Last year, I had the opportunity to review 505 Games’ Last Day of June. I opened that review by sharing my convictions about video games as art. I don’t say this in a pretentious way, by any means. Simply put: good art should make you feel something, conveying the artist’s intentions or evoke something new in observer. That was something that Last Day of June did very well in spite of its shortcomings. This, however, is not a review of that title, but of one that falls into a similar camp. Can a video game help the player deal with grief? We will answer that and more in our review of Inked.
On the surface, Inked is an isometric puzzler with a hand drawn aesthetic. It tells the story of the Nameless Hero, a wondering ronin, plagued by his past. Yet, even this tortured soul could be restored by the sincere love of a woman who finds joy in birds, cherry blossoms, and you. Her name is Aiko.
Just as Inked establishes this narrative, Aiko is torn from the pages of the story by her creator and you must overcome the obstacles that he throw your way, fighting back in hopes of rescuing her. Your weapon is not sharpened steel as it once was, but a brush and ink. Over the course of Inked, you will unlock the powers of the brushstroke, learning to create basic shapes and mechanisms alike. These will help you solve puzzles and save any number of the 20 birds locked in cages across Inked.
Let’s talk about how all of this works.
There are four basic shapes you can create – spheres, boxes, ramps, and bridges. Along the way, you learn advanced mechanisms, such as an accordion-style bellows or a motorized fan. You will also learn how to harness fire – which seems really self defeating of you are literally a charter on a piece of paper!
As you advance throughout Inked, each puzzle requires you to use both the environments and these skills that you have at your disposal to solve them. The catch is that you have a finite amount of objects that you can place, requiring thoughtful placement and strategic movement. Which brings us into a conversation about controls and how these parts all play together.
Inked can be played with either keyboard and mouse or with a controller. I tested both out and found myself gravitating toward the keyboard and mouse, but wishing that I had better precision of movement provided by a controller. I found that the controller was not fast nor precise enough for some of the puzzling needs. You must decide which you are willing to compromise in order to play.
Outside of controls, one of the biggest issues that I had with Inked was placing objects within contained spaces. If a puzzle was inside a structure, there were moments that you shapes would snap onto the 3D space outside of the area of play. This made the main gameplay mechanic (an otherwise enjoy and clever aspect of the game) infuriating at times.
While this narrative seems like the classic cliché, it isn’t long into the narrative that you discover another story that is going on in parallel with Inked’s Nameless Hero. This is also the story of Adam and Eve… not the Biblical ones, though the naming convention appears to be intentional. We will talk about that in a moment.
Adam is the artist who created a comic series based around the Nameless Hero and he is the creator within Inked’s narrative, portraying Adam as a fragmented individual – both benevolent creator of the Nameless Hero’s world and the villain who ripped him away from his love. This is where Inked digs deeper into the relationship between creator and creation as well as the nature of grief.
In dealing with grief, the game uses coloring and level design to express the different stages that a person goes through when experiencing loss. The opening levels seem like a normal setting for the Nameless Hero, conveying a denial that anything in the world has changed. Soon after, he will descend into darkness, where a beast lurks in in the shadows, ready to devour him, much like anger can do us. This is followed by a swamp with toxic trapping. The bargaining stage of grief can embitter us toward God (or the notion of Him) as we start to look at that relationship as transactional. The next level is an icy, barren landscape. It is the cold truth of acceptance – this is what is. There is a sixth level is a surrealist world which I would argue illustrates a transcendence out of grief and into a point of connection with our creator. After all, this is where the Nameless Hero come face-to-face with his.
This takes us back to the allusion to that biblical Adam and Eve. As Inked’s narrative begins to open up, there are distorted voices which call for an end to the creator, labeling him a liar. Interestingly enough, it is isn’t long after you hear the voices that the phrase “Gen. 3:1-3” is written into the ground – an abbreviated form of Genesis, chapter one, verses one through three. This poetic portion of Christianity and Judiasm’s shared creation narrative details a scene between Eve and a serpent, the embodiment of Satan (a name which means “Accuser of Mankind”). It is here that Satan begins to impugn God’s character, saddling up next to Eve saying, “God didn’t REALLY say that, did He?” While is about as far as the parallels go, it is purposeful placed to present the same doubt which often happens in grief when questions like, “Can a creator really be seen as benevolent or powerful if bad things are allowed to happen?” often come into play.
Note: Our copy was reviewed on Steam with a code provided by PR.
COMPARE TO: Last Day of June, LittleBigPlanet