Remember the little drawings you used to make on your notebook every time a class was boring? Imagine, for a moment, those ink creatures came to life and a war broke among them. This is the premise for Arachnid Game’s Ballpoint Universe, a game that’s half a side-scrolling adventure and half a spaceship side-scrolling shooter, with just a pinch R-Type on top.
Ballpoint Universe sees you take control of a bird-like doodle whose only abilities are to move from one side of the screen to the other, jump over small obstacles and interact with one of several NPCs scattered around a world full of inked landscapes and twisted lines. As the little doodle travels this monochromatic imaginary world, he finds out about the ongoing war against the Logicans, a different kind of drawings. To aid the war effort, the main character learns how to build a spaceship to fight the Logican threat. From that moment on, Ballpoint Universe is divided in two: the on-foot adventure in which you must explore the ink world, talk to NPCs and collect special golden doodles, and the spaceship shooter missions, which are triggered by talking to certain NPCs.
Although the game keeps key elements every side-scrolling shooter possesses, such as different type of guns, waves of feisty enemies and a lot of different varieties of them, and enormous bosses, the spaceship in Ballpoint Universe is a bit different than the rest. For instance, it has a powerful blade attached to its fuselage that will automatically attack nearby enemies. This weapon is quite useful, especially in the event of needing to attack while staying out of the enemy’s range. Another great element in this part of the game is the upgrade system, where you can buy enhancements with ink (Ballpoint’s currency) obtained from killing Logicans, for the three main areas of the ship: blade, gun and armor. Along with upgrades, there is also an option to choose from a wide range of weapons. For example, you can attach a powerful but slow blade and combine it with a shotgun-like firearm for maximum attack capacity at close range, or switch to an eclectic combination, which involves a rapid-fire gun and a slow blade. There are combinations suitable for any play style.
Every space mission is accompanied by a brief context on the war, a gold/silver/bronze rating system and a different set of enemies to fight. Stages are straightforward: wave after wave of enemies and a boss with devastating firepower at the end of it. Each mission grants a limited number of lives, which varies depending on the rewards from previous missions, and, unlike most space shooters, there is not a one-hit kill system.
Ballpoint Universe can, certainly, be regarded as an artistic game; the doodles are a constant proof of that: winged skulls with eyes in their mouths, armored knights equipped with lances and swords, unusual starships, soldiers with a boot for a body, strange chimeric figures and anything you could find either on a high-schooler’s notebook or on a tattoo gallery’s catalogue. Illustrator Leo Dasso has done an amazing work creating this wide variety of doodles and the world they live in, all of which were drawn with a ballpoint pen.
Music also plays an important role in tailoring the game’s ambiance. Ballpoint Universe’s score, designed by Doc Prop, is an almost-progressive spacey trip-hop journey, and it suits the game perfectly. The music and visuals couple is, indeed, a match made in heaven and a delight for both sight and hearing.
One of the most important characteristics in Ballpoint Universe is the freedom it gives. You’re free to explore the ink landscapes as you please, go back and forth, talk to the NPCs you want and, most importantly, play the spaceship missions you want and replay the ones you like the most or the ones you failed. By the way, failure is an option. There is no direct consequence for losing to the Logicans other than going back on foot and keeping the ink you’ve earned.
Ballpoint Universe is worth every penny you pay for it, especially if you are into (definitively not classic) art and design. It is a visually astonishing game with really intuitive controls and enjoyable gameplay. There’s not a single reason I can think of why not to play Ballpoint Universe and revive some classic arcade gaming while discovering what pen and paper are able to produce when given to a talented guy.