Make sure to watch your step, if you can find it
Imagine loading up a platformer only to discover that each level starts out completely invisible. You’re greeted by a completely black screen and the only way to find the correct path is to move forward into the unknown. This is the basic groundwork of INK. While hardcore platformers like Super Meat Boy present a grueling challenge at their core, you’re still usually able to see what obstacles are approaching. INK maintains that core value, but takes it a step further to deprive the player of their basic sense of sight. Nothing about this ever feels cheap, which is a success that propels the game to ultimately be something special.
Every level has a simple goal – defeat any enemies that may be present and enter the portal to proceed. Except with the level being invisible and all, you’ll need to “paint” the path in front of you to find your way. Contacting any physical surface leaves behind different colors of ink, creating an outline of the terrain. While this provides an idea of where you’ve been, double-jumping is your guide to testing out what’s to come. Every time you double-jump, specks of ink fly in every direction from your little square body, essentially creating a sonar effect to find the next platform.
This isn’t always a full proof means of testing the waters though. The double-jump’s spread of ink is always sporadic, leaving plenty of room for error and potentially not marking the upcoming obstacles. Even spamming the double-jump to completely mark nearby surfaces may not expose gaps in the walls or sudden drops in the floors. A quick reaction time and mastering the game’s movement is a necessary requirement if you want to make it to each portal unscathed.
Although, death in INK is not necessarily a bad thing. Any surface that you color remains marked even if you die. Every death also produces an explosion of ink, similar double-jumping. So, in a way, it may be good at times to die in order to reveal more of the level. There are no checkpoints, so you’ll be sent back to the beginning every time you fail. Taking that into consideration, the ink being left behind after each death is very welcome since the alternative would be memorizing every section time and time again. While it may deter some of the difficulty, the frustration from some of the more grueling sections does more than enough to compensate.
Some of that frustration is a result of quirky controls. The game handles like your typical platformer, but feels very loose at times. It can be difficult to control your movement after jumping onto a new platform, because there’s a feeling as if you’re constantly sliding around. Jumping on enemies can also spiral you in wonky directions, so you have to learn to compensate to control your landing. The game would have benefited from tighter controls to actually aid in portions of levels that are less forgiving of error. Contacting blank sides of the screen also results in the player’s death, which I found to be a strange choice instead of just blocking the player in by an invisible wall. There were times where I’d finally make it through a tough level, only to contact the end of the screen at the portal and be killed.
It doesn’t take long to notice that some of INK’s levels are duplicates of those you’ve faced before. However, as is to be expected, the difficulty is ramped up as you move along, making those familiar levels far less predictable. The levels themselves are fairly simple in design, with no extensive mechanics or puzzles to worry about. However, when layers or spikes and enemies firing projectiles start filling in the gaps, your movements need to become more precise to make it through. This is especially true when encountering enemies that shoot homing projectiles, while you’re trying to find the next safe place to land, while also dodging the spikes in your path. It’s during these chaotic sequences where INK really shines. Especially if that chaos includes a lot of double-jumps, deaths, and projectiles splattering the walls with ink. The longer you find yourself stuck on a level, the more it looks like a painter threw cans of paint against a black canvas and called it art.
Despite how simple the design of the levels are and that of your character and enemies, INK can be a very pretty game. The darkness of the unknown and the bright colors of the explored terrain contrast perfectly to give it a real pop. The colors continually change as you progress, creating a sort of rainbow effect. Look past that the base of the game is a platformer and you find that you’re simultaneously creating little pieces of art while playing. The game’s soundtrack is very rhythmic, which flows along with the gameplay and creates a peaceful vibe. Even with the eventual chaos that later levels bring, INK is a relaxing game to play through.
With the number of side-scrolling platformers that get released, INK is a refreshing step in a different direction. Limiting your basic sense of sight forces you to adapt by the new set of rules that are laid out. The darkness creates a sort of tension of what is to come, and the colors you paint on each level acts as a means to wipe that feeling away. INK is a relatively short game of around two to three hours, but it’s time well spent with what is a strong new entry into the platforming genre.