If I had a nickel for every time I’ve played a game drawn in the style of a centuries-old European manuscript in the last six months, I’d have two nickels. Which isn’t a lot, but it’s weird that it happened twice. Right?
While Pentiment won a lot of fans last year for its quick wit (and glorious art style), it’s not the only game in the past year to have looked to the past for visual inspiration. There’s also Inkulinati, which isn’t quite as approachable as Obsidian’s adventure game, but which I’ve been loving all the same.
Inkulinati is a team-based, 2D tactics game where players take turns moving units around a level, attacking enemies and making the most of obstacles and the terrain. Anyone who has played a game like Darkest Dungeon will be right at home with the broadest brushstrokes of this genre, though Inkulinati has enough twists and takes of its own to set it apart.
Firstly, and most obviously, there’s that art. While Pentiment fudged its lines a little, drawing inspiration from all around the end of the Middle Ages and the start of the Renaissance, Inkulinati is comfortably medieval. Its depictions of the period’s weird, pre-perspective animals and landscapes look like they’ve been lifted straight out of the pages of a priceless manuscript, and the effect of the player’s huge, real-world, gauntlet-covered hands moving all over the screen really helps bring the whole thing to life.
It’s lovely to look at, then, but how does it play? It’s OK! I’m not normally a fan of 2D tactics games, I find them a bit suffocating, but the addition of verticality here (you can go up and down ladders and levels) helps with that a bit, as does the implementation of a bunch of obstacles and terrain that can be used not just for cover, but bumping units off the map as well.
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My one criticism would be that as the game goes on I found it turning more into a puzzle game—where reloads and retries are constantly needed to “solve” what exactly is needed to progress—than a flexible tactical experience. Especially when weirder, more powerful and frankly overpowered units come into play. But that’s a personal thing, born of me not being super into this kind of tactical game specifically (I like bigger battlefields with more chances for expression).
Please note, after I’ve spent all that time talking about tactics, that I don’t think they’re the most important thing about Inkulinati? This game is funny. Not in an elaborate, set-piece joke kinda way, just in the way that all these animals look dumb as shit, are animated perfectly and nearly everything they do as they slide around the battlefield puts a huge smile on my face.
Inkulinati is just a joy to be around. And that’s with the game still in Early Access, meaning that as the developers tinker with the 1s and 0s under the battle systems, it might get even better. It’s out now on PC and Xbox Game Pass.