Welcome to the best looking alien invasion this side of the apocalypse. In the shoot ’em up massacre that is InkVaders, you play as G, a Generic Marine progressing through the doodled pages of a notebook purging the moon, army base and cityscape of alien foes. Satisfyingly visceral, brains blow out the back of alien heads and body parts litter the 2D space as you move across the level purging as many invaders as possible. Yes, InkVaders looks delectable, and the mesmerizing trappings of the game outshines the more subtle content therein.
Wielding a shotgun and a laser, you can purchase a rocket launcher with cash earned by killing aliens, picking up suspended space rocks and snagging meteors that fly through the air. To reach new heights employ your handy jet pack, which has limited but magically regenerating fuel. Cashing in for weapons, upgrades, health and booster fuel is as easy as coming across a vending machine. In these dark times the big boxes previously devoted to caloric intake now dish out front line essentials. Unfortunately, stock is low and each machine will dish out only one of a given item. Ammo, collectively, is easy enough to pick up or purchase, but if you upgrade only one gun be warned: you may get stuck without ammo and pouring round after round of a weaker weapon into a formidable alien horde. The laser begins deceptively weak, but upgrade that three times or so and you have a fantastic beam that will power through crowds.
Pickups come from boxes that you tap while close to them and include boost fuel, ammo, and health packs. Once a level there is the Rush pickup, which prompts a spike in alien volume but also allows you to take down each with one shot volume spikes, and they all go down with one shot. One little downer is that the jet pack and gun can’t be used at the same time, which really separates the booster from combat strategy. You’ll be using it to pick up cash and maybe escape and consolidate a crowd during Rush, and in return it will make it difficult to land without sacrificing health.
There are a handful of alien types, clearly distinguishable by their style choices, like goggles, helmets and a lab coat wearing creep clearly all too eager to administer the probe. Enemies are not particularly susceptible to one weapon over another, they just vary in strength and are armed with short-range life-sucking rays that you really only need worry about if they get all up in your personal space.
Evade the nasties and direct your paper cut-out character left to right with touch controls in the lower left. The same controls steer you if you tap the jet-pack button to the right and soar through the air. Next to the booster button is fire, and weapon select is in the upper right and shows the remaining ammunition for each gun. Meters in the upper left track lives, health and fuel. Your “high score”, or level progression, for a mode and each of three difficulty levels are recorded, but there are no leaderboards (well, there are no points, just cash and levels).
Tap “Play” and begin the thirty level campaign, a successful mission from start to finish can span hours. Endurance mode? As endless as you make it. As you go through the pages that make up the levels of a world weapon upgrades don’t come easily, which matches the glacial pace of the campaign. You can play through six levels just saving for an upgrade, which is still worth it since you can’t be messing around unloading ten shells into a helmeted alien while the runner type is advancing from the other direction. Be careful, the Resume option is the last to hit the menu screen, and I mistakenly tapped Play instead after taking a call twenty levels in. Sadness followed as I began again without my fantastic weapon upgrades.
The graphics have a fantastic drawn style with paper cutout characters, and a foreground and background that are separate and progress at different rates. Cartoon-y to be sure, but in the Adult Swim way not the eat your cereal and head off to school way. Menus and levels are all staged and advanced by the finger of God – well, the artist’s finger coming onscreen and dragging things into place. Lose one of your three lives and same designer’s hand will move a new cut-out figure back into the fray. Other than picking up power ups and swooping for some cash, you don’t interact with the environment, which is too bad since they look so good. The top of each level features the tell-tale spiral bound of a notebook, and in the background cows are being abducted, tanks are being blown-up, and signs along the path are alternately encouraging and hopeless.
Sound is great, from the tractor beams to the sound of dispatching aliens. The music of the game suggests tension that I never really experienced, however. The pace isn’t very fast, though you do have to stay alert. Still, Something in the pace of the game was just, well, comfortable – the squishy sofa of shoot ’em ups.
InkVaders is a blast, but its biggest asset is the game’s style, not compelling gameplay. Even the excellent controls and the fun of upgrading weapons become secondary players to the aesthetic, with combat just something you do to get from one end to the other. Repetition is a critical hazard, but there is fun to be had in collecting cash, upgrades, and pushing through to the final victory. Good looking and mindless – make your own blonde joke.