Paint with pinballs in the enchanting Inks for iOS

Lumino City makers return with a game that lets you make art while having fun.

ysp inks lead
State of Play

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These days, keeping up with games can be a full-time job. So how do you separate the signal from the noise, the wheat from the chaff, the Temple Runs from the Temple Jumps? Allow us to help by regularly selecting a game You Should Play.

State of Play has a knack for making video games look like fabulous, imaginative art, as seen in the wonderful Lumino City for iOS and Mac—a game that was made by filming real papercraft locations and characters and forging them into game elements. So it’s little surprise to see the studio’s next effort deliver another eye-popping and totally original concept. 

Inks is the team’s latest game, and it’s best described as pinball meets action painting: as you bounce the ball around the stage using the familiar flippers at the bottom, you’ll trigger explosions of color that splash onto the canvas like a burst paintball. And that’s the goal, really: you’ll complete each stage once you let loose every colored panel on the screen, no matter how many balls it takes.

ysp inks painted State of Play

By the time you finish, the table ought to be peppered with splatters, spots, and streaks. Beautiful, isn’t it?

But there’s real incentive to play smart and skillfully, as later balls turn black and smear dark streaks all over your beautiful painting. Inks finds the middle ground between a fun video game and a one-of-a-kind creative experience, and it’s a lot more soothing than your average pinball table. The game isn’t a total cakewalk, however, as the later tables often show with more complex arrangements and trickier lanes to reach.

Ready to make something beautiful? Here is how Inks excites and delights.

It’s pinball turned art. Admittedly, this is something I never thought about or knew I wanted, but kudos to State of Play for dreaming up this unlikely concoction. Essentially, Inks is designed to help you create an alluring piece of art while playing a fun skill game, so you’ll bat around the ball in search of those colorful bumpers, which shoot out a dynamic burst of ink onto the white screen once triggered. 

As your ball spins over the splatter, it’ll continue tracking the color around the screen as it rolls, creating distinctive patterns that often look like something spit out of a Spirograph. And the painting is really just the product of your fun: chances are good that you won’t be too worried about guiding the art direction while smacking a pinball, but your efforts are rewarded with a nice digital piece that you can save and admire.

ysp inks gallery State of Play

You’ll get a star if you complete a stage with the first ball, but anything without black streaks is a win in my book.

It’s not all easy. Many of the early challenges are pretty straightforward, with some requiring only one perfectly-placed flipper shot to clear an entire curved row of panels. That helps keep things breezy for a while, but Inks also has its challenging moments that require a lot more skill and tenacity. Following the three included episodes, each of which features 24 different tables, you’ll find two trickier add-on episodes that are now available for free (they were $1 apiece initially).

The tables in those episodes sometimes include temporary barriers that disappear for several seconds when hit, as well as more challenging shots that require multiple perfectly-landed ricochet bounces to reach their final destination. While these tougher stages can add a little frustration to a game that is typically pretty pleasant in tone, at least you don’t have to worry about blazing through those episodes in an instant. And there are optional power-ups available if you need a boost.

ysp inks blackened State of Play

Waste too many balls and you’ll start dragging black streaks all over the canvas—to the point where it can even obscure the ball’s movements.

Use a fresh canvas. No matter which table you’re on, Inks has one of the cleverest ideas I’ve ever seen for encouraging repeat play. You can use as many balls as you need to clear any table, but once you’ve lost three of them between the flippers, all of the rest are pitch black in color. That means the more you drag on with the same level, the more your beautiful reds, blues, yellows, and pinks will be muddled and covered.

It’s great incentive to replay a tricky stage again and again, as you can start with a blank canvas and try to knock it out with fewer balls. And with each episode’s tables presented like pieces hung up in a gallery, it’s easy to see where you might improve upon past efforts and try to deck your digital hallways with even more dazzling work. 

Developer: State of Play Games
Platform: iOS (Universal)
Price: $2

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