There are two modes of play in Qink. One will drive you slowly insane, and the other will do it quickly. I recommend you start with Patience Mode, which gives you a limited number of pieces and all the time in the world, but perhaps the time limits and creativity of Fury Mode will suit your temperament better. In both modes, your goal is to completely fill the sides of your onscreen cube with a selection of shapes at the bottom of the screen. Rotate your cube with the [arrow keys] or [WASD]. Select an area of the cube by clicking and dragging over it, then click on the appropriate shape from the menu below to snap it into place.
The catch is that you can't rotate the shapes themselves, only the cube. So if you want to fill a triangular area, and the only triangle at your disposal is facing the wrong way, you must first rotate the cube around until the empty space is orientated correctly. The size of the space doesn't matter. You can fill a large diamond-shaped area and a small diamond-shaped area with the same little diamond. The only requirement is that the piece and the space have the same shape and orientation.
Simple enough, but the real catch is that you can rotate the cube part-way, so that you're looking at two, or even three, sides simultaneously. And while you are viewing this hybrid flattened perspective, you can still plaster shapes onto the cube as though you were working with a flat surface. It's a very strange mechanic, and it takes some practice before the old jaded brain can wrap itself around the problem.
In Patience Mode, you must use a fixed selection of shapes to fill up the cube exactly. Each side must be a single color, and every puzzle piece must be used. It's relatively easy when you're dealing with mere rectangles, but when Qink hands you a palette of hexagons and chevrons, be prepared for the little silent screams inside your head. After each level, the game rewards you with a hearty thumbs-up from your little Qigong Master and a level password. If you do manage to collect a few of these passwords, I recommend you hold onto them. You can probably trade them for some pretty good favors.
Fury Mode plays more like an arcade game. Shapes will continually appear on your menu, and you have to place them quickly to keep from running out of time. You can get rid of inconvenient pieces by filling a square with any combination of junk, but you only get closer to completing a level when you fill a side with a single color. There's even a sort of Boss Mode at the end of each level, where you must score a certain number of points within a strict time limit or lose the game.
Analysis: There's no way around it. The learning curve in Qink is like a brick wall. But the smooth presentation and considerate menu of options go a long way toward easing the transition. The music and the artwork, which echo traditional Chinese craft, do their best to fool you into thinking that you are doing something calming. And you've always got the approval of your Qink Sensei to shoot for.
If you can get through the uncomfortable learning period, the twisted logic of this forced-perspective world makes sense, and even begins to feel natural. The jerky, not-quite-3D rotation of the cube remains awkward no matter what—you can only view the cube from certain angles if you approach it in just the right way—but that was probably necessary in order to keep the controls manageable. Many 3D puzzle games, such as Tetrical, require at least six buttons to manipulate objects along three different axes, and it's really too much to ask of a human being.
I'm always going to give major points to a well-designed concept that offers something genuinely different, even if it has some quirks here and there. Part of gaming—and life—is to rack up unique experiences, and your only opportunity to paint three sides of a cube with a hexagon while a balding monk shrieks at you may be to