Bendy and the Ink Machine Review — Back to the Drawing Board
Bendy at the Ink Machine is at both times a fascinating journey into creation and a repetitive, clunk episodic adventure that still deserves your time.
Few indie games are able to command the internet’s attention on the level that Bendy and the Ink Machine has. Doki Doki Literature Club, Five Nights at Freddy’s, and Undertale certainly make the list, but something about Bendy, the game’s Golden Age art style, and the elaborate horror story underneath has flooded store shelves and YouTube channels. However, unlike the previously-listed games, developer Joey Drew Studios’ Bendy and the Ink Machine is a lackluster experience–albeit one that is still worth playing.
If you are new to the episodic game and its recent console release, Bendy and the Ink Machine takes place in the shuttered remains of Joey Drew Studios (not to be confused with the developer who shares the same name). The studio, which once produced massively-popular, Fleischer-like animations of the titular cartoon character Bendy. If you want a quick idea of what these Golden Age animations look like, look no further than some of Joey Drew Studios’ produced footage of a Bendy cartoon:
However, everything is wrong when you (playing as the creating animator Henry Stein) enter the studio. The walls, floors, and environment is cartoony and sepia tint, just like the Bendy cartoons themselves. Even worse, everyone and everything is gone, with BioShock-like audio tapes discussing the creation of an Ink Machine that breathes life into cartoon characters–a last-ditch effort by the Walt Disney-esque Joey Drew to keep his studio financially afloat. The products of this Ink Machine were monstrous, ranging from puddle-like demons to twisted versions of Bendy and his compatriots.
The story is likely the strongest component of Bendy and the Ink Machine, with the intro and the ending being notable highlights to the series. However, like many other episodic games, Joey Drew Studios’ title is ill-served by the episodic format with lackluster pacing and often segments that don’t add to the plot or end on uncomfortable cliffhangers. While the console versions of the game come with all the Chapters available right away, episodes still seem like they hinder the delivery of the story. Hopefully, Joey Drew Studios’ newfound success will allow their sophomore project to go outside of these limitations.
Aside from the story taking a hit, the gameplay also seems to suffer from the episodic format–each episode seemingly has a different idea on how developers want players to touch the game. While Chapter 1 is more in the standard survival horror playstyle (run, hide, get scared), later chapters fold in (clunky) combat mechanics, unsatisfying fetch quests, and the stealth segments. While there were some particularly great additions (like the randomly appearing demon Bendy that would disrupt everything and make you piss yourself in the process), a lot of Bendy and the Ink Machine feels confused from chapter to chapter.
Another mixed bag is the visual design itself. Arguably the most iconic part of Bendy and the Ink Machine is the game’s cartoon-like aesthetic that brings back memories of a scary Cuphead. That visual design brings a lot to the table from the start — there is something almost comforting, yet entirely unnerving about the scenery that adds to the horror.
Though this is all a significant draw from the get-go, visually things remain stagnant in each recurring Chapter. Though Joey Drew Studios takes more considerable risks when it comes to gameplay modifications, the same crates, enemies, and set pieces stick around throughout. It would be cool to find a segment of the map untouched by the Ink Machine or to see an area designed with more disturbing animation styles as you sink further and further into the depths of the cursed studio. But none of that happens — unlike Cuphead, the visuals remain largely the same and never enticed me to keep going to see what’s next.
Speaking of repetitive, it’s difficult not to bring up the level design. Bendy and the Ink Machine falls into the nasty habit of tiresome fetch quests–at a point, even making a joke directed at themselves likely due to criticism. While I’m usually someone who implicitly hates fetch quests, everything about the execution felt clunky. Combat controls were awful, so much of the exploration felt like it was meandering, and they often happened one after another with little story explanation on why it was necessary. The most interesting chapters were the ones that deviated from these the most or excluded them entirely.
With all of those complaints set down, there is still something implicitly charming and worth seeing in Bendy and the Ink Machine–it is far from a perfect or groundbreaking release, but the novel story, tone, and visual effect is legitimately charming. I found myself grumbling to myself about the small defects but wanting to dive further into each audio log to dissect the studios’ remains. If Joey Drew Studios has proved one thing, they can create fascinating draws to otherwise mediocre games.
While there are many reasons not to love Bendy and the Ink Machine, Joey Drew Studios effortlessly creates a memorable experience that is worth diving into. Bendy and Joey Drew Studios both have promising futures in the industry, so you don’t want to miss their powerful entry into the gaming space–flawed that it may be.