I'm not a very good artist, or "drawerer" as we say in Pennsylvania. Well, the hill people say that when they come down by moonlight to snatch babies and discuss art. I can draw something that sort of looks like a helicopter, something that kind of looks like a dog, oh, and trees. I'm pretty good with trees. And pyramids. But despite my deficiencies in doodling I'll still fill up my paper's margins with them. So, I'm fond of games that co-opt that aesthetic, like the new hand drawn, top-down, vertical scrolling shoot-em-up from Francisco Ferreres, Notebook Wars.
Notebook Wars has the classic shmup plot: you're moving in one direction and some other guys are moving in the opposite direction and you won't stand for those kind of shenanigans. So, you'll use your mouse to move your ship around, hold down the left button to fire and press the [space] bar to drop one of your A-Bombs.
You'll get cash for taking down enemies. You'll need a nice stack of it for the upgrade shop if you're going to make it through all 15 levels. There's plenty of stuff to buy: five different ships, eight different kinds of weapons each with two kinds of upgrades, and even upgrades that allow you to equip extra weapons on your ship. Trust me, you'll need the firepower and, unfortunately, an eraser isn't one of the available weapons.
Analysis: The gameplay is standard for a game of this kind. There's a nice variety of enemies and bosses every three stages or so. The real fun comes in customizing your ship. Once you have a nice amount of weapons available and all three weapon slots open you have a lot of options. You can set all three slots to have the same weapon, sure, or you can create a deadly mix. A good weapons set-up can also help avoid some grinding.
For some people "grind" is a dirty word. However, I fall in the camp of those who like it, so I might not be the best judge on whether a game has too much of it. You can certainly play Notebook Wars as a grindaholic, particularly in the earlier levels when you don't have much equipment and money isn't as plentiful. However, if you upgrade wisely and play skillfully you won't have to worry about it.
There are few problems, though. For awhile your plane moves very, very slow. The enemies move pretty slow too, so it kind of balances out, but if you're looking for a fast and frenetic game this probably isn't the best choice. Also, for the first few upgrades your ship tends to be kind of chunky, making it hard to move in between enemy bullets. By the middle stages, you'll be racking up enough cash to get a sleeker ship, though.
Notebook Wars biggest source of charm is in the hand drawn art style. Most elements are very simple, such as the landscape, but others, like the enemies, have little details thrown in. The bosses are the most intricate pieces in the game and yet still complement the idea that this is all taking place in a notebook. The best touch is the most subtle. If you look closely or look at an explosion you can see the blue lines of the "paper." It's a small thing, but sometimes the little things can be just as good as the big.
Notebook Wars starts out a little slow, but it's not long before it picks up. It's a game with a lot of charm, mostly from the art style. Grind fans will enjoy beefing up their ship early and dominating other levels. Fans of a more strategic approach will like trying to optimize their ship with what they have and taking down enemies while avoiding the bullet barrages. If you're looking for a nice, relaxed and casual, cool looking, vertical scrolling shoot-em-up, it'd be hard to go wrong with Notebook Wars.