Review: Inkheart (Nintendo DS)

Inkheart
Developer: Dreamcatcher
Publisher: The Adventure Company
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 1/12/09

All right let’s review Inkheart!

What’s an Inkheart? Is it like an Iron Lung?

No, it’s that new Brendan Fraser movie!

Journey to the Center of the-

No.

Oh the new Mummy thing

No! It’s the story where the guy reads books aloud and it makes stuff come out of the books.

That’s an Adam Sandler movie.

No, no. That’s Bedtime Stories. In that one the stories that the kids make up come true. This is Inkheart where Brendan Fraser can read characters out of books.

I think you’re talking about a Will Ferrell movie where he’s a fictional character and he loves that girl from that dirty movie about that secretary.

No, for chrissakes! That’s Stranger than Fiction. This is a different movie. It’s based on a book and everything.

Is there a mummy in it?

Yes, but only because the characters are mostly British.

I don’t understand.

Let’s just get on with it.

inkheart-meggie

This game is based on a movie based on a book. Inkheart is the name of the book within the book which was turned into a movie and subsequently a video game, simple as that. I’m told the book is good. I’m even told that the movie is good despite being made by the director of Hackers and K-Pax.

I don’t know if I believe the people that tell me that the movie is good.

Starting up the game, the first thing I noticed was that the dang thing is sideways. It is set up such that you hold the DS with the touch screen on the right, D-pad on the bottom (read as: like a book). I thought that was clever. It gave me some goodwill towards the game which took about an hour to fully disintegrate.

You start the game off as Meggie, a 12 year old British girl. You are waiting outside of an antique bookstore for your father, a “book doctor” named Mo. Soon little Meggie is accosted by Paul Betta- I mean Dustfinger. Dustfinger is accompanied by a creepy little marten with horns named Gwin. (A marten is kinda like a weasel. Don”Ëœt feel bad for not knowing that thing,) Soon, Mo leaves the bookstore with the mysterious tome, Inkheart. Meggie and Mo race away from Dustfinger on a sled via a simplistic mini-game.

After that, Meggie is back at her house with her dad who sets her on an ironically pointless point-and-click fetch quest. Meggie is tasked with finding some raw materials in order for her father to put together her new diary.

A couple of notes on this:

1. There are only a few rooms to explore.

2. Each room has very few things with which to interact.

3. The only objects you can pick up are the things for the diary.

4. There is absolutely no customizability here.

5. After its completion, you never see the diary again.

6. Diary is misspelled as “dairy”.

Upon delivering the items to her dad, Dustifinger shows up at the house. Meggie is now tasked with eavesdropping on their conversation. She needs to build a listening device to hold up to the door.

A couple of notes on this:

1. There are still only a few rooms to explore, in fact, the same ones as before.

2. Each room has very few things with which to interact.

3. The only things you can pick up are now the ones for the eavesdropping device.

4. There is no time limit or sense of urgency.

Basically, in Inkheart you wander through a couple of rooms, pick up everything you can pick up, combine them on the inventory screen and move on to the next task.

At first I though that these simple missions were to help the young players get acclimated to the game, but the point-and-click aspect never gets more difficult. In fact, as the game progresses the rooms seem to grow more sparse. Everything that can be interacted with is absolutely necessary. Everything that can be picked up must be picked up, combined with something else, and used immediately to solve a ridiculously simple problem. They give you an inventory with fifteen slots and never provide an opportunity to fill more that five of them.

inheart-mo

It seems to me that the developers of this game are remarkably lazy and short-sighted. They don’t want to afford the player anything unless it is integral to finishing the very next task. There isn’t even an object that is used for more than one task.

Speaking of laziness, whenever a character is speaking we are treated to a fairly nice static portrait of that character. Unfortunately, each character is only allotted one picture despite the situation or emotional context. Don’t they know that Brendan Fraser is rumored to have at least four facial expressions!

This is all to say that Inkheart, the game, is ridiculously shallow.

Moving along with the story, Mo and Meggie flee their home, going to their Auntie’s house in order to escape Dustfinger.

Except that they let Dustfinger tag along. . .

. . . And stay at the aunt’s house with them.

. . .

Huh. . .

Anyway, Dustfinger teaches Meggie to juggle in a simplistic mini-game. Meggie needs to learn how to juggle so that she can meet up with Dustfinger later that night and he can show her his special talent. . .

Good idea, twelve year old girl! Why don’t you go out in the middle of the night and meet up with that creepy guy who spends all of his time hanging out with a demonic sable?

Thankfully, Dustfinger’s talent seems to be some sort of Jubilee-like fireworks and not, you know, kid rape.

Though, later on Meggie does say to her aunt, “Dustfinger showed it to me. He taught me how to juggle.” I’m not convinced that those two statements aren’t two separate thoughts.

By the way, Dustfinger doesn’t use this talent again in the game. Meggie never juggles again either.

Hey, did I mention that the adventure aspect of this game moves incredibly slow. Characters walk from one spot to another by means of the player dragging the stylus or tapping a destination. Whether the player is controlling Mo, Meggie, Dustfinger, the character ambles as though he/she is wearing a back brace and has severe rheumatoid arthritis. This makes it particularly frustrating when a character walks around an object before interacting with it, apparently needing to be in one particular spot in order to cue the prompted description.

That is, if one is lucky enough to have tapped on something that will actually prompt some text.

It doesn’t help matters that there are very few sprites at work. The characters walk stiffly and unnaturally. While we’re on the subject of visual presentation, it is worth mentioning that this game looks muddled. Everything looks washed out and it is difficult to see which objects can be clicked. I found myself randomly tapping around the screen in the hopes of finding anything. Additional tapping problems exist when simply trying to navigate. Sometimes going from one part of a room to the next requires tapping of the floor by the character’s feet. An simple arrow could’ve easily remedied this problem.

Furthermore, some doors, cabinets and staircases exist for no apparent reason. The game just ignores me when I tap the stylus there. I scream, “But it’s a door!”

I guess the programmers couldn’t be bothered to type in a script that says, “This door is locked.”

Eventually, I discovered that all the clickable parts of a room would twinkle if I pressed the A button. Doing this eliminates any and all semblance of challenge in the adventure aspect of the game. It also causes depression when you see how few interactable things there are in each room.

Don’t fret! While the adventure portion of Inkheart might be short, shallow, and more linear than your average VHS tape, the mini-games contained therein manage to be both bland and unforgiving! All right, I might be a little too harsh here. The sled race is fine. The juggling is easy enough. The most common mini-game, reading aloud, isn’t too bad either; all that one requires is tracing a continuous squiggly line.

inkheart-random

It is the “sneak” game that makes me want to kill puppies. In the “sneak” mini-game, your character is required to get from point A to point B without being touched by a guard. Sneaking around can be Metal Gearish fun, but here:

A) there are non-descript guards everywhere,

B) there is no way to attack the guards,

C) the path is a maze full of guards,

D) there is an incredibly short time limit,

E) the controls are terrible, and

F) the graphics are uglier than the original Metal Gear.

The character moves so slowly and is so easily stopped by being close to an obstacle that upon completion of this task I was glad to never have to do it again.

Oh, if only that were true.

There is, indeed more sneaking, and the mini-game gets even worse. The next part is basically the same as before except that now you can switch between two characters. The first character has a club, and can knock out guards provided he can get up close to them without being seen, and provided the controls work well enough to recognize my tap as being a club strike to the guard and not a request that my character surrender himself to that guard. The second character doesn’t have a useful skill, but is needed to light three fires in pre-ordained locations within the maze.

This game is hell.

I spent about an hour trying to complete this “sneak” portion of Inkheart, just trying to move on from it and finish the rest of the game.

My eyes blurred and hurt.

Finally I managed to find all the spots to light the fires, find the shortest path to each of them and make it to the final rendezvous point with four seconds to spare ONLY TO HAVE NOTHING HAPPEN!

I freaked out. I had lit three fires.

Did I have to knock out each guard? No way. There couldn’t possibly be enough time to do that thing.

I looked over at my screen: TASKS COMPLETED 4 OUT OF 3.

What?

. . .

What?

I don’t even understand.

I took an hour long break and went back to the game. I was able to beat the second “sneak” on the fifth try. “DONE!” I thought, “never gotta do that crap again.”

Then, in a moment of Superman 64-like torture my next task was to LIGHT THREE MORE GODDAMNED FIRES!

(I realize that I said Goddamned while reviewing an “E for everyone” game. While this is borderline inappropriate, the game itself does feature numerous instances of the terms “hell” and “damn” so, uh, suck it.)

I spent about two hours playing these stupid sneaking mini-games. These are games that have about a two minute time limit. I think I spent about 2 hours on every other aspect of Inkheart combined. Mind you, I completed everything there is to complete in this game, and spent the plurality of my time playing minigames that I hate more than Nazis and Cancer combined.

If the characters were able to move at a reasonable speed, this entire game could probably be completed in thirty-five minutes.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: my central thesis is that the makers of Inkheart just don’t care.

Dialogue that mentions the quiet chirping of baby birds is accompanied by horrible screeching of baby birds.

They just didn’t care.

That was the only sound effect I remember from the game.

They just didn’t care.

If while controlling Dustfinger you try to be a coward and run away, the character will say that he can’t flee until he frees “Dustfinger and the others.”

They just didn’t care.

In that same part with Dustfinger, the character worries that he cannot accomplish a task without being “notied.”

They just didn’t care.

There are two raid mini-games. In one you play as Gwin and try to retrieve Inkheart. In the other you play as Toto the dog and try to retrieve keys. Gwin’s level is identical to Toto’s and the objects are hidden in the same location.

They just didn’t care.

Again, they misspelled “diary” as “dairy”.

They just didn’t care.

Dustfinger showed it to me.

They just didn’t care.

TASKS COMPLETE 4 out of 3.

They just didn’t care.

The Scores:

Story: Poor
Graphics: Bad
Sound: Mediocre
Control/Gameplay: Poor
Replayability: Dreadful
Balance: Dreadful
Originality: Dreadful
Addictiveness: Dreadful
Appeal: Poor
Miscellaneous: Bad
Final Score: Bad Game

Short Attention Span Summary
At it”Ëœs very best Inkheart feels like a demo, a first draft, a beta copy. You can find any number of homemade games on the internet that feel more complete than this thing. Games that are free, while this thing costs thirty dollars.

Hell, four drunken freshmen comp sci students could make a better game using only ADRIFT and seven hours time.

It would cost ten dollars less to buy the book and see the film.

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