Inkulinati review: Ye olde fart attack

This indie game by Yaza Games looks like Pentiment, but its anthropomorphic battles are silly and tactically challenging.

Yaza Games

Inkulinati is a strange beast. If you’re thinking that it looks like an offshoot of Pentiment, the serious, scholastic adventure by Obsidian Entertainment set in 16th-century Bavaria, you’re not far off. Both games are inspired by illuminated manuscripts, formal medieval-era texts with ornate, hand-drawn letters and drawings. But where Pentiment examines the historical context of these liturgical books by way of a complex plot, Inkulinati looks at the funny side margins with bow-wielding rabbits and monkeys with arrows up their butts. While that might sound like a recipe for disaster, Yaza Games has somehow managed to turn these humorous scribbles into an intricately layered strategy game. The only trouble is that it runs out of ink too quickly.

On a quilling spree

Inkulinati Review Battle Complex
If this battle looks complicated, that's because it is.
Source: Shacknews

At first glance, Inkulinati might appear to be simple because its turn-based combat takes place on a 2D plane of parchment. It’s not until you pour through the Academy, the unabashedly comprehensive, multi-stage tutorial, that the sheer density of the game’s mechanics become apparent. To boil it down to basics, the main objective is to have your avatar called a Tiny Inkulinati summon creatures using ink and command them around the stage until they defeat all hostile enemies and the rival Inkulinati on the opposing side.

That’s easier said than done, of course. Winning a battle, especially on the harder difficulty settings, requires that you pay attention to multiple systems at the same time. Unit placement and movement on the board are tantamount, in part because units can be pushed off the edge of a platform to their doom. Summoning creatures requires ink, which mainly regenerates by having your beasts end their turn on spaces with ink blots. Every unit has a different summoning cost and a set of attacks with their own range, damage, and effects, so you need to consider turn order carefully. If that weren’t enough, apocalyptic stage effects occur if a battle goes on for too long, possibly spawning hellfire from both sides of the board until everything turns to ash.

Suffice it to say, no two battles play out exactly the same way due to the wide array of obstacles, battlefield elements, and creatures at your disposal. Most of the bestiary is split into animal groups with specific passive abilities: foxes steal ink from the enemy, pigeons fly and are healed when they are next to one another, and rabbits pray at the end of their turn and can force enemies to take a nap. Many units can be sorted into the familiar trio of swordsman, spearman, and archer, but there are a vast number of unique units with hilarious abilities. The Bishop Cat heals allies by purring, the Hare With A Basket throws exploding puppies, and the Bonnacon has a powerful farting attack. (If this sounds over-the-top, we recommend looking up marginalia and seeing how strange and absurd they really are.)

Drawn and quartered

Inkulinati Review Journey Mode
In Journey Mode, you can choose different paths, but the boss at the end of each act remains fixed.
Source: Shacknews

Once you’re done with all the lessons in the Academy, the main campaign named Journey Mode asks you to spin a few more plates. This roguelike mode, similar to Hand of Fate 2 or the first section of Inscryption, challenges you to build a team from scratch and win a duel at the end of each act. The plot, which involves your character trying to convince Death to resurrect your master, is thin and unimportant (The most interesting part of the story is that you can select Andreas, the protagonist from Pentiment, as your avatar.) Instead, the core focus is on choosing different paths on the map while gathering new units, earning prestige and gold, and obtaining new hand actions and passive talents for your Inkulinati.

Regrettably, the layout of the map and the variety of events are not as polished as the combat system. Most of the nodes on the map are revealed from the start and a large portion of them are battles, so while there may be a few question marks on a path, it’s usually better to choose a fight instead when you know what type of reward you’re going to get. The other nodes are primarily shops, alehouses, and scriptoriums that provide the same boons with the same options no matter when you pick them. Some of these options also require you to have a certain amount of prestige, which limits your choices in the early game since you start with no prestige.

Another issue with the early game is the boredom mechanic, which temporarily increases the summoning cost of units you have drawn in battle. This is meant to encourage you to use a different team of beasts for each fight, and that’s fine once you have about eight units to choose from. But in the early game, your team only has three or four members, so you have no choice but to endure the boredom penalty.

Ink spillage

Inkulinati Review Humor Hare With a Basket
The Hare With A Basket throws puppies that explode on impact.
Source: Shacknews

Oddly, the ability to place units on the board at the beginning of a match is missing in a few cases. Most battles start with your Inkulinati alone, but sometimes you get free beasts on the board or you’re in a Beast Battle variant where five units are summoned without your avatar on the field. In these instances, you can’t choose where these beasts are positioned, which is frustrating given how tactical the game is.

Several abilities are overpowered while being too easy to obtain. Any actions that can wake up units, like the Mass Awakening hand action or a skill from the Sheep Devotee, effectively give your beasts an additional turn. This is particularly potent on the first turn, especially in boss duels where turn economy is vital. Also, the Halo status effect, which increases damage and accuracy, stacks up to three times and makes units like archers with multi-target attacks much too dangerous.

Once you finish Journey Mode about three times, which takes roughly six hours, runthroughs become fairly similar to each other. You can unlock the sixth and seventh acts, trying a few different strategies and starting lineups after earning enough prestige. But after that, it’s easy to figure out which units and abilities suit your style best. Being able to replay Journey Mode with, say, a list of challenge options would have extended the game more. An online duel mode, instead of only local PvP, would have too.

One and done

Inkulinati Review Duel Online Multiplayer PvP
Dueling opponents is challenging, so having no online PvP is a missed opportunity.
Source: Shacknews

After being in early access on multiple platforms, Inkulinati delivers a satisfying game with an original art style in its full release. The colorful, humorous character art and animations are impressive and entertaining. A lot of effort went into creating a dense and intense combat system. However, Journey Mode becomes predictable within a few runs and could have been more innovative. The lack of online multiplayer is unfortunate too, especially for a game based on dueling. Inkulinati is a fun page-turner, but it’s still in need of several revisions.

This review is based on a Steam copy of the game supplied by the publisher. Inkulinati comes out on PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch on February 22, 2024.

Contributing Editor

Once upon a time, Nick's parents confiscated his Super Nintendo because he was "playing it too much." He has secretly sworn revenge ever since. Nick is now a freelance writer for various video game sites. Powered by iced green tea, he typically plays RPGs of all kinds like Shin Megami Tensei, Elder Scrolls, and Fallout. In his spare time, he follows the latest season of Critical Role.

Review for
  • Complex tactical combat system
  • Tremendous variety of beasts and battlefield effects
  • Beautiful art style using illuminated texts
  • Silly humor
  • Journey Mode gets predictable over time
  • Can't choose starting positions at times
  • A few overpowered abilities
  • No online multiplayer
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