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The Legend of Marin: How ‘Link’s Awakening’ Gave ‘Zelda’ Character

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“For this game, I really tried to create characters with personality, so that’s what I’d like you to see.” 
– Kensuke Tanabe, Script Writer & Right-Hander

It cannot be stressed enough just how important A Link to the Past was in codifying The Legend of Zelda. From the introduction of the dual world mechanic to a greater emphasis on dungeon complexity, and a blending of the action & adventure that made the NES Zelda titles so palatable, the series had stumbled onto structural perfection a mere three games in. A Link to the Past is arguably the closest thing the medium has to a “perfect video game,” but it’s hardly the be-all and end-all of gaming, let alone its own franchise. For as well refined as ALttP is, the proverbial classic’s main cast has a noticeable lack of character. 

The main players that ordain A Link to the Past’s stage are more archetypes than they are proper characters in their own right. Link’s Uncle is little more than the classic literary mentor, Princess Zelda is ultimately a damsel in distress, and Ganon is a power-hungry tyrant. The story does ensure the cast isn’t one-note– players are given an opportunity to actually care about Zelda, for one, and Ganon gains a voice through Aghanim– but there’s no real character development. The closest thing A Link to the Past has to an arc is Link’s hero’s journey and that’s mostly thematic. It wouldn’t be until Link’s Awakening where The Legend of Zelda would finally be given the character it sorely lacked. 

Link’s Awakening is brimming with character from the moment the game boots up. Eschewing the series’ established title crawl, LA’s opening cutscene places focus on a ship struggling to stay afloat amidst a thunderstorm. There’s no exposition, no lore to establish, and no motivations to identify. All that matters is the drama happening on-screen: Link holding on for dear life as Lightning strikes around him before striking his ship directly. The scene cuts to a young woman stumbling onto Link while strolling the beach and the camera pans up into the title screen. It’s an opening that’s as classy as it is captivating. 

It’s significant that Link’s Awakening doesn’t open with scrolling text establishing the game’s backstory. Beyond showing the audience LA’s central premise rather than simply telling it, the opening places a direct spotlight on the story’s two central characters: Link and Marin. It’s easy to take for granted nearly three decades after the fact, but this was the first close look at Link’s face in-game. More importantly, it was the first time any character expressed visible emotion on-screen. And it’s a humble moment to boot. Link’s confidence in the face of danger is as palpable as it is visible, but even the Legendary Hero can’t help but cry out when his ship is capsized. 

Watching Marin stumble upon Link is just the cherry on top. Her mere presence builds intrigue. Who is this woman and where are we? Even as the scene shifts from pixel art to 8-bit sprites, Marin picking up her pace when she spots Link is a nice tell that Link’s Awakening’s storytelling can & will be just as expressive outside of cutscenes. As if playing off her mystique, Link outright mistakes Marin for Zelda when the game begins in earnest– symbolically slotting Marin into the role typically reserved for the franchise’s eponymous princess. But Marin isn’t analogous to the Zeldas of the first three games and the furthest thing from a damsel in need of saving. Marin only superficially resembles Princess Zelda. 

Marin doesn’t get kidnapped, her life isn’t endangered, and she doesn’t send Link on some treacherous quest. She’s just Marin, one of Koholint’s many islanders. Marin starts going about her life in Mabe Village as soon as Link gets his sword. She teases Link, is desperate to learn more about him, and actively wanders in-between major set pieces. Players can even immediately go to Koholint Square after finding their sword in order to listen to Marin sing. In mere minutes, Marin has more personality than Princess Zelda had across three full length games. The Legend of Zelda, The Adventure of Link, and A Link to the Past treat Zelda like a plot device. Link’s Awakening treats Marin like a character. 

“I want you to play this game until the end.” 
– Yoshiaki Koizumi, Script Writer

In reference to his work with Nintendo, Yoshiaki Koizumi– one of Link’s Awakening’s Script Writers– said, 

“My ambition had always been to make drama. That was my goal: Having a character, in a certain kind of world, having him go through a series of actions to accomplish something, and creating a dramatic tension throughout that. And games seemed like a really good opportunity to create a kind of drama that you don’t find in films.”

True to Koizumi’s word, there’s an interactivity within the gaming medium that other forms of art can’t naturally capitalize upon. The mere act of controlling the action, of giving audiences narrative agency, is enough to bolster any story. What makes Marin’s characterization so notable is more than just her depth as written, it’s the fact so much of her character has to be sought out by the player. NPCs reveal passing details about Marin and taking the time to seek her out allows Marin to reveal her nuances at natural opportunities. 

Expanding on his time with Nintendo, Koizumi told Wired that he “always liked the idea of you coming upon another character and hearing little bits of conversation that slowly begin to reveal different parts of the story.” Although said quote is in direct reference to his work on Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, Koizumi’s approach to characterization can be seen in full force throughout Link’s Awakening. Link’s Awakening’s story is everywhere, and if you don’t actively speak to Marin on your own accord, you’ll miss it. 

Link’s optional interludes with Marin help in fleshing out the finer details of her character. Marin yearns for freedom and wants more than what island life can give her. She’s infectiously curious about life outside Koholint, playfully interrogating Link about his life virtually every time they speak– if only to get a taste of everything Link has experienced. She wants to know his favorite songs, what he does for fun, where he’s been; quite literally anything & everything about A Link to the Past’s storied hero. 

Marin doesn’t just exist in Link’s orbit, however. NPCs reference her daily goings, the residents of Animal Village are utterly smitten with her, and she lives with a man, Tarin. Marin’s relationship with Tarin is particularly interesting as it’s often interpreted as a father/daughter dynamic despite the fact that Marin consistently refers to Tarin by his first name. Character work was an important aspect of Link’s Awakening’s development and it shows, so this likely isn’t a scripting error. In fact, an interview with the staff featured in the Shogakukan Link’s Awakening Guide puts into perspective the impact Marin was having on all branches of the team:

In a portion of the interview where LA’s staff were given free rein to express anything they wanted, Yasuhisa Yamamura (Link’s Awakening’s Dungeon Designer) wrote, “Do you think Tarin and Marin are father and daughter? It never says that in the game. Most importantly, Marin calls Tarin by name. Could she actually be a little gold digger…?” While clearly just a cheeky joke on Yamamura’s part, his quote shows that Marin’s character was a known presence for the whole staff, one they were reflecting on. Considering how the first three games kept most of the story tucked away in the manuals, this was a big step for the franchise in retrospect. 

The mere fact Tarin is given any narrative focus beyond his introduction is monumental. He’s not as important as Link or Marin, but the story understands the benefits of a supporting cast. Tarin believes there’s nothing beyond the island, while Marin is certain there is with Link as her proof. More than just an NPC she lives with, Tarin is Marin’s ideological foil and all it took was a single line & a few recurring appearances on his part. More importantly, Tarin simply complicates matters. He makes trouble for himself, he interrupts important moments between Link & Marin, and he highlights Koholint’s absurd mundanity Marin wants to leave behind. 

Tarin’s passion for Koholint contrasts Marin’s passion for freedom, which in itself is a reflection of Link’s passion for adventure & discovery. The reality of the situation is that the island is a mix of the Wind Fish– a mysterious deity– and Link’s dream where both their psyches influence the “world.” Koholint began as the Wind Fish’s dream, but Link’s presence has a profound effect as seen by all the allusions to A Link to the Past (Turtle Rock, the Mirror Shield, Agahnim & Ganon’s appearances during the final boss.) The dramatic irony of all this is that Marin isn’t real and her only tether to existence is Koholint. Long before the credits roll, players are made aware that there is nothing waiting for Marin off the island. 

Marin is Link’s mental representation of Princess Zelda. Almost an idealistic version of her. She isn’t in any danger, wants to explore the world, and is clearly head over heels in love with the Legendary Hero. She’s the perfect love interest. But she’s not beholden to Link narratively or thematically and while her arc is intimately tied to his character, Marin’s fascination with Link comes not from who he is but how he represents freedom. Marin may be a figment of Link’s imagination, but she’s more real than Zelda ever was. 

“Please don’t rush to finish the beach date with Marin.” 
– Minako Hamano, BGM Composition 

Because the full scope of Marin’s personality is hidden behind ancillary dialogue, she and Link go on a mandatory date before the fourth dungeon. Marin is given an opportunity to take center stage in the story properly, ensuring that players don’t miss out on the core of her character. Although there’s immense value in allowing audiences to get to know Marin both organically & at their leisure, it’s extremely important that she still serves an important narrative role. While Link’s date is a lighthearted event that amounts to little more than escorting Marin halfway across Koholint, the two share a tender seaside exchange. 

Marin opens up about how she knows there’s more outside Koholint; how her heart skipped a beat the moment she discovered Link; and how he never actually responds to her lengthy monologues. It’s a charming exchange that dilutes their entire relationship into one of the game’s most memorable scenes. Someone can play through all of Link’s Awakening while ignoring Marin and they’ll still likely find her character compelling if only for this one scene. Marin displays an unprecedented amount of vulnerability for the series, fostering intimacy between player and game. 

You’re free to immediately escort Marin to Animal Village once her seaside speech wraps up, but you’d be remiss not to take full advantage of having Marin by Link’s side. Beyond unique dialogue from the residents of Mabe and Animal Village, there are around half a dozen secret scenes players can trigger with Marin. Play the crane game and Marin will defy the laws of physics by grabbing the shopkeep. Thwack too many Cuccos and she’ll encourage players to keep stabbing until the chickens fight back. Marin’s dynamic and almost a little bit predictable. She’ll even chastise Link for his lackluster rendition of the ‘Ballad of the Wind Fish’ if he plays it on the Ocarina. 

Link’s Awakening’s DX– the game’s 1998 Game Boy Color re-release– took things one step further by adding the Photography side quest. In a previously empty plot south of Tal Tal Heights, players can enter a Camera Shop and trigger a new quest where a photographer chronicles Link’s time in Koholint with his camera. Several photos are permanently missable, but that just adds to their value– especially since they’re all tied to new scenes. The photographer will capture Marin crushing Link if they fall into Mabe Village’s sole cave and even Tarin interrupting a soon to be a sweet moment in front of the Flying Rooster’s weathercock. 

Keep west after picking up Marin at Toronbo Shores and be treated to one of the most intimate scenes in the game. Overlooking the sea yet again, Marin tells Link that this will be their secret spot. It’s humorously undercut by the photographer snapping a shot from afar, but Link & Marin’s wide smiles show they’re compatible without the need for actual dialogue. Secrets in The Legend of Zelda, The Adventure of Link, and A Link to the Past benefit the gameplay more than anything, but Link’s Awakening sees the genuine benefits in secretive storytelling. The real reward for finding Link and Marin’s secret spot isn’t getting the photograph, it’s watching The Legend of Zelda flesh out its first romantic arc in-game.

Marin’s arc is one of expression– searching for, finding, and answering your true calling in life. Any threats to Marin are existential bordering on incomprehensible. The closest Marin comes to any danger is before Turtle Rock, the final dungeon, where the island’s monsters kidnap her & leave her stranded on Tal Tal Mountain. This is all a ruse to remind Link (the player) of the connection he’s formed with Marin before obliterating Koholint Island from existence. 

By having Marin block the final dungeon’s path, you’re forced to consider the consequences of beating the game. Link’s end goal isn’t saving a Princess, it’s erasing the only tie his love interest has to her life. The fact the story stresses how this must be done adds a layer of tragedy to the narrative while conveying that Link’s Awakening can’t have a clean-cut happy ending. It even seems Marin is about to confess her love for Link here before she’s cut off by Tarin, twisting the knife just a little bit deeper. 

Interestingly, the Owl guiding Link through Koholint makes clear that Marin hasn’t just been sitting on her thumbs. Presumably while players are making their way through Eagle’s Tower, Marin takes matters into her own hands as literally as possible and sings the ‘Ballad of the Wind Fish’ in front of Tal Tal Heights’ egg. A song of awakening, only the ‘Ballad of the Wind Fish’ can break the dream of Koholint Island. Marin doesn’t know this, of course, but she still shows a level of agency typically reserved for Link. Marin’s not going out on grand adventures, but she’s also not waiting for some hero to save her. 

“One day I made a wish to the Wind Fish. . . What was the wish? It was. . . No, it’s secret!” 
– Marin, Main Character

Seagulls come to personify Marin’s spirit of adventure throughout the game, but particularly in cutscenes that feature her prominently. Seagulls circle Link as she finds him beached, they’re present when they reunite for their date, and Marin even expresses her desire to fly just as free; “If I was a seagull, I would fly as far as I could! I would fly to faraway places and sing for many people!” Unfortunately, the Wind Fish can’t make Marin’s dreams come true. But Link can. 

Marin has desires that can only be met through sheer effort. Her happy ending is only triggered upon beating the game without dying, and Link’s Awakening isn’t a particularly difficult game, it does have its fair share of challenges. More importantly, no other Zelda punishes players for dying by withholding a better ending. It’s bold and perhaps even frustrating if you don’t know this going into the game, but it makes freeing Marin all the more fulfilling.

Somehow, ending the dream does not end Marin’s life. Either through sheer force of will, her connection to Link, or just divine mercy by way of the Wind Fish, Marin transforms into a seagull. And while Marin & Link can’t be together, they’re at least both free. It’s a bittersweet ending, but Link’s toothy grin signals that audiences should take comfort in the memory of Marin in spite of this star-crossed separation. 

Marin was the first stepping stone in The Legend of Zelda realizing the richness of its cast. Where A Link to the Past refined the franchise’s lore, Link’s Awakening embraced dramatic in-game storytelling by recognizing that Link doesn’t need to be the only character with narrative agency. Koholint Island is Link & the Wind Fish’s dream, but Link’s Awakening is ultimately Marin’s story. Making her a character who doesn’t need saving while placing freedom squarely in the hands of the player allows Marin to fill Zelda’s functional role without her lack of characterization. From the moment Marin finds Link washed ashore to when he watches her fly free, Link’s Awakening puts character first. 

An avid-lover of all things Metal Gear Solid, Devil May Cry, and The Legend of Zelda, Renan spends most of his time passionately raving about Dragon Ball and thinking about how to apply Marxist theory to whatever video game he's currently playing.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Thiago Rodrigues Meyer

    August 14, 2020 at 11:02 am

    Amazing analysis. Link’s Awakening has the best storytelling from Zelda games, IMO. And Marin is a splendid character, way more interesting than Zelda itself. Zelda is a discrete princess and Marin is a lively and lovely person, and adventurer, as Link.

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Games

PAX Online: ‘Unpacking’ and ‘Infernax’

Our PAX Online coverage continues with a game the calm and relaxing Unpacking and the not-so calm and relaxing Infernax.

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Unpacking and Infernax

Our PAX Online coverage continues with a game that takes a hated activity and somehow makes it relaxing and another game that will leave you clenching your buttocks.

Unpacking

Unpacking game

Platforms: PC
Release: 2021

As someone who is coming fresh off of moving just a little over a month ago, you couldn’t have blamed me for being a little skeptical going into what was dubbed a “zen puzzle” game based on the final stretch of the process. Unpacking is just that, though. It’s a calming, almost therapeutic exercise that happened to serve as a wonderful way for me to unwind at the end of a day.

Unpacking is exactly what it says on the tin. There are no scores, no timers, no leaderboards, just you, and a few boxes with various items in them that need to be placed somewhere. The demo starts with a single bedroom in 1997. There’s nothing in the game that tells you where something should go, only your own taste and intuition; a locked diary would probably go in a desk-drawer while a soccer trophy would probably be displayed on a shelf.

As I slowly unearthed items one-by-one, I gradually got a feel for what the room’s new inhabitant was most likely like. The endless supply of stuffed animals implied someone of younger age while the numerous art supplies indicated someone inclined to right brain thinking. It’s rather engaging to learn about this person’s life purely by their belongings.

Every item taken out was like a delightful surprise and would sometimes even make me feel a little sentimental such as when I took out a small device that was clearly a Tamagotchi. More importantly, Unpacking nails that sinking feeling of when you feel like you’ve used all your available space but still have boxes left. Reaching the point of just throwing stuff wherever it fits is such an immediately relatable feeling that I was almost offended. And that was only for a single bedroom!

Unpacking game

The demo’s second stage was a little more involved with a bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen in the year of 2004. The hilarious moments of finding a boot in your kitchenware box or a bra with your toiletries also felt like a call-out to my own hodge-podge packing methods. It’s something I can’t help but let out an exasperated chuckle at.

It was also neat to see how this person has grown since their earlier abode. Much fewer stuffed animals but more art supplies and a brand new computer imply this character is maybe entering the working adult world. I’ve never actually seen this character, but I can’t help but feel a connection to them already, and that was only after two moves. The full game will have eight total moves to follow them through and I am genuinely curious to see how our nameless and faceless protagonist grows throughout them.

Now if only unpacking in real life could be this soothing.

Infernax

Infernax

Platforms: PC
Release: TBA

Some players may recognize Berzerk Studio for their excellent 2018 bullet-hell, rhythm game Just Shapes & Beats. Coming hot of the heels of that hit they immediately pivoted in the new direction with Infernax, a delightfully edgy 8-bit adventure platformer that takes cues from old-school Castlevania titles.

Our hero returns to his land after a successful crusade only to find it overrun by horrible monstrosities in every which direction. With nothing but mace in hand, he sets out on a quest anew to rid the land of the undead filth. Immediately apparent upon starting is just how tightly the game controls; anyone fond of earlier NES titles will feel right at home with Infernax. I quickly got a handle on my exact attack reach down to the pixel and began mowing down the zombies in front of me. It emphasized how much joy a game is possible of eliciting from simply a jump and attack button.

Getting to that proficiency is important too because the game doesn’t waste any time in taking off the training wheels! Even the base enemies shaved off half my HP if I got careless and that difficulty ramped up at a rapid rate as new enemy types were introduced at a decent clip such as flying evil eyes and jumping rodents. Not only do these foes burst into tasty experience points and gold to be spent on upgrades, but also into extremely satisfying fountains of blood.

Infernax isn’t particularly shy about turning up the gore factor, but it’s still impressive by just how creative they get with it using simple pixel art. Nowhere is this more apparent than when you are killed. Every single enemy type has a unique kill animation when they deal the final blow to our hero. From the chump ass pillbugs to the big bad bosses, all of them mutilate you in a different way and it’s honestly morbidly mesmerizing to witness. It made me want to suicide against every enemy I came across just so I could see what creative way they took my life.

Infernax

Depending on your playstyle you might not want to do this, though, as Infernax features two different ways to respawn when you die. Hardcore respawn sends you all the way back to your last save point, just like in those classic NES titles. Casual respawn lets you restart right where you left off with no loss in progress, but choosing to do so locks you out from Hardcore the rest of the game. It’s a sort of mark of shame that I was glad to wear during the demo after I came up against the final boss and promptly got my ass handed to me. It sounds a little cheeky on paper but is actually very consistent with the game’s overtly edgy tone.

Infernax feels like a game that was lost to time during the NES era and is just now being rediscovered. Those looking for for a game that harkens back to the simplicity of the olden days need not look any further.

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Indie Games Spotlight – Going Full Circle

We’re featuring five exciting indie games in our latest spotlight, including the internship roguelike Going Under and the cozy puzzles of Lonesome Village.

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Journey of the Broken Circle

Indie Games Spotlight is Goomba Stomp’s biweekly column where we highlight some of the most exciting new and upcoming independent games. Summer may have come to a close, but that hasn’t stopped big announcements from rolling in. With events like PAX Online and the recent PlayStation 5 Showcase flooding the web with announcements, trailers, and gameplay footage, there’s been a constant deluge of news to keep up with. With so much coming on the horizon, we’re spotlighting five exciting indies that you’ll be able to play sooner rather than later. Whether you’re in the mood for a brutally addictive action game or a cozy adventure and social sim, there’s bound to be a game that speaks to you in this spotlight.

Moving Up Professionally in Going Under

Work is its own payment in Going Under. In this action game from developer Aggro Crab, you’re put in the shoes of an unpaid intern who must explore the endless ruins of failed tech startups while fighting off the monsters that spawn within them. It’s hard work to do without a single paycheck—but hey, at least you’re gaining valuable experience!

As a former unpaid intern myself, the writing in Going Under certainly resonates with me and it’s sure to strike a chord with anyone who’s ever felt underappreciated or overworked. Its vibrant and colorful 3D graphics, as well as its satirical story, only make it all the more enticing. It really should offer a great working experience when it hits all consoles and PC via Steam on September 24.

Animated GIF

Fill in the Gaps in Journey of the Broken Circle

Something’s missing in Journey of the Broken Circle. Like its name would suggest, this puzzle platformer follows a Pacman-like circle with a hole to fill. It wanders through a world that is whimsical and existential at once, searching for a companion to fill its gaps. As the circle rolls through ethereal environments, it encounters different shapes to use that allow for new gameplay mechanics.

Journey of the Broken Circle might be about an abstract shape, but in its quest to become whole, it strives to capture the human experience. It promises to be an intimate experience that clocks in at about five hours to complete. If you’re interested in getting this ball rolling, it’s already available now on Switch and Steam.

Prepare to Get GORSD

There’s a delicate balance between unsettling the player without being outright scary. GORSD treads the line here as a one-hit-kill shooter that stars humans encased in the skins of octopuses, dragons with human faces, and nightmarish environments. Something feels off about GORSD, but that’s exactly what makes it so interesting.

Brought to life with detailed pixel art, GORSD supports up to four players who can face off in chaotic matches in varied arenas. It also features a full-fledged single-player campaign with a vast overworld with dozens of unique stages. Its concept is inspired by its developers’ native Southeast Asian cultures, making for a unique gameplay and aesthetic experience. If you’re ready to dive in and see it for yourself, it’s available now on all consoles and PC via Steam.

Get Ready For a Foregone Conclusion

Saying Foregone is a 2D Dark Souls would be cliché, but accurate nonetheless. It’s a hardcore action game where you’ll fight against insurmountable odds to prevent monsters from overrunning the world. It has a brutally addictive gameplay loop—its difficulty may be excruciating, but because it offers a wide assortment of abilities to leverage, it’s immensely euphoric once you overcome the challenges before you.

This beautiful 3D/pixelated hybrid action game has been available on PC in early access since February, but at long last, it’s seeing its full console release in October. It’s been a promising title ever since its pre-release days, and now that it’s finally seeing its complete iteration, there’s never been a better time to dive in and give it a shot. It’s hitting all platforms on October 5, so there’s not long to wait!

Finding Good Company in a Lonesome Village

Mix Zelda with Animal Crossing and you might get something like Lonesome Village. This newly-revealed puzzle adventure game features Zelda-like adventure in a hand-drawn world populated by animal characters. Players control a wandering coyote who stumbles upon a strange village and decides to investigate its mysterious happenings by interacting with villagers, solving puzzles, and exploring its dungeons.

It’s more than a simple adventure game. In addition to puzzle-solving, you’ll interact with Lonesome Village’s eclectic cast of characters to forge relationships and unravel brooding mysteries. It’s showing plenty of potential with its cozy gameplay loop, and if you want to give it a shot, check out its official demo from its Kickstarter page! It’s already been fully funded in less than 24 hours, but if you want to help the developers out even further, consider contributing to their campaign.

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PAX Online: ‘Inkulinati’ and ‘Pumpkin Jack’

The PAX Online celebrations continue with the strategy game, Inkulinati, and spooky Halloween themed Pumpkin Jack.

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Inkulinati and Pumpkin Jack

The PAX Online celebrations continue with a strategy game whose tales are writ in ink and a game sure to put you in an early Halloween mood.

Inkulinati

Inkulinati

Platforms: Switch and Steam
Release: 2021

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Competitive strategy games stress me out. Chess? Stresses me out. Checkers? Stresses me out. Star Craft? Stresses me out. Managing that stress as a form of stimulation is what makes the best strategy games shine, though, and Inkulinati is so far demonstrating all the facets of such a game.

The titular Inkulinati are masters of a craft that brings their inked creatures to life on parchment, including a caricature of themselves. The two Inkulinati do written battle with each other until only one is left standing. The battles are carried out in a charming medieval art style that looks like it was taken straight out of a manuscript you’d find carefully stored in a library. These aren’t the masterpieces of Da Vinci or Van Gogh, but the kinds of scribbles you’d find the layman making on the edges of pages either out of boredom or mischievousness. The playful art makes for a playful tone and jolly times.

The core thrust of the gameplay is that each Inkulinati utilizes ink points to conjure units, or “creatures”, onto the parchment in a turn-based manner and sends them into the fray. There were a fair amount of creatures available in the demo — ranging from a simple swordsdog with well-rounded stats to a donkey capable of stunning foes with its trusty butt trumpet. Many many more creature types are promised in the full game, but I found even with the limited selection of the demo the gameplay was still able to be showcased well.

Your primary Inkulinati also has some tricks up its depending on the type you’ve chosen to take into battle. Instant damage to or healing a unit were the two shown off in the demo, as well as being able to shove units. Shoving is particularly useful as you can push enemies into the hellfires that encroach the battlefield as the battle wages on, instantly defeating them.

Doing battle with an opponent it all well and good, but what’s the point if it’s not immortalized for generations to experience down the line? Inkulimati understands this need and will record every single action of the battlefield in written word. It’s infinitely charming, and the amount of variations in how to say what amounts to just “X unit attacked Y enemy” is astonishing. How can you not chuckle at, “Powerful Morpheus killed the enemy and may those who failed to witness this live in constant pain and regret”?

Pumpkin Jack

Pumpkin Jack

Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and Steam
Release: Q4 2020

Halloween may be a little over a month away but that didn’t stop the 3D action platformer Pumpkin Jack getting me in the spookyween mood. The human realm is suffering from the Devil’s curse and have elected the aid of a wizarding champion to save them from it. Not to be outdone, the Devil also chooses his own champion to stop the wizard, choosing the despicable spirit Jack. With the tasty reward of being able to pass on from hell, Jack dons his pumpkin head and a wooden & straw body on his quest to keep the world ruined. The premise sounds slightly grim but make no mistake that this is a goofy game through and through, a fact only emphasized by a brilliant opening narration dripping with sarcasm and morbid glee.

The demo took us through Pumpkin Jack‘s first stage, a dilapidated farmland full of ambient lanterns abandoned storehouses. The visuals are compliments by a wonderfully corny soundtrack full of all the tubas, xylophones, and ghost whistles one would expect a title that is eternally in the Halloween mood.

We got the basics of traversal, like dodge rolling and double jumps, before coming upon a terrified murder of crows. Turns out their favorite field has been occupied by a dastardly living scarecrow and they want Jack to take care of it. One crow joins Jack on his quest, taking the form of a projectile attack that he can sic on enemies. Jack also obtains a shovel he can use to whack on the animated skeletons with a simple three-hit combo. There’s nothing particularly standout about the combat, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be this early on. More weapons such as a rifle and scythe are promised in the full game and should go a way towards developing the combat along with more enemy variety.

Pumpkin Jack

Collectible crow skulls also dot the map and seem to be cleverly hidden as even when I felt like I was carefully searching the whole stage I had only found 12 out of 20 by the end. Their purpose is unknown in the demo, so here’s hopping they amount to something making me want to find those last eight in the full version.

After accidentally lighting a barn ablaze and escaping in a dramatic sequence we came across the scarecrow in question. Defeating it was a rather simple affair that was just a matter of shooting it out of the air with the crow then wailing on it with Jack’s shovel. We were awarded a new glaive-type weapon as a reward but unable to give it a whirl in the demo, unfortunately. All-in-all, Pumpkin Jack shows promise as a follow-up to action 3D platformers of yore like Jak & Daxter, so here’s hoping to a solid haunting when it releases later this year.

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