words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by ZackBellGames for PC, Mac, and Linux, originally released in 2015.
In INK, you take on the role of a white square in a world of darkness. Fortunately, bright multi-colored paint emanates from your very being, allowing you to splat the walls and floors with color in order to make your way around. The game is a precision platformer, inspired by the likes of Super Meat Boy, offering twitch gameplay across 75 levels, each of which is designed to be completed in less than 30 seconds.

In the early going, things are very simple. The player is able to see the exit door from his starting position, and the only real danger comes in the form of bottomless pits. As the white square moves along the floor or slides down a wall – stretching and squishing as he goes – a colored trail is left behind, highlighting the edges of the environment.

When performing a double jump, a small amount of paint splats outward, allowing the player to feel out his surroundings a bit more, and upon death, a huge spray of paint is expelled. Since your splatters persist in the environment even after you die, the world becomes easier to navigate upon your failures, as dying literally reveals more about the level.

The player has a 2.5x variable jump, a double jump, the ability to slide down walls and jump away from them, and the ability to jump-climb up any vertical surface. The player’s movement speed is quite fast and midair direction changes are influenced by inertia, which can make it difficult to line up landings on moving targets. Fortunately, as is common in the precision platforming genre, the player has infinite lives and restarts the level immediately upon death, reducing the pain of failure and allowing the player to try again with only a few seconds lost.

In early levels, much of the challenge centers on reacting quickly… If the player sees the square begin to fall suddenly, he knows to jump away to avoid a pit. Since the square’s jump is big and rooms are small, there is nearly always a solid floor to land on or a wall to stick to in order to avoid death. However, players need to be aware that the bottom of the screen is not the only place where they will find death; walking off the edges of the screen or jumping off the top has the same effect as falling into a bottomless pit.

Eventually, the player encounters patrolling enemies in the form of brightly-colored rectangles that leave behind trails of paint just as the white square does. Jumping on top of these rectangles gives off a small spray of paint, and players must kill every enemy in the room before the exit door opens to allow progress to the next level.

Rooms contain hidden objects in the form of encircled hearts, but these are difficult to locate. Since the entire area is shrouded in darkness, including the hearts, the only way to see anything is to spray it with paint. As such, floors and walls along the main route to the door are often covered by paint when you reach the exit, especially if you were killed a few times along the way. Hearts appear in out-of-the-way areas like corners or at the mouths of bottomless pits, making them much more difficult to stumble across accidentally. These hidden hearts encourage some additional exploration and replay, and the level select screen shows a heart icon above each level where the pickup was found.

A boss battle occurs every 25 levels, each requiring players to dodge fast-moving attacks and then return the favor with a bop to the head. The player is likely to be killed immediately upon entering boss arenas due to the fact that they begin attacking as soon as the level starts, giving the player no time to anticipate their moves. However, boss battles are fairly simple, requiring that the player learn the appropriate strategy for avoiding attacks and when to strike, and then repeating the same method a few times in order to achieve victory. Bosses each execute a simple set of behaviors that do not change or speed up during the encounters.

Things begin to grow more complex as scrolling environments are introduced, although rooms are still quite small. Spikes are introduced after beating the first boss, creating obstacles that can kill players immediately, as opposed to bottomless pits which allow players to save themselves by reacting quickly enough. From this point forward, level exploration is intermixed with quick player deaths as rooms are painted out to reveal hazards, making them easier to avoid on future attempts.

Beyond the patrolling rectangles, the player is eventually introduced to triangular projectile-firing objects which fire bullet triangles in rapid succession in a straight line. These require players to pay attention to their firing pattern in order to hop over them while navigating platforms or – more challenging – to navigate around them while jumping up or sliding down walls.

Later on, circular projectile launchers are introduced, and these fire projectiles directly at the player with loose tracking, allowing them to curve around corners and making them particularly difficult to avoid, especially when climbing vertical surfaces. These often appear in pairs with projectiles coming at you from two directions, putting your timing and platforming prowess to the test.

Other obstacles include moving platforms which must be ridden – or repeatedly wall-jumped – in order to bypass obstacles, locked areas that require keys to open, and platforms that rise up or drop down when you kill the patrolling rectangles on them, potentially dropping you to your death or crushing you between platforms. Sometimes the player is required to hop from one rectangle to the next in rapid succession, or to trigger a moving platform in order to make a new enemy appear, which is especially difficult as the player’s double jump only recharges when touching a solid surface, not when defeating an enemy.

INK was developed by ZackBellGames, based in Seattle, Washington. Zack was one of the developers behind FROG SORD under the MECH6 label, a game that looked quite promising but ultimately never saw the light of day. He also teamed up with fellow FROG SORD developers Alejandro Hitti and Hunter Russel to form Super 91 Studios for the development of Super III, which also was not released.

1 Comment

  1. Awesome review! I can't wait to check this game out.

    Posted on February 8, 2016 at 6:25 PM