We’ve all played those classic arcade shooters where you’re hurtling across the screen in an aircraft trying to take out enemies that are shooting balls of fire or lasers at you. Games like Glaga and Parodius are cult classics. But I’ll admit, I never really played much of the genre in my time. This left me hesitant in my approach to B.ARK. So, does this new indie game live up to the games that have inspired the genre? Let’s find out! I played B.ARK on the Nintendo Switch in Docked Mode.
Right from the start I was greeted with a beautiful colour pallet and what I could only describe as hype superhero music. When you first start the game, there’s an opening cinematic that gives you a brief understanding of the underlying story to this game. This clip had me in tears within two minutes. Essentially, you’re the pet dog of a scientist that leaves earth fleeing from a giant space squid. When the escape doesn’t go to plan, you get jettisoned to safety in an escape pod. Now, along with three other animals, it is our mission to save the humans from the space monster. It is extremely wholesome and heartbreaking at the same time. I was sadder afterwards that I was unable to watch that scene again and instantly looked it up on YouTube to revisit it. Trust me, you’ll want to watch it again.
To begin the gameplay, you have to set up a profile. You’re greeted with a screen showing four players allowing for solo play or couch co-op for, yup you guessed it, four players. Each player needs to enter in the classic three letter name you see on all the top scores of the arcade games. Once your name is set, it is time to select the Pilot from four characters: Barker, the main character in the Shooting Buddies ship. Felicity the Cat in the Spread Shot ship. Marv the Bunny Rabbit in the Homing Bullets craft. And Lucio the Bear with the Exploding Bullets Ship. Naturally, I chose the doggo first and I was ready to embark. No, I didn’t make that pun up, it was shown to me in giant capital letters, and I am very pleased with it!
The first mission is a quick training session. Sounds simple enough, however, it is here that some of my frustrations began. Captain Salty appears in the bottom left corner of the screen. I can only assume that he’s the leader of the B.ARK assault. His dialogue appears on screen, but before I had the chance to firstly notice it and secondly read it, the caption changed without input. These frustrations continued throughout my entire playthrough. Yes, I am not the best reader and I do tend to take my time when reading on screen captions or subtitles. But in almost every game I have ever played, these captions appear with a pause that requires the player to press a button to continue to dialogue. The lack of this option heavily impeded my gameplay and I found myself missing important story points. At least the very least, you can hit pause at the right time and read it and then continue, effectively creating the ‘pause’ yourself. I really hope the devs include this feature in an update.
With that frustration aside, the game play is hectic and fun. You can hold down the shoot button to constantly fire. You can also pause and charge it to release a powerful blast towards your enemies. There is also a dodge ability that becomes essential as you progress into the harder levels. It wouldn’t be a shooter without a special ability and each pilot’s power is different. For Barker, it is a more powerful blaster. You can also collect Plutonium that is left behind when you destroy an enemy. Plutonium increases your level as you progress. You can also rescue fellow pilots and friends and collect power ups as you progress through each level to aide in your combat. But be careful! Take enough hits and you’ll lose the powerups and will have no chance against the level boss. There are generally two bosses per level, each with a checkpoint afterwards. But fail to reach that checkpoint and it’s back to the start you go!
Overall, there is a lot to love about B.ARK but sadly there is also a lot of work that needs to be done. Aside from the aforementioned on-screen dialogue issues, the difficulty choices could do with some improvement, but I can see why they were set this way. On easy, you have 7 bars of health, and the game is pretty intense already. Switching to hard reduces the health to 5 bars, however there is no noticeable difference in the enemy’s strength. There is also Insane mode, which I was unable to reach, but I can only assume has three health bars. I almost expected the enemies to increase as the difficulty went up, but I can see that reducing the health was a simple way to achieve some sort of levelling.
The only other improvement I can suggest is an online multiplayer option. More so, now than ever before, being able to play online increases the value and playability of the content we choose to buy. Multiplayer co-op games are very enticing but might limit some players from jumping in when they can’t physically have three other mates come over to play. If the developers can somehow update it for online play with friends, the playability of B.ARK would be drastically increased.
Did I enjoy playing B.ARK? Yes, I did enjoy it. Thankfully, the wholesome vibes and classic arcade shooting outweighed the issues I faced. Would I play it again? Probably, but that would turn to a definite yes if the dialogue option was included or patched, and if online multiplayer was an option.
B.ARK is available now through your digital marketplaces for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, Xbox and PC via Steam for Windows.