If you enjoy Breakout, but have always found it a bit slow, devoid of animals, and tedious without the ability to manipulate the ball mid-flight, then Space Ark is your game. You’ll be especially in luck if you favor the flashy, chaotic games of quick reflexes from the days of arcade. Strawdog Studios set out to recapture those golden years of busy screens and colorfully absurd characters, and in that respect they have succeeded. There is a lot to look at with Space Ark, but unfortunately it’s not all smooth sailing.
While there is plenty of arcade-style colorful madness and high scores to chase, there are also plenty of those old-school problems to contend with. Mainly, I wish I could take Space Ark out of my computer and blow on the cartridge, because you will find the PC version crashes with terrifying frequency. Thanks to this instability, I was forced to replay the introduction tutorial four times before being able to continue. Even then, I encountered numerous crashes that wiped huge chunks of progress.
Beyond that, the attempt at a kitschy “story” falls flat and has no correlation to gameplay. You play as the unseen savior of the galaxy, who has gathered up some of the last remaining animals from destroyed planets. Your goal is to use a set puzzle system to terraform these planets, which is somehow accomplished by bouncing various animal characters on a rubber trampoline into colored DNA sequences, which sometimes turn into fruit. Even old-school games were never this ridiculous.
All these negative aspects are disappointing too, because Space Ark’s later levels are worth seeing. Once past the tedium of the early levels, later challenges will absolutely pack your screen with old-school fruit-shaped bonuses, score multiplayers, and flying combo tokens. Your trampoline will have to move in different direction than your animal avatar, which is hurtling upwards while still being in your control. The speed of reflexes needed for some of the greater challenges will test you, but only if you can get there.
The game locks out all the other content except the missions until you’ve completed a set amount of the “story mode.” This means you’ll be unable to break out of the routine of completing sets of puzzles until you’ve churned through the painfully easy early stages. That means a lot of slow, tired bouncing before you can access survival or time attack.
Space Ark’s appearance on Xbox Live Arcade is mostly without the critical errors seen on the PC version. But, does that make it worth a look for console players? Not really, at least not until the silly restrictions on content are removed and the game’s earlier content is truncated to make way for the complexity the game is truly capable of.
+ Intense, dual-focused arcade chaos in later levels
+ Visual polish throughout menus and gameplay
- Fatal errors will constantly wipe PC progress
- Characters and story are one-dimensional, even for an arcade title
- Often tedious gameplay
Give the XBLA version a trial run, but save your cash on the PC. If you have kids or casual gamers in the house, they may take to the goofy characters and simple mechanics. If you’re looking for a deep and intriguing arcade experience, let this one get washed away in the flood. Avoid it!
Space Ark was released on June 16th, 2010 for Xbox 360, and March 16th, 2012 for PC via Steam. Review is based on the PC version.
Developed by Strawdog Studios