EARLY ACCESS REVIEW: ‘Inkulinati’ Brings Charm and Strategy to Rogue-lites (PC)

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Inkulinati from Yaza Games is a new rogue-lite strategy game that is built on medieval art. It puts players in the shoes of a titular Inkulinati, or artists that duel one another through illustrations in the margins of medieval manuscripts. It is a charming and impressively layered strategic experience that is filled with character, challenge, and unique experiences. 

A run in Inkulinati begins with the player choosing from a small pool of characters, deciding if they want their three starting units to be dogs or rabbits, choosing a hand power, and picking a color for their team. From there, they are dropped into the world to proceed through randomized webs of nodes that include matches, stores, story beats, and player decisions. Along the way, players are able to grow their arsenal of units and powers to help them grow and adapt throughout their playthrough. 

The rogue-lite structure of Inkulinati works well enough to support its experience, but the game’s real triumph is its strategic encounters themselves. There are two types of combat encounters that players will face. Most are “beast” encounters that see the player dealing with a specified group of enemies on a map, while every web of nodes throughout the run ends in a duel with another Inkulinati. 

During these battles the player has to keep the avatar of their character alive while either killing all enemies in beast encounters or killing their opponent’s avatar in Inkulinati duels. To do so, players have to manage a resource known as living ink that allows them to draw units from their army. Players always start with swordsmen, archers, and spearsmen, but can get dozens of other options as well such as a slug-like creature with an ax, a donkey bard with a farting instrument, and bipedal dragons with a human head. All of the units are heavily inspired by the art style of the time, which if you saw the margin drawings in last year’s Pentiment, you’ll know that there are plenty of crazy directions they can be taken in. 

Each unit also boasts their own stats and abilities that make them better suited to particular roles on the battlefield. This makes spawning the right units and using them correctly give a lot of depth to matches while also helping to give players the ability to decide how they want to approach every encounter they face. The units are also exceptionally well balanced, which does wonders to support any strategy that a player wants to make work. 

Alongside their units, players also gain access to powers that their bigger Inkulinati character can use, such as pushing units on the page or hitting them for some free damage. While these powers can initially seem very situational, they are paramount to success in Inkulinati. Positioning plays a massive role both in managing the range of your units and those of your opponent, but also for avoiding and getting quick kills. 

This is because of how Inkulinati’s maps are set up. Each one features a few horizontal lines with obstacles like barrels or ladders to travel between stacks of lines. If a unit is every moved off of those lines they are instantly killed, including the smaller Inkulinati avatars that serve as a player’s health bar and center of power in matches. This makes pushing units around extremely important, especially since it is possible to push a single unit through a handful of spaces in a single turn if you prepare well enough. 

Getting used to this layer of the game’s strategy took some time for me personally, but once I did it added a really interesting and engaging layer to encounters. Building the perfect turn that chains together hand powers, pushes, and aunty movement feels extremely satisfying. It also introduces a high skill ceiling that will be interesting to see being reached as more players get their hands on the game throughout its time in early access. 

While Inkulinati is releasing in early access it is already in a great place. A few bugs with menus not accepting inputs until restarting the game popped up during my time with it, but they were infrequent enough to not detract much from the experience. It will be great to see how the game shapes up as the developers get closer to fully launching the game. The current state of the game is a great foundation for the developers to build upon moving forward. 

Inkulinati is releases in early access on January 31 for PC, Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.

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