Despite many games probably starting on sketches, Ballpoint Universe is the first to transpose its idea to a game so literally. With an entire world made of doodles, there’s an atmosphere that feels so familiar for anyone who ever daydreamed with a pencil in hand. Enchantment from moving from place to place or blasting through space only gets broken by its omnipresent instability and that makes adventuring a lot harder than it needs to be, if not nigh impossible.
Even for just doodles, however, the world of Ballpoint Universe is gorgeously detailed with elaborate frills on all structures and oddly shaped characters roaming around. By applying a color gradient filter, some lighting effects and shifting the plane in a 3D foreground and background, it’s astounding just how much life can come to the paper environment. It looks so alluring that just representing a tiny, pointy-nosed critter almost doesn’t feel like enough.
Moving through the world is done by mouse pointing alone. Mouse buttons are also used to jump or click interest points. After some adjustment period, this method works out fine, though precision isn’t exactly easy to achieve. Since the character moves depending on how far the mouse is pointed, it often just flails around during redirection. On later segments of the game, when it truly focuses on platform sections, it falls flat on its face by oversimplifying its control method. There’s really no reason not to use a traditional layout, since Ballpoint Universe doesn’t otherwise uses unique mechanisms.
There is also some exploration to be done inside of the game’s side-scrolling realm. Using a freeform design, characters with missions at hand could be stationed anywhere, but the same goes for small trinkets. Periodically, a few golden icons can be seen in the distance. These usually require a little platform puzzle to obtain. Their only purpose is for a collection, but it does give some incentive to seek out the entire world of Ballpoint Universe. Since the location is so captivating, any added bonus there does get heightened.
When not progressing through platforms, missions take form in separate side-scrolling shooter stages. Prior to the mission, it’s possible to choose ship parts, like weapons, which can also be upgraded later on with ink as currency. Aside from a regular shooting portion, the ship can be outfitted with a melee sidearm. That’s where things get interesting, as the different available designs can make for alternate play styles. Moreover, relying on the powerful melee blades strengthens risk and reward, since creeping up on enemies is tricky business in a vivid shooter. Later stages also throw out some gorgeously doodled bosses, each requiring a separate trick to defeat.
Switching between more peaceful exploration and heavier shooting sections provides the perfect duality for both vibes. Missions can be taken on freely, so another blasting parade is always there right on time, when it feels appropriate. These also come with a scoring section, so they can be redone a few times.
Still, however marvelous the atmosphere of Ballpoint Universe is, its instability makes it aggravating, since frequent crashes means redoing entire sections. In particular, later stages that are already hindered by controls are a chore to keep tackling when the game stops working. One of the last missions even failed every time, effectively ending the game there. It’s a damn shame, since every second more in this realm would’ve been welcomed.
At a miniature price, Ballpoint Universe is worth the admission price for its one-of-a-kind presentation alone. With a dual mechanism of free exploration and side-scrolling shooter sections, it also has enough meaty gameplay to actively entertain as well. Its buggy state might ruin a lot of the wonder, but until then, this is one world worth diving into.