Inkulinati Review – Medieval Marginalia Mayhem

Inkulinati Review – Medieval Marginalia Mayhem

Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Xbox Series X, Windows PC, Mac

Game Name: Inkulinati

Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment

Developer: Yaza Games

Genre: Strategy

Release Date: January 31st, 2023

Inkulinati from Yaza Games

Inkulinati is a 2D strategy game inspired by the often surreal artwork found in Medieval manuscripts’ margins. Bristling with personality and an off-kilter sense of humor, Inkulinati features turn-based strategy and a series of unusual mechanics that combine to form a uniquely bizarre tactics game with a style all of its own.

The narrative of Inkulinati is largely tongue-in-cheek; its core premise is built around the idea of Medieval characters using magical “living ink” to create animated soldiers that do battle on the page. This mystical game is portrayed as a kind of hidden art that only survives today as the strange images found in old manuscripts.

Starting Small to Conquer All

A sizeable suite of tutorial levels is available to help explain the layered systems of Inkulinati. It would be easy to see the game as a chaotic mess before learning how everything works, and I found these rather playful levels helpful in putting everything together. Once all of Inkulinati’s features have been explored, they blend into an elegant turn-based game that feels pleasingly organic; each unit has its uses and vulnerabilities and often works very effectively in concert.

A standard game of Inkulinati is structured around a “Tiny” – referring to a “tiny Inkulinati”- a miniature version of the titular character’s drawing onto the page. These figures are powerful, serving as the creative force behind all other units; they can use ink (a limited resource) to draw up troops for battle.

They are, however, far less mobile and require the use of special powers to shift. In this way, they are reminiscent of the king piece from a chess game: crucial but vulnerable. Other units can move at will on their turn and directly attack enemy troops in various ways.

Ye Olde Donkey-bards and Snails

Units include a selection of animals armed with an array of weapons, including spears, bows, swords, and more. These tools all bestow different combat benefits; spears can attack up to two spaces away (and through allies), bows have long-range but low damage, and swords are powerful but limited to close combat. More esoteric units are also available, including donkey-bards to support other troops, snails that can destroy a unit in a single hit (by devouring it whole), and more.

Coordinating all of these troop types and leveraging their synergies is crucial to success in Inkulinati. A couple of other systems support the main tactics game; attacks are handled via a punchy minigame with good timing resulting in higher damage, and the “Tiny” can cast short-range spells that perform an array of functions ranging from direct damage to healing and pushing units around.

This last ability forms the basis for another key element of the game: units can be pushed to their doom either by shoving them off of the stage itself or into hazards such as the flames that sometimes appear after a few rounds have passed. This ignoble end can even befall the leaders, instantly ending a match.

The primary campaign mode features a nonlinear path navigated via a map populated with events, including battles, shops, story moments, and boss battles. Some engagements involve “beast battles,” which are matches without “Tiny” leaders and serve as a more straightforward battle between assets provided at the start of the match.

A feature I’m not too sure about is a “boredom” mechanic that causes units summoned during standard matches to gain a kind of tax that makes them cost more in subsequent battles. This forces you to rotate through available troops rather than focus on the ones you enjoy using, a double-edged sword that trades out the freedom to choose your play style for a mandate to try out a bit of everything.

All the Write Notes

The aesthetics of Inkulinati are nothing short of exceptional. The marginalia style lends itself perfectly to this kind of 2D tactics game. The bizarre creatures borrowed (or iterated) from old manuscripts make for truly unique units. A relaxing, Medieval-themed soundtrack backs this up and helps to create an engrossing experience that leverages every aspect of Inkulinati’s setting.

Draw your own Conclusions

Inkulinati is an excellent tactics game with an aesthetic delightfully entrenched in the art that inspired its creation. The focus on humor can sometimes feel excessive – I think Inkulinati could have taken itself much more seriously and maintained its charm – but the kooky style, deep tactics, and smooth play experience all come together to make a solid strategy game that is certainly worth checking out.

Inkulinati is available via the Nintendo Store, Microsoft Store, and Steam.

Check out the trailer for Inkulinati below:

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