Genre(s): Adventure, Indie
Platform: PC – Steam (also on Itch)
Age Rating: None given
Release Date: 08/04/2021
A code was provided for review purposes
Inkslinger is a curious game by modern standards. Not because it is text and story-driven, lots of visual novel titles fall into this category, but because the player’s interactions come solely through typing words and pressing ENTER. With its unique style of gameplay, will this word adventure appeal to the masses? Let’s have a closer look to find out.
Write, at all Costs
At first glance, Inkslinger felt reminiscent of text-only video games I played with a friend at primary school in the early 90s. However, Inkslinger is a far more intricate adventure that combines visual and audio aspects into the experience. It’s a game that I would recommend playing whilst wearing headphones – more on sound effects, ambient noise and music later in the review.
In the game, you play an inkslinger whose lot in life is to keep writing so that your ‘inkveins’ do not run dry. Your days are spent in a workshop where customers bring you various writing tasks. A passable attempt at fulfilling their requests will allow your inkveins to remain. If you can manage to capture the true essence of the customers’ requirements in your endeavour, your inkveins will thrive. Get it completely wrong and your inkveins will dry out.
The Lay of the Land
Gameplay splits between completing tasks in the workshop and memory flashbacks. In the workshop (where you begin) there is an image constantly displayed in the middle of the screen, whilst the portrait in the top left changes with each interaction. Each customer begins their encounter with a bit of chitchat about what has brought them to need your services. As you read through their situation, you can hear a cacophony of noises from a busy office environment. To complete the experience, a bell tinkles each time someone enters the workshop.
Whilst you can occasionally hear quite a modern-sounding telephone ring mingled with the background noise, juxtaposed with this are the images; rendered in a rather more antiquated style. Although a little jarring at first, I came to consider this contrast as one of the small differences that the writer uses to distinguish Nomania (one of the fictional lands in Inkslinger) from our world.
The first writing task you complete serves as a tutorial. You do not type the pieces in their entirety, instead choosing a word from the left-hand side of the screen that best fits the description the customer gives you for each section. Once you have completed the letter, rhyme or song, in the conclusion of the transaction a shimmering word will appear. Typing this word launches you into a flashback.
A Semantic Affair
As the game progresses, the writing tasks become increasingly challenging. I had not heard of some of the words used prior to seeing them in Inkslinger, e.g., syllogism, caudad. So, some of the difficulty is provided by the selection of words you must choose from, but the phrasing used by the customers also adds to the challenge. In addition, there is a timed letter and one piece that requires you to use your powers of observation to work out what to do. From what I can gather, this last task is linked to obtaining (at least one of) the four different endings. I shall say no more for fear of giving too much away.
I love the atmospheric typewriter noise you hear when you type the words for each task. There’s something extremely satisfying about it, almost making it feel as if you really have written the paragraph that appears on the screen after typing a single word; and as if pressing ENTER is really the action of completing a carriage return on a typewriter.
I think that where Inkslinger really shines is during flashbacks. These passages of gameplay are carefully put together. Through a delicate orchestration of sound effects, haunting music and voice-over reading, a filmlike experience is created for the player with a crescendo of expectation that builds with each trip down memory lane. The writer drip-feeds backstory; revealing just enough detail to sate your curiosity but also to keep your thirst for information alive. In my opinion, Inkslinger received a well-deserved honourable mention in the ‘excellence in narrative’ category at the Independent Games Festival.
There is a mature content warning for Inkslinger (although no age recommendation) and I think it’s fair to say that this is warranted. The game mechanics may be simple yet they are incredibly effective and produce some particularly intense scenes near the end. The nature of these scenes is violent and the way that the player must interact augments their sense of violence and participation. I would advise caution to anyone sensitive to these kinds of experiences. To the credit of the developers, there is a clear content warning right at the beginning.
Back for More?
I played through Inkslinger five times and managed to find three different endings. The changes I made in my choice of words didn’t lead to any extra content being revealed in subsequent playthroughs. The only difference I observed was in the responses that the customers gave depending on how well you completed the task they set you. Perhaps I’m missing a trick, but I can’t say that it seems obvious to me what else to change to get the remaining ending. Nor do I feel compelled to try; whilst I enjoyed my time with the game, the prospect of playing through almost exactly the same experience again is not enticing. I feel that it’s a game that has power in the emotional experience it creates for the player and simply hunting for endings detracts from this.
When the Last Letter Has Been Written
Inkslinger is a title that will appeal to the gamer with a love of words and wordplay. It also gives a nod to the older text-based videogame genres and perhaps its strongest feature is the potent and complex experience it creates by using layer upon layer of simple effects. It’s a relatively short game but does offer replayability in the form of the four different endings. If you’re a fan of visual novels, why not give this modestly priced indie a go?
Rapid Reviews Rating
3.5 out of 5
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.