Inkulinati forces us to confront one of humanity’s great universal concerns, demanding an answer to a question that has plagued civilizations for millennia: are farts funny? Polish developer Yaza Games thinks so, packing its turn-based strategy roguelite with windy units that reveal their behinds to opponents with a devilish cluck, then rasp out clouds of noxious gas.
However, if you think that sounds terribly childish, it has to be said that Inkulinati’s fart gags at least fit the setting. The soldiers you command here are faithful reproductions of medieval marginalia – the bizarre and raw sketches sometimes written around the sides of fine calligraphy in antiquated manuscripts. And such marginalia often deliberately indulged in base humor that snubbed tradition and hierarchy, portraying, for instance, the humble snail as a deadly beast of prey, and valiant knights as anthropomorphized rabbits.
With all this in mind, a fart in Inkulinati may be a cheap prank, but it’s also a champion of low-brow pranksters aiming to put both prince and pauper on the same level. So even if you frown at the sight of a donkey bending over to par through a bagpipe, it’s hard not to side with the game’s endearing silliness.
It certainly helps that once the fumes clear, Inkulinati is a crafty little strategy game, in which farting is one of many valuable tactics. The twist here is that combat takes place on the double-page surface of an open book, with your beastly units brought to life by giant hands swinging a feather. The characters attached to these hands – the titular Inkulinati – are themselves represented on the battlefield by an avatar, which you use to summon the hand to produce new units with a limited supply of ink, or to directly intervene in other ways, such as units move, give healing massages to damaged allies or hit enemies. It’s a bit like God stepping into an XCOM game and sending a pesky alien back to their home planet.
That said, it’s your inky infantry that does most of the work. In each run of the roguelike story mode, you’ll work your way through branching maps to boss encounters with fellow Inkulinati masters. Starting with three unit types, you’ll recruit more exotic creatures as you progress, eventually selecting up to five from your menagerie to take on each skirmish. Battles are divided into chapters where all units on the page get to battle once, with player and opponent taking turns calling upon a single unit of their choice. Basic unit types – sword, spear, bow – can attack from different ranges and also have species-dependent additional abilities, many of which cause debuffs and status effects.
If you try to focus on direct damage, however, you’ll only get so far in these exchanges, especially since the two-dimensional compression of the page places space at a premium and units tend to get in each other’s way. But it soon becomes clear that the lack of room to maneuver is exactly what makes the best Inkulinati scrap so tactical. Simply moving one of your troops to attack an enemy can have major consequences, as your rival can potentially exploit the gap you leave on their turn. Indeed, it can be fatal, thanks to an all-unit shared ability to push adjacent units away. A push forces the victim into a slide down the page that only stops when they reach an empty space, and if there are no empty spaces, they continue to slide and plummet to their doom at the edge of the play area. Even your Inkulinati avatar is prone to such a slippery demise, and since you lose the battle if they die, you’ll need to be very careful about how you arrange your pieces.
Various landscape elements add even more headaches and opportunity to the mix, from rocks that provide cover to plague clouds that infect units as they pass through. These can create a significant shift in your fortunes, as can ink blots that replenish your supplies when you finish the chapter on them. You should also make sure you don’t rely too much on favored unit types, as drawing the same units over and over increases your character’s ‘boredom meter’, which in turn increases the ink cost for summoning those units in later battles. Tactical variety and team rotation are a must.
Taking all this into consideration, Inkulinati feels pretty plentiful even as an early access release, and it’s a robust experience to boot, with no glitches to speak of. However, it’s less confident when it comes to balancing the elements and interface, with plenty of creases in the slip-marked fractures that need to be ironed out. Most egregiously, the random layouts of levels can lead to wild swings in difficulty, with oddly trivial maps one minute followed by absolute killers the next. The compact arenas, meanwhile, might seem very readable with their charming, neat artwork, but can get very cluttered and it’s a bit too easy to mis-click with dire consequences. The screen only gets busier when you want to display information about level furniture and enemy skills, which must be toggled on and off with an icon at the top of the screen – an inelegant solution.
It’ll also be interesting to see what happens to Inkulinati’s attempts to live narrate his boss encounters by scripting the course of events on the page as they unfold. As things stand, the text quickly devolves into AI gibberish, as if created by a drunken ChatGBT who’s been asked to work wonders with a series of fake Middle Ages. It’s hard to imagine this feature making it to the full release of the game unless it undergoes a dramatic improvement.
Still, despite this initial shakiness, there’s plenty to like about Inkulinati, whether or not you warm to the methane-infused humor. With some rebalancing and some more bulk added in the coming months, there’s no reason why Yaza’s debut shouldn’t trump.