy, my anger at INK was miniscule. I may have pouted once, but that’s about it. I am not sure if I have grew up in the past 5 years, that’s unlikely to be honest. Maybe the uber-calming slow synthy tracks that accompany most of the levels made it impossible to rage? Don’t get me wrong, the game is still hard, and you could easily place it in the “Mascore” genre, but there is something uniquely relaxing about the gameplay that nothing else in that genre can boast having.
I really enjoy games where the player is the agent of change that brings colour to the world. Both de Blob and The Unfinished Swan were games I adored solely for those reasons. Whilst INK shares ideas seen in both these, it also offers its own unique spin to help it stand out. It is a charming stylish endeavor that mixes the joys of experimentation, with the satisfaction of solving puzzles, whilst not forgetting to remain fun in the process. You cannot ask for much more than that.