Chalk is a game that really surprised me. What I first thought was a simply a game with a gimmick is actually one of the more unique and creative games I’ve ever played, freeware or not. This is a game that combines one of my favorite genres, the shmup, with a drawing mechanic. In this game, you play as a young girl and draw with a piece of chalk to create shields, pull objects, destroy obstacles, and defeat enemies without firing a single shot…yet the game is definitely set up as a shmup. For example, every level has miniboss, you are always moving, whether vertically or side scrolling (right to left, left to right, top to the bottom, bottom to the top, this game cares not one bit), and a quick wit and reaction time is necessary to deal with the waves of bullets and enemies that will be coming at you.
This is what makes the gameplay so unique and rewarding to master…while unfortunately also making it have a daunting difficulty curve. This game requires you to learn all the ways you can use the chalk in this game while not holding off on assaulting you with attacks. While the game is nice enough to include a tutorial and color codes objects, giving you a visual clue as to what you are suppose to do, it is a lot to remember. For example, by the third level, you will have to remember that green-dots need to be connected to be destroyed, yellow ships can only be destroyed by purple bullets, blue objects can be moved but can also break lines and explode, and white bullets can be destroyed or reflected by chalk. That’s not even factoring in the chalk which only gives you a second or two to draw a line that will dissipate if you draw another one. That’s not to say you shouldn’t play this, mind you, when you get a hang of the game, you’ll have one of those “moments of mastery” that great games have where you will be able to deal with all the chaos on the screen with ease, it’s just that you will likely fail on your first playthrough since this game is quite demanding.
The boss fights, as with all Konjak games, are excellent. Each boss builds upon the previous bosses and stages to reward players’ skills but still manage to be challenging and creative. For example, during one boss fight, you will have to carefully time throwing blue blocks at a boss while dodging lasers, while its second form forces you to put your reaction time to the test to take advantage of its weakness. Also, while the game itself has a pretty steep learning curve, the bosses follow a natural growth in difficulty, which is best shown in the boss rush, where you can see each boss become more and more complex and implement new tactics, including a boss made up of four smaller bosses, an idea that would appear later in Konjak’s Noitu Love 2. On the whole, the gameplay is very entertaining and it seems like this game could have easily been sold soley due to it’s creative gameplay and excellent bosses.
On the aesthetic side of things, Chalk is deceptively simplistic and perfectly fits the idea of a child drawing an adventure on an old blackboard. The first stage’s background is covered in math problems, as though class has just ended and the child is supposed to be cleaning the board but is instead playing by drawing figures on the board. The following stages become more and more fantastic in their setting while still keeping with the simplistic chalk drawings; which shows how the child is letting his or her imagination go wild, with the board transforming into a Japan-themed level, an underwater level, and even outer space. The levels manage to perfectly capture what it was like to play pretend while drawing as a child. The music is also very subtle but adds to the mood. While you may not consciously pay attention to it, due to the swarms of enemies and bullets that hound you out through the game, it is always quietly enhancing the mood. Whether it’s the softer starting music or the more bombastic music played during the last two stages. Sadly, unlike most of Konjak’s games, the soundtrack is not available on his website. In any case, the music perfectly compliments the soft but action-packed nature of Chalk.
Overall, Chalk is certainly one of Konjak’s most unique titles, with its amazing mix of soft aesthetic and challenging gameplay to create a cute, child-like dreamscape drawn in chalk that still has all the intense action of a good shmup. While this game is on the short side, it is a lot of fun and plays an important part in Konjak’s work, as the mouse heavy gameplay would feature much more heavily in Noitu Love 2 (which is on sale in the newest Indie Royale Bundle). Next week, we will talk about Konjaks’ other projects.