App Reviewed on: iPad Pro
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One of the most frustrating kinds of games to play is one with a crisis of identity. Seemingly an environmental puzzle game with a unique aesthetic, Inked is also a love story, and it's also about player agency, and it flirts with ideas about creators and their work. While there's nothing particularly wrong with examining one or all of these ideas through a game, Inked is woefully ill-equipped to do so.
Inked is a somewhat meta game about drawn characters looking for a special drop of ink. This isn't just a conceit just to justify the game's brushstroked aesthetic, either. Each level revolves around puzzle mechanics that have you moving and changing elements of the environment with a special ink brush so that you can progress forward. Along the way, the hands of an otherwise invisible artist occasionally make an appearance, which sometimes alter the environment as well, or simply operate to provide some reaction to what is happening in the game world or story.
Most of the puzzles in Inked are some kind of traversal puzzle. Your character needs to find a way to their partner, but the way is blocked by a giant chasm, a locked door, etc. Using switches, moveable blocks, ramps, balls, and more, you can piece together a path forward. All of this is done simply enough through tapping to move your character or tapping and dragging on any moveable objects in the world to rearrange them.
Stay inside the lines
The best moments of Inked are the challenges that give you enough moving pieces in a puzzle to construct some kind of Rube Goldberg-like solution or provide some freedom to experiment. This only happens about a half dozen times across the game, though. The rest of the time, puzzles are extremely straightforward (when they aren't being painfully obtuse).
To make matters worse, Inked jams its story into every open space between puzzles, which is mostly a meandering mess of "emotive" indie game narrative tropes. There's love, loss, betrayal, and--of course--moments of "look at this bad thing you did! You should feel bad about it!" without any kind of weight, choice, or notice to go along with any of it.
If you commit to playing through Inked, you're not in for a terribly long journey. That's probably a good thing, though. Its best bits give you just about everything you might want out of the game's puzzle format, so it's a bit of a saving grace that Inked doesn't stretch out into more than a few play sessions.
As for those good moments, I'm not sure they justify the purchase price. Upon completing the game, you can go back into chapters to replay them or hunt for hidden collectibles, but the game's challenges aren't so open-ended that re-examining them feels particularly satisfying.
The bottom line
Inked's fatal flaw is its pursuit of too many tired ideas. I don't need every indie puzzler to try and make me feel bad, especially when these attempts are stretched across filler challenges that distract from the good parts of the game. Inked: A Tale of Love would be a better experience if it abandoned all of its tropey fluff, even though it would probably be a third as long as its already brief playtime.