Review by SneakTheSnake

"Its “Heart” is in the right place, but that’s about it."

Though they haven't come back with a vengeance, point-and-click adventure games have enjoyed a nice following since their heyday in the early 90's. LucasArts and Sierra bucked the trend, and the torch was passed to Traveler's Tales, and few developers have tried to break into the market since. With the release of Inkheart, though, The Adventure Company (how aptly named!) throws a hat in the ring. After all, the genre would fit so well on the DS. The game, though, never really comes together as a finely-produced, cohesive product.

For the Yankees reading this, I know Inkheart isn't very well-known over here. It's a book series from German author Cornelia Funke, and it's also a movie starring Brendan Fraser. Inkheart revolves around Mo, a “book healer” with the power to bring to life any book he reads, and his daughter Meggie, who possesses the same skill. Mo comes across an obscure fairy tale called Inkheart and, in reading it aloud, brings evil beings into our world. It's up to Mo and Meggie - and the few cohorts on their side - to set things right. This game shouldn't be taken as an introduction to Inkheart, merely a companion to it, because its exposition is shoddy at best and this game does not provide much character background among its oddly-paced and dogged storytelling.

This DS game has many plotholes and inconsistencies. At one point, Meggie summons Toto the dog from reading a passage from The Wizard of Oz. In the movie, she does this fairly early on but, in the DS game, she discovers this ability much later on. A character has the ability to conjure up fire, something which would have saved him from many hairy situations throughout the adventure, but he seems to “forget” how to do it just to bring conflict or tension into the narrative. Perhaps it's a problem with the source material, but Inkheart is anti-climactic. It's a low-key adventure game based on an extraordinary premise: bringing literary figures to life. It's a skill Mo only uses sparingly; this game could have had boundless creative situations with fantastical puzzle solving. It doesn't.

Is there anything saving Inkheart from obscurity? Not much. We're treated to a dull story off the bat, with fairly predictable twists and turns, and this isn't helped much by lousy writing and a poor translation. The dialogue isn't very snappy to begin with, and it's hampered by poor narration and spelling and punctuation errors. Characters will spout off lines like “I hope, that the guards don't find me!”. It's clear this is being translated from German, a language in which punctuation's a bit different. It's a lazy presentation.

The game is, by and large, a point-and-click adventure, and it's on this front where the game at most succeeds. Inkheart is certainly functional, and playing the game without cheating results in some nice puzzles within the game's brisk three-hour length. Can't hear what some characters are saying in the next room? Connect an aquarium pump to a funnel to create a crude hearing device and slip it over the doorframe. Want to escape prison without awaking the guards? Connect a chain to one of the metal bars covering the window, and pull like crazy. Nothing felt entirely too illogical, but players will have to “click” on things multiple times to grab them or to interact with them. Pressing the “A” button in a scene will also reveal any objects that can be interacted with in any scene; I admit I used it as a bit of crutch when I found out about it, but it's certainly not necessary to use to complete the game.

Mini-games in Inkheart are a joke. That's about all I can say on the matter; they're uncreative uses of the DS stylus and provide little fun or excitement. Games range from juggling balls by tapping them, navigating a dog through a maze by dragging the stylus or, the most frustrating of them al, sneaking through a village. Players must navigate Mo through a village and knock enemies unconscious by tapping them while having another character light several beacons in the same village. The margin of error in these mini-games is especially low (particularly in the “reading” mini-game, in which players trace a squiggly line for about a minute), demanding so much concentration while allowing for so little wiggle room from a player is just not fair.

I found the graphics to be just charming enough to get by. They're not technically impressive by any means; these are GBA graphics, or low-res SNES graphics at best. While the character portraits (only one for each character, regardless of their mood or setting!) are nice and detailed, and the backgrounds were designed with TLC, the character models are a different story. Zombie-like, pixelated messes - passing off as characters in Inkheart - somber aimlessly from screen to screen, with nary an animation or facial expression. They look even worse close-up, which happens often because of the mini-games. The reason I like the graphics is that they remind me of the old LucasArts adventure titles from the 90's.

The music and sound are hardly better off. The music, as it were, is simply a series of thirty-second orchestrated music loops which play ad nauseam throughout the adventure. They're spirited and lively, but short and repetitive. There's hardly any sound in the game save for some canned clips of doors opening and closing, characters yelping or animals screeching. There's no VO in the game at all save for an embarrassingly stupid yell of “Ka-doosh!” when Brendan Fraser's character knocks an enemy on the head.

I haven't played many point-and-click adventure games, but I'm absolutely certain that there is a better game of its genre on the DS than Inkheart. It clearly attempts at bringing itself up from the muck that most licensed games wallow in; it succeeds in a few ways. However, one shouldn't rate licensed games differently from non-licensed games; there's no grade curving here. If you're looking for an adventure game on the DS and are willing to accept this game for its myriad faults, give Inkheart a try.


Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 07/27/11

Game Release: Inkheart (US, 01/12/09)


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