Don’t let the colourful palette in INK deceive you, as friendly as it might look, this is a game – originally released in 2015 – inspired by fast-paced and challenging platform titles such as Super Meat Boy. With failure inevitable, it’s all about learning from your previous mistakes as you work your way through 75 levels and even take down the occasional boss.
To differentiate itself from its idol, each level in INK is invisible. In order to progress, the blocky protagonist must paint the walls and floors every colour of the rainbow by splashing and sliding about. Similar to Meat Boy, the inanimate block you control in this title is adept at double-jumping and wall sliding. It’s these two manoeuvres that must be flawlessly executed on a regular basis if you hope to succeed.
The first few levels teach you how to jump and move. From here on out, you’re on your own as the difficulty is slowly increased. At the start, you’ll simply be moving from point A to B to access a portal, and then in the next level you might be required to wall jump upwards to a ledge in a high location. Eventually, enemies and other dangers including spikes, flying triangles and moving platforms are implemented. These additional hazards are likely to stall you from completing a level for up to minutes at a time until you can finally nail your run. Often you’ll be required to defeat every enemy in sight just to activate a portal.
There’s a sense of challenge in each level, and at the same time, you never feel as if the task at hand is completely impossible. As well balanced as it is, it’s not quite as difficult as certain other games of this variety, and will only take a maximum of a handful of hours to complete. The controls do an adequate job supporting the demands of each level, but lack precision compared to the top echelon of platformers already available. The game’s performance in both docked and handheld modes is also smooth enough; ensuring technical issues don’t hamper runs.
With no penalty in place but having to restart a level, the best way to find your bearings in each stage is to jump around with the blocky hero while mashing the button to fling paint. Doing this will reveal the boundaries within the surrounding vicinity. This is about the only strategy required. The more you fail, the more paint you spray in all directions, essentially making the level easier to navigate on the next go. Changing the pace is the inclusion of boss-like enemies. These battles compare to traditional boss encounters you will have no doubt experienced in other platform titles before. For additional thrills, there’s a timer you can activate if you want to put your speed running skills to the test and a local two-player mode - exclusive to the Switch version of the game - means you play through levels with a friend.
The visual presentation in INK is its most eye-catching aspect. It’s not just there for the sake of it since it directly contributes to the gameplay mechanics in each level. Beyond this, it falls short with an inability to illustrate any greater meaning or themes, which you might expect a game like this to exude – not that this is necessarily a problem. Regardless of this, the soundtrack still goes well with the art style, even if it is mostly comprised of ambient noises magnifying the splash of paint.
Replace the blood and brutality of Super Meat Boy with paint, add invisible levels and marginally tone down the difficulty, and what you have is INK. The practical use of the featured art style is a novel idea, but somehow the title still lacks a distinctive sense of character - even with all the vivid colours on display. What’s left is a streamlined but more basic fast-paced platform game that does a competent job recreating the same types of experiences we’ve seen in the past, requiring twitch-like reflexes and pinpoint accuracy.