I’ll be completely honest, I hadn’t heard of Bendy and the Ink Machine before heading to Smyths Toys one weekend and finding all of the merch related to the game. I really liked the 1920s cartoon style and the merch was pretty sweet too, and I just had to find out what it was all about. Of course, it had to be another bloody horror game.
I’m really not a fan of horror. Being scared isn’t something I enjoy, so why would I willingly put myself in that situation? I don’t know. However, I just had to find out why Bendy and the Ink Machine had become hype enough to warrant its own line of toys. Much like Five Nights at Freddy’s, I don’t quite understand why horror merch is being marketed at kids, but alas, here I am ready to soil my undies.
One thing you’ll notice when diving into Bendy and the Ink Machine is the aesthetic of the game, the entirety of which is soaked in an oddly fitting sepia tone. 1920s cartoon style is heavily present here, while not quite at the same standard as Cuphead, this classic style is definitely a huge influence and it’s done really, really well. From the posters littered around the studio to the random animation cells dotted around desks, and of course projectors displaying actual animations, the attention to detail is pretty incredible.
As for the game itself, you play as Henry, a previous employee of Joey Drew Studios who, for some bizarre reason, is heading back into the studio after being told that Joey had left something for him to find. At this point, it’s unclear what happened to all the employees, but there’s definitely a sense of “you’re not alone” in the very beginning. It’s intentionally eerie, and the tense atmosphere throughout the game can be cut with a knife.
After rummaging around the studio for a little while you begin to get to grips with the game just as it starts to spook you a little. These scares aren’t huge monsters leaping out at you from around corners, instead, they’re subtle – if you blink you miss it – sort of deal. But even when it does happen, you’re heart is already racing. This type of scare continues throughout most of the first chapter until you’re introduced to the game’s first “character”, which for me, almost ruined the suspense of the game.
I find horror is best when it’s a mystery. So whenever a Bendy cardboard cut-out popped up out of nowhere or peered around a corner, this mystery of how, why, or who made the whole experience more intense. As soon as the mystery was solved, it almost killed that suspense. Almost. As the game progresses these scares become a lot less subtle, but not overly ridiculous. It actually evolves from your typical jump scare to the panic of being chased by the unknown. Criticism aside, this evolution does flow naturally with the progression of the game but I personally would have preferred the mysteries to be kept under wraps for a little longer.
Bendy and the Ink Machine mostly tells its stories through a series of tape messages by the studio’s employees littered throughout the game, and theMeatly Games did a fantastic job of not only filling in the blanks but also using these tape recordings as subtle hints of how to solve puzzles you might be faced with. These tapes, or audio logs, tell a chilling story of the studio owner, Joey Drew, building an Ink Machine in an attempt to save the studio from bankruptcy. This machine could be used to turn animations into living attractions in the hopes to bring in more revenue, but of course, things didn’t go to plan.
In an effort to avoid spoilers, I won’t talk too much about the game’s characters or how they interact with the story, as it’s definitely worth experiencing yourself. What I will say though, is that for a horror game, the character development is done pretty well, and you instantly feel for some of the characters within the game – even if they may have ulterior motives.
Bendy and the Ink Machine is mostly made up of exploration, puzzle solving, and occasional combat. Presented in first-person, players are given very little mechanics other than interact and jump. Weapons also come in the form of melee weapons such as an axe or a pipe, however, the use of weapons tends to be restricted to only a few areas to really amp up the suspense. As for puzzles, they generally involve fetching items to complete a sequence or to fix something that has broken. There is one puzzle which has you playing carnival games, but aside from that, it’s usually “find this, fix this, or flick this switch”.
The game originally launched episodically with a total of five chapters. Each of these chapters has its own theme and focuses on one of the members of the Joey Drew Studio employees, and usually ends with a boss fight which generally features typical boss battle tropes. Again, this sort of mechanic does break up the suspense of a horror title, however, it did make the game much more enjoyable than if we were constantly in fear of turning every corner.
The game has since managed to get quite a cult following, hence the copious amounts of merch in toy stores, and I can totally see why. While the cartoon characters themselves played a small part in the game, it’s hard not to fall in love with Bendy, Alice, and Boris. This is likely due to the writing in the game being so well done, as well as the overall appearance of the game.
Overall, Bendy and the Ink Machine is an enjoyable survival horror game that doesn’t focus too much on getting you to shit your pants. There are some terrific moments of fear during the game – which I did enjoy – I also thoroughly enjoyed the game’s art style. In the game’s later chapters it does stray from the horror aspect and turns into more of an action puzzler, but as someone who isn’t a huge fan of horror, I did enjoy that aspect. The game also does a nice job of introducing hints where needed but not overly holding the hand of the player.
What’s more, having played and reviewed the game on the Nintendo Switch, I’d actually say that it’s the perfect game for the system. There’s nothing quite having a screen merely a few inches away from your face and having a cardboard cut out of Bendy popping out from around the corner…
Would I recommend Bendy and the Ink Machine? Absolutely. I had a lot of fun being scared of an adorable cast of cartoon characters. Would I play more survival horror games? Absolutely not… This is more than enough for me, thanks.