December's Desura Dementia #1: Ballistic

Greetings all and sundry in the wide, wonderful and densely, densely populated world of people who like to read words someone wrote on the internet. As three and a half of you might recall, I played several Steam games throughout the month of May this year and chronicled my experiences to the effect of "I played this game and it was a good game but maybe it was not a good game in some respects", but with far more of my trademark sesquipedalian loquaciousness. (I really ought to get that checked out by a medical professional.) For twelve days in December, because everything involves the number 12 this month, I'm going to do some winter-cleaning of my Desura library as a follow-up feature.

Desura's a service I honestly pay absolutely no attention to. If I ever leave my Steam comfort zone, it's to hit up GOG for dumb shit I played in the 90s that is way worse than I remembered. With those two and my busily renting every new console game I can get my hands on, there's little left for poor old Desura. But it seems like a pretty cool service? Like even more Indie-friendly, with a considerable library of obscure games and opportunities to try Alpha builds and share your thoughts on how some potential future Indie hit such as Irascible Avians Tower Defense: The Pixelly Puzzles of Metroidvanialand is coming along. The dozen I've chosen to cover are games that aren't yet available on Steam, so Desura (and maybe a few other places) are the only port of call for everything featured here.

01/12/12 - Ballistic05/12/12 - Mutant Mudds09/12/12 - Slydris
02/12/12 - Band of Bugs06/12/12 - Oniken10/12/12 - Soulcaster
03/12/12 - Escape Goat07/12/12 - Outpost Kaloki11/12/12 - Squids
04/12/12 - MiniFlake08/12/12 - Reprisal12/12/12 - UnEpic

December the First: Ballistic

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The game: Radiangames' Ballistic

The source: Indie Royale Spring Bundle (a heads-up here: All my Desura games came from Indie Royale bundles. It's worth keeping an eye on their site.)

The pre-amble: Radiangames appears to be one of those developers that focuses on doing one thing and doing it well. In this case, it's those visually intense dual-stick shooters that make you feel like you just imbibed half the contents of the cabinet under the sink and are trying to fight off the spots at the corner of your vision. While dubstep is playing. Ballistic is one of these games.

The playthrough: I quite liked Ballistic. It's nothing too complex, but the occasional Arcade-y twitch shooter is nothing to turn one's nose up at. While these games can, at times, make one feel like they're playing around with an interactive Winamp visualizer plug-in, Ballistic has enough interesting features going for it to give players some gameplay depth beyond shooting everything very quickly. The upgrade system is engineered in such a way that the best combination will vary from player to player, as they might prefer to emphasize on basic stuff like firepower and fire rate to more technical bonuses like having shots recoil against walls or having a limited degree of heat-seeking capability. The player can opt to make the instantaneous bombs that appear on-screen more powerful, in lieu of any direct improvements to their own craft. Though you can eventually get more than one power-up, it can be tough figuring out which is best for you. That's as opposed to something like Gradius, where you go for the wave beam and then as many Options as you can fit around the Vic Viper.

Did I mention this game is mostly balls? Not the quality, mind, but the.. ah shit, I ballsed it up. As feared, I'm getting testy.
Did I mention this game is mostly balls? Not the quality, mind, but the.. ah shit, I ballsed it up. As feared, I'm getting testy.

The innovation the game has to distinguish itself from its peers is the Ballistic Mode, in which the player can opt to sacrifice speed for increased firepower. While this mode can provide a welcome reprieve against a wave of particularly strong or shielded foes, it will eventually overheat and force the player to go without weaponry of any kind for a few intense seconds. I generally avoided it, but as is often the case with many of these carefully engineered high score chasers, it's going to be absolutely necessary for specific waves of enemies.

With many shoot-'em-ups of both the arena dual-stick type and bullet hell scrolling type alike, much of the game's true appeal will come from extensive playing and enemy wave memorization, keeping abreast of what the different enemy types are capable of and when best to use one's limited resources. A cursory playthrough isn't going to suffice for any of that, though it still has a casual quality that lasts until when, not if, the player is finally overwhelmed.

The verdict: Mildly addictive but kind of throwaway at the same time, like all these shooters. I never have the dedication to stick around and master these games, but I can never say no to a few minutes of intense audio-visual shooter psychedelia.

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