If there’s one thing to be said for Microsoft’s recent Game Room, is that it has helped introduce thousands of youngsters to some of the classic titles in gaming history. However, with the sheer amount of epic, engaging, and often beautiful games on offer these days, it’s easy to understand how whilst classics such as Centipede, Asteroids and Breakout may remain a necessity for some, many players will simply never bother with them. Available on Xbox Live Marketplace this week, Space Ark is a kid-friendly Arcade game that has its roots firmly set in the Breakout mould.
Players assume command of the Arkonauts, a band of space traveling animals. Following the destruction of the galaxy from a wayward black hole, the team set out to rebuild nearby planets to make them hospitable again. Admittedly, it’s no Citizen Kane, but what were you really expecting?
In order to rebuild the various worlds, players must bounce the space critters around the screen, collecting DNA blocks and power ups in the process. Harvesting multiple DNA in a single bounce leads to combos, combos lead to power-ups and multipliers, which in turn lead to some seriously high scores. It’s not uncommon to feel your pride dwindle as your impressive performance is marred by a friend’s high score some 20 million higher than your own. As ever with this kind of title, it’s a simple premise, but one that is easy to pick up and pretty addictive to boot.
It may all sound simple enough, but it isn’t. Beyond the exterior of Strawdog Studios’ fluffy kitten is the heart of a pissed off tiger. The game starts off easy enough, bounce around, hit a couple of blocks and move on; give it a few worlds and if you can’t maintain a near endless sequence of DNA combos, you won’t get far.
Space Ark contains 5 worlds in need of terraforming, split into 168 levels in total. The game features three modes, including survival and time-attack in addition to the standard mission mode. There’s also a split-screen multiplayer mode, though there is no option to take bouts online. 800 MSP overly high price point certainly doesn’t come from a lack of things to do.
If there’s one way to describe the visuals in Spark Ark, it’s that they’re sickeningly sweet. Tooth-rottingly so. The worlds, characters and cut-scenes are all bright and colourful and obviously designed with the younger demographic in mind. Adults can also enjoy the setting if they so wish, it just depends on how much cutesy art style a grown man can take.
Sadly, beyond the fluorescent shimmer, the graphics are basic at best. Although Space Ark is consistently smooth with no reportable drop in frame-rate, character models themselves are downright creepy to look at. The decision to have included 3D models is understandable, every 2D game from the recent Rocket Knight to the upcoming Sonic the Hedgehog is bucking to the trend. However, in this new 2.5D standard, it’s games such as Space Ark that suffer as a result. It’s a shame that Strawdog felt the need to compete in this way, as the fully 2D cutscene style would’ve lent itself far better to a nicer looking game.
The sound, although practically nonexistent on the interest scale, is somewhat of a blessing in disguise. Although Space Ark contains little more than a few simple tunes akin to the electric sounds of a Casio SA-45 keyboard, at least the developers didn’t feel the need to go all out on the cuteness scale and include a Robot Unicorn Attack pop classic on endless repeat. Strawdog deserves credit for that at least.
Overall, Strawdog Studios have done a solid job in attempting to update and pay homage to one of the 80’s most classic games. Sadly, although the game is undoubtedly fun, it’s simply far too repetitive to demand more than a few hours play. There may be five increasingly challenging worlds to unlock, but completing the first is all that is required to have experienced what the game has to offer. The introduction of flippers, fans and switches may spice things up, but Space Ark ultimately fails to hold the attention of gamers for long enough to justify its current price.
Final score: 6 out of 10 - Average (How do we rate games?)