I honestly just can't see anyone not liking this game. Does that spoil this review? Yeah, I suppose that should probably go somewhere near the end, but I'm hoping that puts the onus on you to go, right now, before this review is even over, and grab INKS by State of Play Games. What is INKS? Well, it's a pinball game — but now wait, hold on — don't go anywhere — it's a pinball...puzzler. With power-ups. It's beautiful, and it's crazy fun to play.
But Pinball? Okay, I'm not a big pinball fan either, but INKS turns pinball on its head, instead of high scores, you're shooting for low scores — your goal: pop cells of brightly hued inks strategically positioned across the tables in the fewest possible tries. Do it with one ball, and earn a gold medal, two balls for a silver medal, three balls for a bronze. Anything after three tries earns you an utterly embarrassing black ball complete with a table ruining trail of dark ink.
Upping the ante, each table in INKS has some optimal number for flipper usage, pop all the inks with your first ball by using the flippers at or under "x" number of tries (varies from table to table), and earn a coveted gold star medal. Once you get one, believe me — you'll want all of them. Still, there's no reward or penalty (other than the medals) for doing well or poorly in INKS, no matter what your outcome is on any table, you're free to continue progressing through all 24 tables in each of the games 5 packs (two of which require unlocking via IAP). And that's a good thing, because as you progress through the tables, the difficulty ramps up substantially — especially if you're going for gold and gold star medals. Tight lanes, bumpers, holes, and eventually ramps, bridges, and additional flippers can make things exceedingly difficult — were it not for the ability to move on to another table for a breather, I'd have probably lost my sanity by now.
As fun and maddening as INKS is to play, the game's real guilty pleasure is its visuals. INKS is absolutely scrumptious to look at — the beautiful bleeds of inks seeping into the game's porous paper tables, the trails left behind as the ball runs through pools of ink and across thirsty surfaces — pentimenti acting as walkthroughs for those smart enough to strategize their next attempt. Highly stylized and art-inspired table designs add to the effect, and INKS is keenly self-conscious of it all, presenting your freshly painted tables like miniature works of art, and encouraging their display on social media.
INKS is not without flaws, but they are relatively minor. First up, the game's potentially life-saving power-ups ("Slow-Mo" and "Blockers") are paid for by in-game credits, but outside of the handful of credits INKS offers you at the outset of the game, there's no way to acquire more except via in-app purchases. This comes off as slightly unfair and a bit unwise since the tease of earning credits for achieving certain goals might encourage players to buy credits just to accomplish them. INKS' other issue — the game's graphical attributes doesn't just look hot — they also run hot, as in your iPhone will reach temperatures just shy of the 100 million degrees Kelvin required for nuclear fusion, and your phone's battery life suffers accordingly. You can get through the game without said power-ups, and I hear that silicone oven mitts can used for the handling of red-hot iDevices, but it would be nice if future updates could do something to minimize both concerns.
Other than that, let me cut back to the opening: I can't see anyone not liking this game. INKS is clever, compulsively challenging, visually striking, a blast to play, and at $1.99 for the included 72 tables, it provides no small amount of bang for your buck. Assuming that sounds reasonable, and given that you're still reading this, take my advice from the intro — get INKS now — and enjoy both the rock garden-like zen and the slow build of inextinguishable frustration in achieving the cleanest paths, the lowest scores, and most artful tables.
UPDATE 05/17/16: Since posting this review an update to INKS has addressed many of our concerns. First — and this is the big one — credits can now be earned by completing levels with bronze, silver, gold, and star balls. Second the game's 'Vespa' and 'Plush' levels are now free, meaning INKS now includes 5 level packs of 24 tables each for just $1.99. The update also includes a number of bug fixes, performance improvements, and difficulty tweaks.
INKS requires iOS 9.1 or later and is compatible with the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. INKS is a universal app.