Ink, Mountains and Mystery

App review by
Neilie Johnson, Common Sense Media
Ink, Mountains and Mystery App Poster Image
Beautiful mythological adventure with finicky controls.

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Ease of Play

Finicky controls often make movement, interactivity a chore. 

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What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Ink, Mountains and Mystery is a Chinese-themed adventure app for iOS developed by Starry Studios in conjunction with the Palace Museum in Beijing. As such, the voiced dialogue is entirely in Mandarin, so kids must be old enough to read English subtitles. The app contains no purchases or ads and asks for no personal information. There are no profiles or Friends lists, and there's no chat or other person-to-person communication. Read the developer's privacy policy for details on how your (or your kids') information is collected, used, and shared and any choices you may have in the matter, and note that privacy policies and terms of service frequently change. 

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What's it about?

INK, MOUNTAINS AND MYSTERY is a freemium adventure game based on the thousand-year-old Song Dynasty classic: A Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains. Its hero, a young Buddhist monk, and his hybrid sidekick (a boy with cat ears and a tail) make their way through five gorgeous paintings done in the ancient "blue-green" style dating back to the seventh century. Their goal? To repair a master painter's magical paint brush by solving the problems plaguing each painting's subjects. The unlikely partners encounter magical creatures and converse with elegant immortals while exploring painterly environments. Pinch-tap controls move them around, solve puzzles, and gather unique collectible items.

Is it any good?

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful app out there, even of the paid variety, and this one's free, even if its controls can be frustrating. The developers of Ink, Mountains and Mystery have taken full advantage of their Palace Museum resources in creating gorgeous watercolor and ink landscapes hearkening back to China's glorious medieval period. Even better, they've rendered them in 3D, so playing is like walking into a magical dreamscape. Unfortunately, the spell's often broken by poor controls. 

The biggest problem is movement. Insensitive tap controls force you to pound on the screen repeatedly before characters budge, and lots of areas that look accessible aren't. That makes simple actions like climbing hills a chore, and puzzle sequences can even mislead you into thinking you're on the wrong track. This is frustrating even when you know what you're meant to do; it's even worse when lack of feedback makes the environment seem noninteractive. The developers tried to solve this issue by having a little wood sprite point the way. It doesn't happen all the time, though, and the solution's imperfect at best, again thanks to erratic interactivity. As a result, the gameplay is often an exercise in frustration. Things fare better from an audiovisual perspective, since seeing these classic paintings come to life is truly magical. The educational angle succeeds as well, with the app introducing Western audiences to the wonders of Chinese art and mythology. (Admittedly, a little real-life history and possibly some direct links to the Palace Museum's collection could've taken things to the next level.) All told, Ink, Mountains and Mystery is a beautiful but flawed adventure game that's as likely to frustrate your kids into rage-throwing their iPad as it is to spark in them a passion for Chinese culture.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how myths define cultures. What myths does your culture/country have? Are they similar to those from any other countries? 

  • What are some obvious differences between, say, Medieval European art and Medieval Chinese art? 

  • What games have you learned something from? How can you use what you've learned in real life? 

App details

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For kids who love adventures

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