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Inscryption (Switch) Review

by Willem Hilhorst - December 6, 2022, 8:00 am EST


A Hauntingly Brilliant Deckbuilder

There is a moment early on while playing Inscryption. While the game up to that point has been a fairly thematic and intriguing card game, this was the first indication that I was playing something truly unique. As you’re sitting opposite to the mysterious game master he asks you to stand up and grab something from the cabin. While the game has already indicated that you can look around the playing field during the card battles, this is the realization that you can freely move around in the cabin where the matches take place. It was the first of many mind blowing moments that elevates Inscryption from a brilliant card game to a masterful narrative game full of twists and turns that makes it a standout from the many other digital card games that exist.

The basic setup of Inscryption is seemingly straightforward. You wake up in a cabin opposite to a figure shrouded in darkness, only visible by the light of the candles and his piercing orange eyes. His sole purpose is to play a card game with you in which you proceed through several worlds and areas that he has created. It is almost as if you’re playing a one-on-one Dungeons & Dragons campaign in which he is the Dungeon Master. He plays multiple strange characters using masks, little totems, and scene changes. While the horror element is always present, this makes the game come across as incredibly charming. But it is that horror element that always kept me on my guard. There is no combat or jump scares, but the sound design, visual style and especially the narrative of the player fighting this omniscient figure makes you feel uncomfortable. Like something can happen at any moment. And when shit hits the fan, you won’t be expecting it in the slightest.

In tandem with the thematic atmosphere, Inscryption is also a brilliant deckbuilding card game with roguelike elements. Every ‘round’ you’re dealt a deck of four cards in addition to squirrels, a separate deck of cards that you can always draw from, but which are creatures that cannot attack. Each card has an attack value, a health value, a cost, and possibly sigils that enhance the card's abilities. While this seems simple, there are so many variations on the sigils that no card ever feels the same, even if you own two of the same cards. The goals of each battle are simple. Deal 5 direct points of damage to the figure to tip the scales in your favor. This ends the battle immediately and allows you to proceed to the next event. Each turn you have the option of drawing from either your deck of cards or another squirrel. To play cards with a cost you most often have to sacrifice other cards to pay for the blood cost. This is where the squirrels tend to come in, as they do not have a cost and provide a cost of one blood. The game becomes a balancing act of choosing when to sacrifice creatures in order to defend against attacks or effectively strike the opponent. Because the game uses a scale to keep track of damage dealt to the opponent, it is possible that you can survive more hits depending on how often you’ve hit the mysterious figure before. This makes matches escalate quickly, where it becomes a game of both strategy and luck to choose between drawing squirrels or taking your chance with the deck itself.

Here is where the sigils come into play. Sigils come in all shapes and sizes. From sigils that spawn a copy of the card in your hand once it's defeated or sacrificed, to a sigil that makes a creature airborne and able to attack directly, to a sigil that kills creatures regardless of their defensive values. The rulebook that you can access at any time is chock-full of sigils and their explanations. But what makes the game fresh is that in-between the card battles you get to encounter shrines along a world map in the game of the Dungeon Master. One of these shrines allows you to kill a card, but place its sigil on another card in your deck. So whenever you obtain new cards, it can be very worthwhile to grab a card for its sigil alone to transfer it later on to one of your stronger cards. A card can contain multiple sigils. At one point I managed to create a card that had both a sigil that it would strike both diagonal positions as well as being airborne. Meaning I would do double damage against the opposing player without having to deal with their creatures. Strategies like these keep the game fresh, especially because you don’t know what other creatures you’ll encounter down the road.

And that freshness is something that Inscryption excels at during matches, because it introduces so many variables and elements that make you feel that at any time you have new options available to you. Yes, the cards are one thing but there’s also items that help you to manipulate the playing field, like additional squirrels that aren’t tied to drawing a card, a pair of scissors to destroy an opponent's card and some items that truly tie back into the horror theming to tip the scales. I think that the totems from the woodcarver also deserve a mention here. The woodcarver enables you to use both a head and a body to enhance cards of that type with a permanent sigil during matches. You can combine the canine’s head with the airborne sigil to make all your canines (wolves, stouts, cubs and coyotes) airborne and attack your opponent directly during any matches. But there’s also a few that feel like game breaking moments, but are so satisfying to pull off. The totems that woodcarver provides you with are random and varied but can completely throw the game on its head. Especially when the Dungeon Master starts using his own wood carvings during matches. It becomes this elaborate strategy game that always manages to be precise in its execution but doesn’t take up hours of your time. Rounds are fast and whenever you lose to the Dungeon Master, it provides you with a new card that can be used in future matches.

As far as I can tell the Switch version of Inscryption is a great way to play the game. The game does seem to have a long loading screen before you boot it up and some occasional stuttering seems to pop up, but there’s nothing here that makes the game unplayable. It was however noticeable that while playing in docked mode, the game visually looks worse from playing in handheld mode. I think it may be because of an absence of anti-aliasing, but the edges of objects on the world map and in the cabin look jagged in a way that they aren’t while playing in handheld mode. Personally I tend to prefer playing this game in handheld, but it is something to be noted for the dock-only players out there. And a very small nitpick is that I often lost a match once or twice because I accidentally hit the ZR/ZL button to pass the turn to the other player before placing down any cards. The game doesn’t give a prompt ‘do you wish to pass the turn?’ and while I understand that from a thematic angle, it was something I had to keep in mind while playing for longer sessions.

As I’ve noted before in other reviews, Roguelike elements tend to put me off certain games. Usually because they get too repetitive for my taste and progress feels tedious, rather than rewarding. However, Inscryption, with its unique theming, storytelling and brilliant gameplay managed to break this loop for me. You might be wondering why I haven’t mentioned the story too much up until now, but that’s because it is something told over time that I think is best experienced in person. If you’re a fan of scary movies or games that don’t spell out their story, I’m certain that you will enjoy what Inscryption has to offer very much. But it was the deckbuilding system, sigils and strategy that kept me coming back again and again and again. Inscryption feels like the perfect fit on Switch and is great on the go. While I thought I would play it in short sessions, the game kept pulling me in again and again to play for hours on end. You’ll definitely get everything you’ve asked for and more while playing Inscryption and it makes for one must of a card game on the Nintendo Switch.


  • Clever gameplay where the roguelike elements keep feeling fresh every round.
  • Incredible thematic design in both the visual, story and especially the sound design.
  • Twist and turns that complement both the story and card game aspects of Inscryption.
  • A few more options/settings to prevent misplays would’ve been nice.
  • Noticeable visual downgrade when playing in docked mode on Switch.

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Game Profile

Genre RPG

Worldwide Releases

na: Inscryption
Release Dec 01, 2022
PublisherDevolver Digital

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