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Art of Ink - DSiWare Review

Game Info
Art of Ink

DSiWare | Sabarasa | 1 Player | Out Now | 800 Nintendo Points
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18th July 2012; By KnucklesSonic8

Perched at an ornate desk in a room lit only be candle lies a gentleman of admirable eagerness who has been diligently inscribing long verses of poetic text. Observing this, you tell him to dab away with his fountain pen, and the young scribe, encouraged by your moral support, advances to the creation of a grand tapestry worthy of merit. When you see the word "ink" being used in connection with art, a scenario such as this may be an early thought that comes to mind. But Sabarasa has reminded us that tattoos can be similarly artistic. Deciding to translate the pain-staking and pain-inducing process of tattoo application into a game is anything but ordinary. The fact is we don't see enough niche games like this. But that makes it all the more disappointing that I was unable to find more reasons to praise Art of Ink for all its efforts.

    Art of Ink has you taking up professional tattoo artistry where a bit of training will soon have you running your own shop to appease a growing list of clients. One of the first components presented is the element of communication, which becomes a sort of grappling point that Art of Ink hangs on to in hopes that players will do the same. In meeting with individuals who desire to get a tattoo, you must first learn about their background so you can match them up with a design the best reflects their interests, profession, or passion. Once you've gone through a series of questions, you'll have three shots at presenting them with a potential design. If nothing meets their approval, you'll simply end up with a smaller pay.

    This isn't just about conversing and listening as individuals share their personal lives with you. It's also about saving your behind from giving a tattoo to someone who isn't mentally ready. Not everyone who walks through the door will leave with a tattoo on their body, and while you will be steering away business by talking them out of it, it's better than it coming back to haunt you later. Surprisingly, as automated as the conversations are, the dialogue is surprisingly not flat and can at times be interesting to follow along to. A couple decoy questions are thrown in, but because the taking of offense on the part of the client is rarely ever humorous, it proves to be something you don't really care for. While you'll never form an attachment to anyone in particular, the game's overall attempts to connect you with the fictional clients actually serves as a protection as a cycle begins to form, minimizing room to point the finger at it for being shallow. 

If you've ever used a colouring book as a kid, you'll already have a pretty good idea of how Art of Ink works from a gameplay standpoint; only, instead of colouring inside the lines, you'll be colouring the lines, and instead of using a pencil crayon, you'll be using a stylus. To activate the needle, you press L or R while the stylus is held down on the Touch Screen. Releasing your button of choice while still having the stylus held down will allow you to rub the person's skin to decrease their sensitivity to the needle. Recreating tattoos will take time as there are often multiple steps involved beyond the initial move of tracing the blueprint -- the application of colour, for instance. Each tattoo is split up into segments with a percentage indicating how much you've successfully traced out, and star bursts to signify completion. Some areas of the more advanced tattoos have thicker lines to work with, so the ability to change your needle's width does come in handy as you progress further into the experience.

    Individuals have varying levels of tolerance for pain, but in all cases the gauge at the top of the screen is a great guide for knowing when to start and stop pressing. A window near the right edge of the top screen shows your client as he or she sits in the unseen chair, squirming as the pain becomes too much to handle. Customers will show by their facial expressions their level of aggravation and discomfort as you venture into the red zone. To reduce their resistance levels as you make mistakes, you can give them medication and candies, but to do so will once again leave you with less pay.

    Scribbling quickly will cause you to be off in your replication of the indicated markings, and the game, recognizing this, will abruptly cut you off as though you had reached the extreme and inflicted injury upon the client. There are several cases where you'll find the control recognition to be more sensitive than it should be, and you will thus also discover your progress being impeded often for no fault of your own. Players who go at it in a systematic fashion will be spared of further irritation that arises from having to go on a hunt for a small speck that hasn't been accounted for, either for inking or cleaning. I wasn't surprised by any of this since the experience is prefaced by a recommendation that players calibrate the Touch Screen. Still, the slight imprecision of how this all plays out does produce frustration.

It needs to be said that Art of Ink, being the type of game that it is, will not be loved by persons who have a short attention span or get upset when little things act up. It's skewed towards a certain taste that even those within the target group might not be thrilled over. Yes, even those who typically have no trouble manifesting patience towards simulation-type experiences may find themselves longing for something else to happen, and that's even while being actively involved in the processes found here. It's not so bad once you get going, but if any distraction in the real world should get you to pause the game or divert your eyes for more than 20 seconds, that break of concentration can be all that is needed to completely lose interest in helping the next client to follow.

    To be fair, Art of Ink does a pretty good job of capturing the amount of detail that goes into tattoo application. It is through that very simulation of precision and appropriately-paced, realistic depictions that the team hopes will bring about a compelling dynamic. With so many other games competing for your attention, value made clear is a crucial reason why Art of Ink would go on to be worth anyone's time and money. Sad to say, the relaying of this and any related energies is where the needle misses the mark. As I said before, the in-between dialogue does serve a valid purpose and it mostly succeeds at pulling you into the experience. But the core makeup just isn't compelling, and the associated environment found here lacks a certain necessary push for the continued interest of the actual player. Interestingly enough, I found the game to be more bearable to get through when it introduced bigger-sized tattoos. Even though there are framerate issues, sensitivity issues aren't as common during these particular missions, and I found I was able to fix my attention more clearly on the task at hand. Unfortunately, this still didn't prevent from returning to the feeling that I had to close up shop after only a short period of being in business.

    As far as content goes, there are three personal campaigns you can get through in Career Mode. Money you earn from sales can be used to improve your shop and, in the process, better your personal stats. But after having trouble getting through one story, I was honestly unable to bring myself to do another. There's also a free play option that omits the communication aspect and keeps gameplay strictly to tattoo application, but I can't see any reason why someone would want to boot up the game and just jump into this for fun. Achievements also offer a bit of focus as you're going along in your completion of the three stories, but this also doesn't do anything to keep you around.

The overall presentation of this game is pretty decent, with the most notable attribute being its music for the reason that it's more pop-sounding than it is consistent with a predictable rock-focused style. A number of the 2D character designs are well done, and some of the tattoos are nicely decorated as well. Aside from one or two textual errors, the presentation works, has a few features that set a good impression, and does nothing wrong -- serious or otherwise.

    While Art of Ink seemingly has everything in place to be a fully-functional title, the dwindling fun factor proves to be a real stinger and is reason enough to dissuade a person from giving this a shot. I definitely commend the team for taking a risk and doing something out of the blue, even as far as DSiWare titles go. But at the end of the day, Art of Ink is, on the whole, an unsatisfying experience that only a select handful of those who appreciate slower-natured games will be able to warm up to. 

19/30 - Okay/Average

Gameplay 7/10 - Good concept exploration, communication aspect serves a purpose, controls can be imprecise, applying finishing touches can be irritating
Presentation 7/10 - Works for the most part, music doesn't always stick to what you'd expect it to, nice effects and organization, minor technical issues
Enjoyment 2/5 - Not compelling, some will find the game boring, few will find it enjoyable, have to take your time, frustrating when the system acts up
Extra Content 3/5 - Three campaigns to get through but one will be enough for most, achievements present, free play option won't really matter

Equivalent to a score of 63% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System

Review by KnucklesSonic8

Art of Ink
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