For today’s preview, we’ll be placing ourselves firmly back in the realm of the completely bat-shit crazy. I’m not a bit mad at this game because I’m having a whale of a time. I do, however, think that whichever lunatic came up with the brilliant concept for Inkulinati might need help. Let’s see where we’re going with this one then, shall we?
Inkulinati is a strategy game with a genius aesthetic. Imagine one of those old history books, and by old, I mean penned in the medieval era. All of the strange creatures and fantastical imagery that was hand-painted onto parchments were drawn in a style still uniquely its own. Now take all that awesome stuff I’ve just mentioned and turn it into a game. You are literally the one doing the drawing too, so everything that appears on the page that isn’t trying to kill you is of your own doing.
As an Inkulinati, you are by definition a master of the living ink. This is someone that can draw creatures and bring them to life on the page. These ink masters then face off against each other in battles that are strategically deep and very different from anything else I’ve played in this genre for a good while. The initial reason for this depth comes from the fact that there are different ways to win.
Welcome to a new story where the illustrations are alive.
The most obvious of these is to force your opponent to run out of life, but this isn’t always the most strategically viable; in fact, it might not even be possible depending on the circumstances in which you find yourself. We’ll get to this in a sec, but first I want to briefly mention beast battles. These are easier to explain because they simply see you’re most powerful beasts pitted against each other without an Inkulinati present. The aim here is simply to kill off all the opposing creatures while taking into account any hazards or obstacles that the map is presenting you with. The concept is simple but believe me, if you’re strategy isn’t on point you’ll die. A lot.
This game isn’t played out on one plane; stages can contain multiple platforms you can factor into your strategy. It’s not just about throwing everything you can at your enemy and hoping to out-kill all of their monsters or sneak around them for lethal damage, as is the case in so many other games. You might find that your foe is several levels above you, which means positioning your army so they can get to them.
An example of a stage map. This one is simple, later maps will give you more branching paths and, therefore, more choices.
This is fine but Inkulinati uses some very clever fall mechanics. If one of your creatures pushes an opposing one off a platform it’ll fall to its death, regardless of how much life it has. Unfortunately, this rule also applies to your own Inkulinati. If they get pushed from the map it’s game over. Some of the creatures can give you or your opponent a one-hit kill as well, so using obstacles to your advantage is a very good way of not getting unalived. Fucking SNAILS! These greedy little bastards can eat anything that happens to be in front of them. That anything includes you if you’re unfortunate enough to be in the way.
There was a point to that little ramble. Enemy creatures can move past your own so if there’s a gap between your Inkulinati and your nearest friendly unit and a shell-wearing nightmare happens to land in that gap it’s game over. The push mechanic I mentioned earlier doesn’t just push creatures off of things but can also be used to enable you to place your units where you want them. You will always push a friendly or enemy unit to the nearest empty space and this can send them past a lot of other obstacles in the process. Space and how you use it is can be the difference between victory and defeat in this game.
The story is well-written and fun to follow, Death is a good guy, by the way, he’s just a bit clumsy.
You can’t just move your Inkulinati about the place like you can your other units which have a lot more scope for movement aside from the mechanics I’ve just mentioned. You can only push your avatar one space at a time. This sucks if you happen to be getting penned in (pun intended) by opposing forces but it sucks worse if you happen to be the recipient of a disaster. If you aren’t careful, literally the entire map can end up on fire and if you’re sat in the flames you’re losing life. If you happen to be miles away from a safe space you’re going to be waiting a lot of turns to get there and, therefore, being incinerated is more likely to happen than not. This forces you to look for a quick win.
Actually, playing for the long game in this title can be a rather dangerous proposition. You’ll really need to think on your feet if you’re going to win. The longer you play, the more likely you are to encounter apocalyptic fire. Unlike the raining fire that sets everything ablaze, this is one very big flame that is an instant game over. Speed really is often of the essence.
You’ll want to switch your army up often to avoid boredom.
Creatures are varied in their skills and are summoned using ink. As you call an ally to the field a whopping big hand appears and physically draws them onto the page. In true medieval style, your units can range from sword-wielding bunnies to fleet-footed foxes, to asses that play the trumpet with their… ass. There are other rear-related mechanics too which can have some very debilitating effects on the enemy. Well, they would, wouldn’t they?
Each creature has its own layout of skills and, depending on how powerful it is, has its own ink cost. Interestingly, you’re encouraged to vary your strategy as much as you possibly can. If your master is made to draw the same creatures over and over again they’ll become bored. Boredom has some rather nasty adverse effects on you if it isn’t kept in check so it’s worth keeping an eye on. I’m not going to start listing all of the units that are available to you because that’s for you to find out. What I will say though is that you need to be careful around the clergy. Being branded a heretic is not good for you.
Obstacles can be very advantageous to you if you use them wisely.
Inkulinati is a brilliantly fun strategy battler that I would recommend to any tactics fan out there. It’s definitely one of the most original games I’ve played in a while and it’s one that I can see myself going back to whenever I have a spare hour or so for quite some time yet. This is one of those cases where doing something totally different ends with a fascinating result, rather than just a product that’s strange for the sake of it. This is not going to be a game for those of you that don’t like deep strategy. Some of the mechanics used in Inkulinati are very simple at face value but can become a little trickier to implement effectively. I don’t usually push people to play through tutorials but absolutely do that here and complete it in its entirety before tackling the adventure. There is a really interesting slant being put on Inkilinati that lends it really well to puzzle fans out there that might not naturally jump to tactics-based gameplay. All I can say is play this and see for yourselves. This isn’t the cheapest title on steam but in my honest opinion this game is worth every penny you’ll spend on it if you love a bit of strategy.
A piece of art
Inkulinati is a complete breath of fresh air for the strategy and tactics genres. If you’re tired of the same old gameplay loop, this quirky hybrid puzzler is a brilliant way to go. The only negatives I have are down to personal taste in art style, musical direction, etc, there are genuinely no gripes for me here gameplay-wise. This is a title I’ll be playing for a long time yet to come and one that I strongly recommend adding to your playlist if thoughtful battling is your thing.
Hailing from Southport England, Alex started his gaming career in the late 80s on a Commodore 64. Since that time he's either owned or played on virtually every console released. Alex happens to...