In early 2017, a small group of people released the very first chapter of Bendy and the Ink Machine. Since then, the game has soared in popularity with plenty of attention from the gaming YouTube community, a large merchandise push, and spin-off material with books and a mobile game. It is hugely popular, especially with kids out there.
But what of the game itself? How does that stand out? With a new game in the franchise coming, let’s dive into the original’s Nintendo Switch port and find out! Is it good?
What is Bendy?
Bendy and the Ink Machine was an episodic game series released between 2017 and 2018. The story tells of a cartoonist by the name of Henry returning to the animation studio he was once a part of after leaving thirty years ago. The place has long been abandoned, but yet, his old friend and owner of the place, Joey Drew, insists he stops by to check it out. There, Henry discovers the odd contraption known as the Ink Machine and decides to turn it on. Hell follows as Henry finds himself trapped in the building as horrors from his old cartoons come to get him.
The plot of Bendy and the Ink Machine is straightforward enough while also being rather vague or foreboding. It’s simply about Henry trying to escape while also learning about what happened to Joey Drew Studios and its many employees. It’s never fully clear about certain parts, mostly hinting and alluding to things within its surroundings and various audio logs, even at the end. But that’s fine for the most part. Sometimes leaving things up in the air and never fully being clear helps with the mystery and horror of the game, like certain character identities.
What hurts the story is its ending being a little too vague for its own good. The idea of what ultimately defeats your foe is pretty clever and the final scene is quite enjoyable, kind of working as the closing to a character arc for someone. However, its leaves way too many things unanswered and too many plot threads dangling, like some characters’ fates, that it makes the experience unsatisfying in some areas. Plus, the constant building of the mystery and many of its elements throughout ends up feeling disappointing, since it doesn’t build towards anything.
Character-wise, this is a mixed bag. The side characters and villains are fine, given enough characterization to make them memorable and interesting, especially Joey Drew and his increasing madness through the experience. Others like Boris are underwhelming due to a lack of speaking while others, like our lead Henry, doesn’t feel like he undergoes any arc. He’s the same from beginning to end, which is disappointing, since we see things from his view.
Bendy is the most difficult character to nail down exactly, but he’s an interesting one. Our titular character is a constant threat, a god to what remains deep below the animation studio. He seemingly has no goals, just stalking the halls and killing whatever is in his way. He never talks, always having the same expression as he has in his own character. He’s sort of a dark reflection of the studio itself — warped and ugly, depending on how you interpret him. Just a depressing, hideous, warped figure that cannot move on, stuck in its past without realizing his time is up.
Playing, Running, Looking, Axing
Control-wise, I had no real problem here at all outside of two points. Moving, looking around, using different items, and swinging your weapons all works like a charm. Sensitivity can be a little whack starting off by being too sensitive, and running is an utter pain on the Switch controller. Having to press in on the left joystick all the time is hard on the thumb, since it isn’t as responsive nor does it feel good to use. It barely feels like I’m even running when I am, due to how sluggish it feels. However, I do not have a problem with the controls otherwise. It all functions just fine.
Now, gameplay is where things get troublesome. A lot of the game is just moving around, activating switches, and doing moderate puzzle solving. It isn’t too involving, but in an atmospheric game, that’s not an issue. However, there is also quite a bit of combat and stealth at work, which is where problems lie. Combat is a mixed bag since it feels like you have to be very precise to hit things with your axe or whatever you have. You hit an enemy, then there’s an annoying delay before you’re allowed to hit an enemy again, making things feel slow and tedious. It feels like you should be able to swing more quickly or at least block attacks.
Stealth is mostly dodging people’s line of sight, which seems to be vague and vary from character to character. Sometimes you’re sure no one can see you, but they can. Then the next time, when you’re in an open area, no one spots you at all. Enemies never give up chasing you until you enter a hiding spot to where, even if you duck in right in front of them, they immediately give up. It’s certainly less stressful than a lot of games where you hide from enemies, but it strains believability a lot and it’s annoying that you can never just lose them.
The Visual Dreams and Wonders
Thankfully, this game has zero problems on a technical level. This is a beautiful looking game with a very unique art style that invokes the old cartoons of the 1930s. Everything has a cartoony look with its heavy ink lines and borders, character designs, and color palette of black and yellow. It’s great at bringing the cute and adorable characters of its universe to life, while also contrasting it with its nightmare, corrupted versions that make it pop even more.
Unfortunately, the visuals in the Switch port do feel a touch unpolished in comparison to PC and other systems. Some of the graphics are muddy, while detailing and texturing are dropped in some spots. The worst I ever saw it was in some wooden planks having texture quality so poor, it looks like the quality of an online video from the late 90s. Still, it never felt distracting outside of that one point, the style managing to overcome the issues.
Sound, however, is still pretty excellent. The music, whether it be original or made by fans of the game, are all quite enjoyable and very moody, fitting every area they’re in perfectly. The creatures sound nasty and inhuman, the faint sounds of items off in the distance can be eerie, and every little action you do from chopping wood to opening doors sounds good. The voice acting is more hit than miss, with plenty of good performances that really drive home the right amount of creepy, like the actor for Sammy Lawrence. Some can be a bit over-the-top cheesy at times while others, especially Henry, are little under-performed. The audio balance is a little off as well; the voices on the recorders are a touch too low so that it is hard to hear.
The Game’s Inky Demons
But for all its good and positives, a lot of the decisions made by the Bendy team are baffling. The combat, for instance, is just not engaging nor particularly fun most of the time, with the exception of two boss fights and some early scuffles. It’s not very refined or well-implemented, leaving some decisions where the game leans very heavily into combat frustrating. The worst case comes in the final chapter where there is this gauntlet of foes to kill that just goes on and on. With no dodge mechanics, slow health recharging, no invincibility frames, and everyone just constantly charging in, it becomes an exhausting slog.
The game leans a lot into fetch quests. Go here to get something and bring it back to activate something else. Go do this one thing over here for somebody and come back for more things. Every chapter has a little bit of this in it, leading to a lack of variety of what you can do in the game. It never feels too bad in the first two chapters or the fourth one thanks to small areas to explore or fun things to do in between them. But the third chapter is littered with fetch quests that involve climbing several floors over and over again that kills the pacing of the game and never feels that interesting.
There are other bits that leave me scratching my head, as well. The stealth isn’t particularly refined like mentioned, but works well enough at times. The Seeing Tool introduced towards the end, while incredibly neat, is underused and mostly there for fun Easter eggs on another playthrough. The final boss fight is underwhelming, especially in comparison to the previous fights, and really needed an extra phase or two. All of this stuff leaves the experience with quite a few downs more than it should.
Within Its Depth
Bendy and the Ink Machine offers some fun bonuses and secrets for people to discover that adds some extra replay. Whether it be secret challenges, obtuse puzzles or fights, the use of the Seeing Tool in previous chapters, hidden rooms, or even an archive with behind the scenes information, there’s plenty here for those willing to dive a little deeper. Sadly, there are no built-in achievements on the Switch like in other versions, so you can’t really challenge yourself like you may want.
Lastly, a big point needs to be mentioned. Bendy and the Ink Machine is a five chapter game, and it’s a short one at that. If you played like me, soaking the atmosphere and taking time to get immersed in the experience, the game is only about five hours long. At a price of $30 for the Switch version, it’s hard to justify given its length, especially given all of the game’s flaws. I personally got my money’s worth out of it, but for others? The same may not hold true.
Is It Good?
Bendy and the Ink Machine is an ambitious game, one that wants to do and offer so much. It boasts an impressive visual style that, even at its worst, looks rather pretty on the Switch. Its sound design, music, and most of its voice acting are quite enjoyable as well, making for one of the more stylistically distinct horror games out there currently. It has many great ideas, strong moments, surprising amounts of things that can be read into, genuine creepiness, and more.
But many of its decisions may leave many gamers frustrated and baffled. Awkward combat, bad game decisions and choices, the tedious sidetracks and gameplay sequences, and its depressing length do much more harm than good. It leaves the game in a state where it wants to do so much, but it spreads itself too thin when it really needed focus and knew what to cut.
As a whole, Bendy and the Ink Machine is a game I would say is worth giving a shot. There are plenty of reasons to at least give it a shot in its current form and decide for yourself. At the very least, if you want your kids to try a horror game that isn’t too nasty, this is a solid choice. However, either get it on a different system or wait until a steep price drop.
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