As a genre, pinball somewhere near the bottom of my priority list. Not so much because I don’t like it — it is pleasingly flashy and colorful — but because it’s rarely held my attention for very long. It’s also usually just the physical pinball machines that interest me (and even then, only in passing).
Abstract painting, on the other hand, catches my eye. Hence the reason why INKS has managed to keep me invested for more than a few minutes.
INKS is, in essence, a heavily-stylized game of pinball. Though I suppose given it’s lack of a scoreboard, it might be better to think of it as a puzzle game.
The boards are fairly simplistic, with only a few bumpers and curves, but that’s because the focus is on painting. There are different spots throughout each board that contain paint packets. By hitting these spots with the ball, they’ll burst open and release a bunch of paint. Hit all of these specific areas and you’re all set. What’s also pretty great is that you can immediately start playing any board in any of the five areas once you’ve finished the tutorial. No waiting to unlock anything – you can just play whatever you want at your own pace.
In an interesting twist, you actually want to avoid hitting any of the bumpers (and definitely avoid losing the ball to the void between the two paddles). Hitting bumpers will eliminate your chance of earning a perfect score – denoted by a star – while losing the ball will steadily change its color until it turns an inky black (i.e. the lowest score possible). You can’t ever really lose on a given board, though. All that happens is you get a less fancy-looking completion icon.
What’s really clever is how this basic idea is affected by things like board layout and general progress. If the ball manages to roll through any of the paint splashes it’ll actually start to leave a trail behind it, which makes lining up or repeating shots easier. It can also be an enjoyable brain-teaser to try and figure out the best way to approach a board section that has bumpers (or that awful swirly pit thing), so as to only hit the painting spots. Then of course there’s the aftermath of a completed board, with all sorts of colorful paint splashes and most likely several lines left behind by the ball. Each completed level feels more like a canvas than a pinball board once you’ve finished with it.
I will say that, despite INKS’ fairly laid back and ultimately consequence-free scoring, certain levels can still be pretty frustrating. Sometimes the layout is tricky and makes it super-easy to knock the ball straight into a pit. Other times it can be a hassle to try and get the angle of approach for a certain paint cluster just right. None of this will really impede your progress since you can just play a different board and come back to the one giving you trouble later, but it can be irritating if you’re trying to earn stars on everything.
INKS isn’t a particularly thrilling pinball game, but it is a cool and stylish puzzle game of sorts. So long as you approach it from that perspective, you’ll find plenty of enjoyment within.