Published by RedBedlam, Ltd., The Missing Ink (TMI) is a quirky, story-based, free-to-play game full of puns and knowing humor. The basic premise is that the world’s stories are under siege by the inklings, who are destroying those stories by stealing the ink from them. You work at the Ministry of Defending Stories, is to adventure through the narrative, stop the inkling horde and take back the ink. It’s your first day on the job. TMI combines both standard RPG questing with sandbox construction and comes in two flavours: Browser and Download.
The graphical elements aren’t what you might call complex, but they’re certainly engaging. TMI isn’t overburdened with your usual MMO detail; you’ll find neither blushing nor stoically heroic cut scenes. The game world has no hyper-realistically rendered areas filled with dappled sunlight, no swamp grasses gently wafting in the sulphuric breeze. The detail you get is simple and deceptively so. What TMI has managed to do is create a fine balance between bits of believably realistic rendering, blended into a completely ridiculous, cartoony whole. And it works. While battles themselves require some imagination on the part of the player, (especially when one considers that both avatars and monsters are essentially colorful hunks of pixelated cardboard) the special attack animations are more traditionally presented (and are actually pretty cool.)
There are no voiceovers to be heard as yet, but the game is still in (open) beta so there’s no knowing what might be planned for later on. The sound effects and music are both well produced and pleasing.
There isn’t a lot of character customization to be had at first. All new characters start out as featureless, purple... things. But soon you unlock the general set of apprentice avatars, (each allows for individual color choices) with more to unlock later in the game. Even more avatars (and sets of avatars) can be had via the cash shop. You could, should you be so moved, adventure across the landscape as a watermelon with a battle axe in each hand.
Overall, gameplay gives the feeling of walking cardboard cut-outs through a homemade landscape that you constructed yourself out of foam, Astroturf and whatever you could swipe from your brother’s old scale models. I tried playing both the browser and the desktop download, and I have to say I prefer the latter. It could be my aging rig, (my computer is, shall we say, mature) but in the browser version there was significant game lag once I got out of the training area. The lag was so bad that it interfered with both my camera and combat controls, getting me killed at least once. Fortunately, switching to the downloaded version of the game corrected those issues.
The critters are delightfully aggro, giving a better sense of realism than many “serious” games I might mention. Get too close to a stinkling, (or pretty much anything) and you’d better be prepared to do battle. And do not make the mistake of thinking that just because those monsters are cute that they aren’t a threat. A little smug complacency on your part is all it takes for them to serve you up a cardboard can of whoopass. The quests, however, are pretty basic fare (kill those things, deliver that thing) and can get just a wee bit tedious, no matter how cleverly or comically they’re written.
With no mounts (so far, anyway) there’s a lot of walking across landscapes. There are teleport platforms in most town areas, but they cost quite a bit of in-game currency (all that ink you’ve been collecting) to use. Of course, teleport tokens can be had via the cash shop, and the temptation to buy is strong.
Much of TMI’s basic structure is of standard MMO components presented in an unconventional way. I’m not usually one for building games, but I found the combination of RPG and construction interesting, especially when combined with the funky, 2D characters in a 3D world presentation.
Player-generated content looks to be a part of TMI’s ongoing development. As of this writing, there is a building contest wherein the winner’s design will be incorporated into the game as its first raid zone.
Again, TMI is simple, but not simplistic. All the necessaries are in place for a functional MMO. The writing is well executed and funny, though at times I think it maybe tries a little too hard.
The UI is clean and easy to parse. Every facet of the game comes with a tutorial video that you can easily access at any time. I never once felt inundated with Important Information, or endlessly scrolling walls of how-to text, which I must say is quite refreshing.
It’s early days yet, so it’s tough to say. Will funny, cute and quirky be enough to keep players interested? Will the building aspect be enough to bring others to the RPG table? Or will most players simply yawn at the surface aesthetics and move on to other games with more moving parts?
I think TMI has a lot of potential. It certainly has a devoted dev team behind it, but I’m not entirely convinced that players are going to feel equally devoted and stick around long enough for TMI’s ultimate vision to be fully realized. Though I hope I’m wrong.
There is a both a chat system and open PVP, but I rarely encountered another player the whole time I was in the game. However there seem to be plenty of submissions for that contest mentioned before, so TMI certainly isn’t a ghost town by any means. And the prospect of more user generated content (not to mention raids, and the Kickstarter campaign to take TMI to the iPad) should certainly have a big impact.
While it is free to play and one can get by well enough without using the cash shop in the beginning, the need to crisscross the map gets pretty tedious, making the temptation to spend a few bucks on teleport tokens pretty big. That said, the cash shop is so far only for cosmetic options and easing travel. No one is going to get an undue advantage in-game just because they can drop an undue amount of cash outside it.
I think this game is going to be a sleeper. For me, the only thing that might make TMI’s silly aesthetic even better is if they replaced the grown-up sound effects with recordings of gamers going, “Pew! Pew! RAWR! Crash!” But as I said, it’s still early yet. The Missing Ink is one to watch.