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Ballpoint Universe is one of the most quirky and artistic shoot-em-ups I have ever seen. The idea spring gives birth to a brand new doodle, and within a few minutes of getting his bearings in life, he is enlisted in the military to fight the Logicans. These lifeless doodles are sweeping over the realm like the Borg; they hope to turn every doodle that lives into a recruit in their army. It’s up to our fresh new doodle to build a ship and fight back against the Logicans to protect his people.
The name Ballpoint Universe stems from the utensil that created it. Every single piece of the world was hand-drawn with a ballpoint pen and used as an asset in the game. The revolving backdrops and unusual enemies are unlike anything I have ever witnessed before. It’s a completely unique design that works perfectly in a shooter. The sound design isn’t as varied, but the electronic beats do offer some head bobbing moments.
You can explore the world on foot and speak to random citizens of Entrino City. Certain NPC’s will offer our doodle items, while others will supply him with a quest. This is where the shoot-em-up magic comes in to play, and it does not disappoint. As the doodle completes quests, he will unlock new weapons, wings, and shields. You can outfit his ship with these items before missions, by dragging between them with the mouse button. Players can also earn golden sketches from exploring the world, or completing stages in top form.
As a shoot-em-up, Ballpoint is a bit different in terms of scoring. Killing enemies does not matter much, but dying will lower your chance at getting golden sketches and better items. That’s not to say that you can just fly around avoiding enemies, as certain areas will require the death of a boss to complete it. Ballpoint remedies the high-score conundrum by placing the player against floating enemy mazes accompanied by a hailstorm of bullets from all directions . It’s difficult to stay alive, and that’s what makes Ballpoint an enjoyable shmup. Best of all, if one of the areas is too difficult, you can just continue on to the next one and come back later.
There are a few problems with Ballpoint, and it’s mostly that it doesn’t have controller support. My hands began to cramp up within an hour or so of dodging enemies and bullets. The other problem lies in the enemy output of certain stages. There are places where foes will just stop showing up on the screen, and all you’re left with is a scrolling backdrop and music. Regardless of those small fumbles, Ballpoint Universe receives a B from Geek Citadel. If you are into Shoot-Em-Ups, go out and grab this five-dollar schmup right now from Desura.
In space, no one can hear you ripped to pieces by rogue robots. The crew of a decommissioned war vessel christened the “Titan Hauler”, are systematically slaughtered while hauling toxic waste. In classic Aliens fashion, one man awakens from cryogenic sleep and finds himself in hostile territory. He meets a helpful robot named “Mother”, who informs him that the ship’s Artificial Intelligence has taken over the Titan and wishes to use it to destroy earth. As Sam Mcrae, the last survivor on the ship, it’s in your hands to find this A.I. and put it down.
The story for Bad Bots is a simple one, and it’s relatively easy to figure out what’s going on in the first five minutes. Everything is bare bones in the audio department as well. No voice-over, music only appears during boss battles, and ambient noise is non-existent. It does have a bright color palette, but the enemies and environments retread themselves much too often. The cut-scenes have a nice hand drawn look to them, but nothing stands out in particular.
The game play is generic and I somehow managed to fall asleep in my chair while playing it. Sam can fire in a 360-degree pattern at enemies. The robots spend most of their time hiding behind boxes and standing on scaffolding’s shooting through walls and floors. Sam can’t really avoid gunfire or react fast enough with his weapons to outmatch them. He’ll just have to run into a slew of bullets and take them in the chest, so that he can jump over a wall and melee them or hit them with a shotgun.
On the other hand, the A.I. is as stupid as can be. This is evident in the way too easy boss battles, or the quarantine sections of the title. Sam can stand at the edge of a room and pick off enemies as they enter the screen. One those enemies are defeated, he can move forward to trigger them again before repeating his strategy. The controls are also extremely cumbersome; the W key is the jump button instead of the space bar. I thought this would be something easy to solve with the controller, but to add to my dismay; the jump button is UP on the D-pad.
After a couple of levels, the game expects you to platform like Metroid while aiming and shooting at people with the mouse or analog stick. However, I don’t think anyone explained that jumping with up is the worst possible way to do this. The shameful part is that there is not a way to change this in the keyboard configuration, so you are stuck with the broken way of doing things. I’m starting to remember why I was able to fall asleep on this title.
Bad Bots is a basic side-scroller that doesn’t do anything special. You fight waves of enemies and go from room to room in areas that have the same look. Bad Bots receives a D+ from Geek Citadel. $9 is a lot to pay for a title that should be a free Android or iOS game.
In Dragon’s Lair, you take control of Dirk the Daring. This valiant knight must delve into the depths of a castle to save the vivacious princess Daphne. Prepare to battle through room after room facing off against all manners of traps and beasties out to stop Dirk from reaching his goal. He’s in it for lust, riches, and fame, and what more does a man need to dive headlong into danger?
You may have heard of Dragon’s Lair before, it was released back in 1983 on laserdisc in the arcade. It features some fantastic animation and artwork from animator Don Bluth. Even after all these years, Dragon’s Lair is still incredibly detailed and fluid. It is the pioneer of the Quick-time event craze and is the reason why so many people love and hate them.
So what does this Steam rendition of the title bring to the table that other ports neglected? Not much in reality, you still choose between Home and Arcade mode with Easy and Hard difficulties. The new guides on screen are helpful for new players, but you can turn them off in the options to play in the classic style. I guess in reality there isn’t much new to the formula here, but that’s to be expected of a game that’s thirty years old.
Trial and error is the natural habitat of Dragon’s Lair. Get used to seeing our hero die in the most hilarious ways possible. Watching Dirk die is quite possibly the best part of the game, and we are lucky it is, as it will happen to him regularly. It’s all about memorization and quick reflexes to reach the end of the title. Some of the prompts appear and disappear from the screen so quickly that it will be impossible to react the first time. It’s best to play the title on home to get used to the levels, and then switch to Arcade with the guides off to experience it in true randomization.
The Steam version of Dragon’s Lair does not change much, but if you haven’t played the re-mastered version of Don Bluth’s classic, this would be the perfect time. I will not lie and say that $10 isn’t much for a package we’ve seen everywhere, but it is the definitive version of the title. Dragon’s Lair receives a B from Geek Citadel. If you loved the original, or want a taste of nostalgia… it’s time to venture into the Dragon’s Lair!