Strategy game Inculinati brings its bizarre bestiary to Xbox Game Pass today — here’s what we thought after a few hours battling sword-wielding rabbits and fox archers.
Sons of Game Pass! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me! A day may come when we cannot send sword-wielding foxes into battle, when rabbits showing their butts won’t count as a valid battle tactic. But it is not this day. An hour of humorless sobriety when the age of medieval marginalia comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you pick up your quills! Masters of the Living Ink! …Yes, well, my point is, strategy game Inculinati launches into Game Pass via Game Preview today. Is it good? Yes. Should you try it out? So eat. Here’s why… So, Inkulinati is a strategy game set within the pages of medieval manuscripts where you aim to become a master of the Living Ink. You know those bizarre creatures you sometimes see chilling in the corners of otherwise serious real-life medieval texts? Rabbits riding man-snails into war or what looks like medieval Yoda hanging about on the side of the page? In Inkulinati, using that ink lets you bring similarly-bizarre creatures to life on the pages of medieval manuscripts to battle for you, winning reputation and bragging rights. Inculinati delights in its own silliness, and its wacky sense of humor is definitely one of its greatest strengths. You control your Tiny Inkulinati (a self-portrait of the actual Ink Masters) and their troops, aiming to wipe out your opponent’s forces. Battles are already mad enough, with donkeys farting into trumpets and rabbits flashing enemies, but things are thrown into further chaos with occasional apocalypse events which threaten both you and your enemy. On the surface, this all looks like highly-enjoyable nonsense, but Inculinati also has a wonderful amount of depth to it, with plenty of strategic challenges for you to sink your teeth into.
Inculinati is currently available in Game Preview. At the moment, it means achievements aren’t featured, but the devs confirmed to us that Inculinati’s achievements will be unlocked retroactively, so you can dive in without worry. Yaza Games has done a good job of preparing expectations of Inculinati in its current state; the first message you see from the game makes it very clear that Inculinati is still being developed. More content will be added in the future and you may come across bugs or crashes while you play in Game Preview. Yet there is already plenty to get started with. There’s an Academy mode to teach you the basics of the game as well as more in-depth tactics — this is where I started, learning how to draw new creatures and how to use them. Firstly, Inculinati presents a lot of info for you to digest. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if you’re looking for something with meatier info menus and stats to get lost in, but it must be said that the presentation of all this information feels a bit unwieldy. There is so much to learn, and fully expanding hint details often means the menus block a lot of the screen so you can’t really see your own troops or much of the battlefield. Even without expanding hint details, the information takes up a lot of screen space. It’s not quite in the realm of Crusader Kings’ never-ending cascading menus, but it does feel as though a neater presentation of all this information would be a benefit.
Inkulinati does a good job of teaching some of the basics, and this is no doubt a game which also encourages you to learn things for yourself, but you can also feel lost at the beginning — there’s so much going on on-screen even without the extra menus, and there’s so much that you don’t know yet even with the tutorials, that until you start to get more comfortable with what each symbol means, it feels like you’re playing only a little of what Inkulinati has to offer. Playing with a controller feels fairly fluid and natural, meanwhile, but it didn’t always seem easy to navigate between objects and info on the screen, and I did wonder if this was something that would feel more streamlined and accessible on PC. This may be something that feels more manageable as you spend more time with Inculinati and become used to its layout, but at the moment the smaller text and the position of the info menus feels like it takes you out of the game a little. As you battle, the pages of the manuscript you’re fighting on can also fill up with text reacting to your fight — this can be funny, but it definitely leans more into the nonsensical side of things.
Inkulinati also has a Journey mode which takes you along for the game’s story and which presents you with a number of challenges, both in the form of battles and also non-combat areas where you need to make decisions about your resources. Winning battles can grant you new beasts to choose between, expanding your options and giving you a new type of soldier to deploy on the battlefield. As you begin to gain more new beasts the opportunities for strategic gameplay open up even more, and this is emphasized as you face more complex battlefields, too, with numerous levels to move between and various hazards to navigate around. Each side has a certain amount of Living Ink to use to draw more soldiers. You can gain more ink throughout the battle, but you also need to keep in mind how often you’re drawing each type of beast; if you keep reusing the same type of soldier, your boredom level will increase and that type of creature will become more expensive to create. Each new enemy you face offers a challenge as you figure out their moves and plan how to defeat them.
Some battles don’t feature your Tiny Inculinati or their powers, meaning you’ll rely on a set number of creatures. On my side, I loved the donkey bard; each creature had so much it could do or so far it could go before it napped and finished its turn, but one of the donkey’s moves was to blow the bagpipes and wake up an ally to give them an extra turn. He could also fart into the pipes and give a few enemies a bad headache and force them to nap. He was just a pretty great guy to have on your side in general. Things always look more fun with a donkey bard on the battlefield. If you’re in a battle which allows it, you can also use your giant hand (which you use to draw your beasts) to swat at enemies, heal allies, draw battlefield objects, or else deal out damage in other ways. I haven’t journeyed too far while playing Inkulinati for these first impressions, but it’s already clear that with all the beasts, hand actions, talents, and apocalypse events about, no two battles in Inkulinati will be the same.
Overall, Inculinati is a great game born from a fascinating, unique idea. Even just setting these strange marginalia creatures against each other in lone battles would have been fun, but the Journey mode, which ties things together with you managing your resources and building your own army, takes things even further and makes Inculinati so fun to play. Yes, it’s in Game Preview, so it’s not as polished as it will be when it launches in full. It does have some issues with the layout and presentation of all the dense information you need to play the game. Yet it absolutely succeeds at what it’s offering: a ridiculous, hugely enjoyable experience with far more in-depth strategy than you’d expect from a game with trumpet-farting donkeys. Inkulinati is inspired by real marginalia found in real manuscripts and it does a fantastic job of highlighting a common link between us and the people of the medieval world — we may be hundreds of years apart, but we still have the same sense of humor, and the same stupid stuff still makes us all laugh. That core humor of Inculinati, coupled with the depth to strategically planning your battles, will likely keep us all coming back to play for a long time.
Heidi spent a few hours commanding troops over the pages of medieval manuscripts in a bid to become a master of the Living Ink.