How do you follow up a hit game like Monster Train? Shiny Shoe’s roguelike deck builder was a massive success and one of the earliest must-play games to join Game Pass back in 2020. Now, the studio is in an unenviable position to make a new game that’s even bigger and better. That game is Inkbound, an online, ARPG roguelike launching in early access next year. And while it shares some obvious DNA with Monster Train, Shiny Shoe has big, live service ambitions for Inkbound.
Last week, Shiny Shoe invited me to watch a live gameplay demo hosted by creative director Andrew Krausnick. The pre-alpha gameplay demonstrated the basic loop. You begin each run in a gathering hub called the Atheneum where players will party up, gather quests, and customize their characters. From there, parties enter a portal called the Inkwell to start their run, called Stories. Exploring the world of Inkbound is all about making choices. While the abilities, upgrades, and items you choose shape your character, your navigational choices shape the world. The familiar branching path layout that many roguelike games use – including Monster Train – is represented in Inkbound as a physical world that grows as you explore it, or a story being written by your actions.
Combat is another interesting twist on a familiar mechanic. When you get close enough to an enemy, you’ll enter a combat phase that traps you within a small area until the fight is over. Your entire team can move freely in that area to position and use any abilities they want, provided they have enough mana. Once everyone has taken their turn, either sequentially or simultaneously, everyone stops moving, and the monsters attack. It’s a unique blend of real-time and turn-based combat that makes encounters feel fast paced while still allowing plenty of tactical decision making.
While I didn’t get a clear sense of the world or plot from the preview, it’s clear Shiny Shoe has a strong sense of Inkbound’s visual identity, just as it did for Monster Train. Between the inventive classes, like Magma Miner and Mosscloak, and the vibrant fantasy world, Inkbound stands out in a sea of increasingly generic roguelikes.
But what really sets it apart is Tiny Shoe’s live service ambition. The studio intends for Inkbound to be a hobby game players commit to playing long term. Tiny Shoe is planning seasonal content, as well as weekly and daily updates that will ensure runs always feel fresh. Krausnick confirmed it will have a seasonal battle pass but promised that monetization would be cosmetic-only, with no pay-to-win, locked content, and mercifully, no NFTs.
That’s quite ambitious for a game like Inkbound. There aren’t a lot of multiplayer roguelikes, and I’m not aware of a single other live-service roguelike either. Shiny Shoe wants to leverage the goodwill it created through Monster Train and the community it built with it to create a long-term experience that will continue to grow over time. There’s nothing more enticing to me than a good game that’s just going to keep getting better, and I’ve got a lot of faith that Shiny Shoe can pull it off.
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