I was not entirely sure what to expect when I loaded Wink! into my Game Boy Color. The cover art seemed zany and surreal, and the game’s creator, Max Oakland, made quite a number of strides in development over a short period of time. As a game developer myself, I have a lot of respect for someone who can just sink hours into a project and make it feel as whole as this. You can definitely feel the effort as you explore Wink, with its “tell less, show more” attitude.
The art direction in Wink is fantastic. It manages to fit so much detail into the screen while also working around GB Studio’s limitations. This is basically a masterclass on what can be accomplished using the tool. Take a look at the game start screen below:
On the game page, Max Oakland writes “Wink is taking inspiration from Game Boy classics like Super Mario Land 2 and Link’s Awakening, but doing its own little thing”. I also get major Kirby vibes while playing through this, but that might just be because I spent hours as a kid playing through Kirby’s Dreamland. The character and joy I feel vibrating off the world of Wink! reminds me of that environment.
In Wink!, you play as this humanoid eyeball character who is exploring a world doing… well who knows what. There isn’t a whole lot explained as you play through the game, and that is honestly okay. I can do without the excessive storyline sometimes. The world includes rolly hills, broken down buildings, cute-faced clouds, monsters, talking dogs, wet pieces of art, people’s homes, and a general sun bleached aesthetic. That might give you an idea of what kind of story you are getting into. Despite the lack of lore, Wink!’s world-building is wonderful. It feels like it takes place in a world that lives, breathes, and has history of its own – even though it doesn’t necessarily tell you any of it (or at least, I haven’t gotten to that point in the game yet, either way I’m sold).
Individual levels are weird, cute side-scroller platform stages that involve shooting lasers and collecting items that do who-knows-what. I love that, honestly. Once you complete a task in one, such as finding a hidden item or defeating a boss, you get booted to the overworld which has a classic top down RPG style look:
Who or what are the eyeballs under that door? What are the multi colored orbs? What can I buy in the shop? These are all questions which I don’t have answers to yet, but I am very excited to find out.
Lastly, the music is wonderful in this game. There are different themes for underground or topside, and both tunes are bangers. Sound effects litter the game to add color and character with just about every action you take. Music implementation in GB Studio is not exactly the most user friendly component, so it is always impressive and uplifting to me when someone can pull off a soundtrack like this.
You can play the Game Boy Color version of Wink! here (currently on beta 5). Max Oakland has a few other games on his itch page, including the original version of Wink, which this GB Studio version is based on. You can also catch up with more of his original music on soundcloud.
Ruune is a 30-something genderqueer music witch making video games and volunteering for mutual aid in the pacific northwest. They enjoy writing about undiscovered game projects, independent music, and weird tarot. (they/them)