All right, let’s be serious for just a minute. Who here hasn’t dreamed about the glitzy and glamorous lifestyle that comes with being a tattoo artist? Well, now you can finally fulfill your fantasy with the release of Art of Ink from Sabarasa for DSiWare. Though it’s obviously not a completely accurate representation of life in a tattoo parlour, Art of Ink does show its players the finer points of being an artist and dealing with finicky customers.
When first starting a new game you will be prompted to create a new profile, after which you'll be taken immediately to the menu screen where you will be faced with a bevy of options including Career Mode, Free Mode, Achievements, Tutorial, Options and Help. Career Mode is where the bulk of the game lies, but it is definitely in the interests of new players to explore the other available options before jumping right in.
In Free Mode you can choose to tattoo different designs without it interrupting your Career, good practice if you don't feel quite comfortable enough with your skills to take them to Career Mode. At first the number of designs that you can tattoo in Free Mode is limited, but your collection will grow as you progress further in your career. Like Free Mode, Tutorial is available to help you out before you take on Career Mode, and while this is helpful, you still get a sort of tutorial when you first begin Career Mode, so this might be an option to skip.
When you first begin a new career you will be given the choice of three characters to play as: Aaron, Amber and Trent. Each character has a set of statistics including charisma, care, ability and acceptance, and all of their statistics start off differently. Choosing your character depends on what stats you would like to start off with, or if you don’t care then it’s all about the aesthetic appeal of the character him/herself. Once your character has been selected, then it’s time to start your career as a tattoo artist’s apprentice. This is about where the game takes a step back from reality in that rather than cleaning up after the artist himself or doing other grunt work, you are immediately given the task of dealing with customers and then doing the actual tattooing yourself.
When a customer enters the shop it is your job to interview them and figure out what tattoo design is best for them. After asking them a series of questions and discovering clues to help you make a more educated guess on what design they will like, then you must present them with a design. You have three guesses to choose the right design before the customer decides for themselves — choose the right design and you’ll get a better tip when the job is finished.
The actual tattooing process involves you tracing the tattoo on the touch screen while holding down L or R in order to make the tattoo gun work. If you touch the screen while not holding down either button you'll wipe excess ink off the customer with a towel. Each customer has a discomfort bar at the top of the screen and a different tolerance to pain: paying attention to the discomfort bar is crucial if you want to finish the job without harming your customer. Rubbing the excess ink off a customer will reduce their discomfort, but simply waiting for it to go down works as well. How well you are paid at the end of a job is determined by how much pain you may have caused your customer, how much time it took you to complete the tattoo and whether or not you suggested a tattoo that they enjoy. The better you do, the more money you will receive, of course.
Between every few customers you will have to face off against a boss. While the gameplay does not change during these face-offs (you still have to tattoo someone) the point of these challenges is to complete a tattoo that the boss requests under a certain amount of time. Completing these jobs will, as with other jobs, get you more money to use in your shop.
As the game progresses, you will begin to get customers who request larger and more complicated tattoos. You will unlock different sized needle tips for colouring in thicker lines, and even a colour palette for filling in certain tattoos. You will also unlock an inventory of healing items to help reduce your customer’s discomfort while administering the tattoo. All in all, the game ends up playing like a different take on Trauma Center in which you give tattoos rather than perform medical procedures, but this isn’t a bad thing at all. With the implementation of the interviewing system and the actual act of tattooing, the game ends up being a pretty fun and unique experience.
Eventually you will be able to open up your own tattoo shop for which you can buy different pieces of furniture to decorate the store. While you never actually see the things that you buy, your stats will increase or decrease depending on which pieces you have purchased.
Each campaign should take you around three hours to complete, but the game is set up in such a way that you can play through each campaign in each of your different save files. To play as a different character you do not need to create a second profile, but simply have to switch characters and start from the beginning of their campaign. The game keeps track of your percentage of the game that you have completed, and to achieve 100% you must complete each character’s campaign under the same save file.
Not only does Art of Ink play well, but it also looks and sounds great. While there are no actual animations, the stills of the characters are vibrant and detailed and really show off the art that the DSi is capable of displaying. The soundtrack is a mixture of heavy guitar riffs and plucky tunes that fit the mood of the game perfectly. Though the soundtrack is very limited, it is such a perfect fit for the game that it does not seem to take away from it at all.
With the inclusion of free mode in which you can test your skills and constantly improve, the replay value of Art of Ink immediately goes up. Also included is an achievement system in which you are awarded for doing certain tasks such as presenting 10 correct tattoos to your customers or defeating all of the bosses. While you don’t actually receive anything in game for acquiring achievements, the sense of accomplishment will help some gamers to replay the game.
If you’re looking for a true-to-life tattooing experience, then you’re going to be sorely disappointed with Art of Ink. If, however, you’re looking for a fun and frantic simulation game that lets you live the life of a tattoo artist, then you may want to check this one out. It’s innovative and interesting enough to hold your attention, and despite the somewhat repetitive gameplay, it never feels like a chore.