They do say that the pen is mightier than the sword - and in the case of Inkulinati, that concept is pretty literal. The turn-based strategy game adds small roguelite-esque elements as you move from place to place across the map trying to take down foes. Every so often, you'll stumble upon a merchant peddling wares or a random NPC offering boons typical of the roguelite genre, but what makes this game unique is its overall theme.
The aesthetics of Inkulinati, for one thing, feature stylized art designs reminiscent of old-school paintings and medieval scrolls. For another, everything from the descriptions to the abilities of your heroes and units is consistent in keeping up the illusion that you, as the wielder of some form of magic ink, have the power to defeat enemies with a single flourish of your pen.
This makes the game an absolute thrill to dive into, as the theme really does feel unique and refreshing. Basically, you'll pick your tiny Inkulinati hero (each with his or her own special abilities and skills) and summon your army of Beasts using ink blots or Living Ink. You'll have to be very careful in spending these inks willy-nilly, as you only have a limited number of them. While you can replenish your inks during battle, doing so may cost you a turn or open you up to attacks from your enemy.
The battle ends when your hero dies, or - hilariously - pushed off a ledge or the edge of the screen. You see, apart from the actual moves that your army units can do, you also have a powerful giant finger you can use to heal your injured troops or nudge pesky foes off the face of the earth. It's utterly ridiculous yet pretty refreshing too, as it adds a whole new level of strategy to the many methods you can win a game.
While the concept is new, I did find the mechanics to be a tad too complicated - I can imagine that newcomers to this kind of genre might just ragequit from the very beginning given how complicated the moves, descriptions, and status effects are. The tutorial does bombard you with lengthy texts you have to read to understand everything, and hovering over items to read their descriptions can get very tiring and overwhelming. Even after having tried to read and absorb everything, I went through the demo and there were still plenty of things I couldn't grasp, especially when new elements came into play further into the levels.
For instance, even your most basic doggo unit - apart from its own strengths and weaknesses depending on whether or not it's a ranged or melee attacker or if it's a tanky shield - has different kinds of attacks. It can also move certain spaces, push things, and take a nap. And when you do decide to have it use its most basic attack move, you'll still have to contend with a random generator for its attack output - something you can tap on manually or leave up to the RNG gods.
On top of that, you might just chance upon the apocalyptic flames of death that burn your whole battlefield the longer you stay with each turn, plus a Boredom status that, well, makes things even more complicated. It's all just too much, really, in my opinion, when all I really want to do is stab the annoying rabbit in front of me with my spear.
The game lulls you to a false sense of security with its humor though, but I honestly feel like the lightheartedness isn't enough to keep a newbie (or an impatient player) from giving up.
Inkulinati | Final Thoughts
Overall, Inkulinati is a unique strategy game that takes a tired genre and adds its own aesthetic twist to it. But while the concept is fresh, the gameplay is bogged down by overly complicated elements, and it might not be everyone's cup of tea - especially if you've got a bit of a shorter fuse.
TechRaptor previewed Inkulinati on Steam with a copy provided by the publisher. It's set to release on Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Nintendo Switch.