If there’s one thing for sure that can be said about Ballpoint Universe is that it’s a weird game. Never mind that all the art are doodles created from a ballpoint pen, but the game just starts you off in a strange world with no indication of what to do. It takes a while to process everything Ballpoint Universe throws at you and make sense of it. When you finally do, you realize the game tries to be part shoot\’em up and part platformer but doesn\’t really hit the mark that well in either case.

The story is set in a world inhabited by doodles and an evil force called Logicians. As a newly created doodle yourself, you will explore the world of Entrino and fight the Logician army by talking to different characters, or doodles. When you\’re exploring the world you\’ll mainly be doing some simple platforming and seeking out the many golden doodles which serves as the game’s collectables. Aside from satisfying your OCD collecting habits, it will also grant you ink, which you can use to upgrade your ship. Nearly half of the game will be spent running around Entrino searching for new levels to fly your ship in and advancing the storyline. Luckily once you\’ve played a level you can access it again from anywhere you are through the pause menu. Unfortunately, walking around Entrino isn\’t all that fun and feels more like a time sink to expand the play time as you just try to find the next level to access.

The platforming in Ballpoint Universe is also rather weak as the controls are very loose and you\’ll find yourself falling off countless platforms simply due to poor and unintuitive controls. In most platformers if you hold the analog stick in a direction while jumping, it will ensure your character completes the jump. In this title, doing that will ensure your little doodle ends the jump in a roll and often times causes you to overshoot the jump. I found letting go of the analog stick in mid-air greatly increased my jumping precision, but it felt very unnatural. Also there is no concept of lives or damage in the overworld so there is literally no danger to you anywhere. Falling in a pit will simply re-spawn you next to the pit leaving the overall challenge to you wrestling with your controller.

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The game makes use of the GamePad but not necessarily in the most interesting way. On the main screen is a close up view of your main doodle and the world around him, but if you hope to catch those golden doodles you\’ll want to look at your GamePad. The GamePad offers the same view as the TV, but from a wider perspective. While you\’re not in your ship, you\’ll want to keep looking at your GamePad to make sure you don\’t miss anything. It’s a bit disappointing that there’s no option to change which screen you can view on the main screen.

The rest of the game luckily plays a bit better and that’s the shooting sequences. Once you\’ve found a mission to tackle, your doodle will hop into his ship and take you to an upgrade screen. Here you can purchase various weapons which can be equipped in 2 slots on your ship as well as purchase health upgrades and special attacks. The more items you purchase and upgrade, the more you\’ll fill one of three ship helper bars. Filling one of these bars will enable a permanent little helper around your ship which will randomly shoot in set intervals. Something that this game adds that’s pretty unique is the combination of a melee weapon along with a ranged weapon. You can equip any two weapons you want on your ship but this game practically demands that a melee weapon always be equipped.

The guns in Ballpoint Universe feel all but useless. I didn\’t find any of the low to mid range guns besides the upgraded machine gun to be useful at all. The higher range guns were too expensive to try out and by the time you acquire enough ink to purchase them you\’ve beaten the game. The guns can barely kill any enemies on their own and, perhaps this is a bug, but some bullets don\’t even seem to hit enemies. Ultimately I played all the levels with my trusty sword and base machine gun dealing most of the kills with the melee attack. This meant just flying my ship up to an enemy and waiting for the automatic slash of my blade to kill them usually in one blow. Overall it just doesn\’t feel very much like a shoot\’em up game. The bosses offer a lot of attached pieces to attack and dismember slowly, which is about the most fun I would argue the game offers. Each level also awards you either a Bronze, Silver or Gold medal based on how many lives you lost which is a very simple measure to base your overall performance on. Each level starts you with 5 lives. Losing no lives nets you a Gold medal, while losing 1-2 lives gets you Silver and finally losing 3-4 lives awards you with a Bronze.

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Finally, while the game’s story will keep you going to unravel its mystery, the climax might leave you unimpressed. The game has plenty of replayability to offer through gaining better medals in each mission and unlocking all the weapons, helpers and finding all the golden doodles but there’s no incentive to do so. There’s also an infinity mode where you fight through waves of enemies trying to beat your record of how many waves you can go through.

Ballpoint Universe is a game that’s easy to grab attention due to its visual style alone. The game offers some creativity by adding a melee weapon to shoot\’em up style levels but could have adjusted the weapon progression a lot more as currently there doesn\’t seem to be any. The platforming feels unnecessary and is a pain to play through. The story sets a mysterious atmosphere to the whole game which will entice the curious players to make it all the way to the end but won\’t necessarily satisfy them once they arrive. Overall there’s a lot of great ideas that unfortunately weren\’t fleshed out enough leaving the overall experience feeling simply mediocre.

Jason Lepine
Operations manager at EG and video darling. The "class" of our Class vs. Crass podcast.

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