There’s a degree of vibrancy and colour to Strawdog Studio’s new title Space Ark that wins you over in the opening moments of the game. At CalmDownTom we’ve said it many times before, but games that are willing to dial up the psychedelia and assault our senses with colour are more than welcome in our book. If you were to create one of those giant mosaic pictures out of modern games, there would be far too much brown to produce anything exciting, so the occasional title that turns the colour dial up to eleven is a welcome relief. There are also far too many games with bad control schemes in the world today. Sadly, Space Ark is one of those games too, at least in this incarnation.
You see Space Ark would be great fun if played with dual analogue sticks. In fact, if you pick up Space Ark on XBox Arcade Live, you can play it with a proper control scheme. On PC though, you have two nebulous control schemes to choose from: Control 1 and Control 2. Sadly, neither of these two control schemes are any different. Selecting either of these two options seems to make no difference. You are stuck with keyboard controls, and this is a game that doesn’t lend itself to that kind of control scheme.
The problem is that Space Ark is one of those games that requires that you do two things at once, controlling two different ons screen avatars at the same time. In the game you control a kind of trampoline at the bottom of the screen. You move this left and right to keep a bouncing animal in the air. The animal that you bounce meanwhile can also be controlled while in the air, subtly shifting its trajectory with the use of its jetpack. In this way, the game is a little like Breakout (or Arkanoid), but with a degree of control over the little creature you are bouncing around the level. There’s a degree of adjustment required before you get the hang of moving both of your on-screen avatars effectively, but once you have the hang of it the essential gameplay idea is good enough and should provide decent entertainment value. Its even wrapped up in a bright and well presented package that will appeal to adults as much as kids, as long as their hearts are full of rainbows and moonbeams like ours are at CalmDownTom.
The story behind the game is some completely nuts nonsense about space animals born from eggs that have to collect DNA crystals. Suffice it to say that’s not a great explanation of the story, but its not too likely you will care much.
Beyond that there’s not too much to say. The game itself aims for the kind of accessibility and compulsive style as something like Peggle, but the central gameplay hook simply isn’t as strong. As well as disliking the keyboard controls, there were issues with them working at all. On some levels I found the “up” command for my bouncing character stopped working and as a result I could not collect the Crystals higher in the level, forcing a restart. Until the issues surrounding this version are fixed, this can only be described as a poor, rushed port of what could otherwise have been a very good casual/kids title. There’s enough here to recommend you try the console version, but on PC my time with Space Ark was as enjoyable an experience as being ejected out of an airlock without a space suit.
4 blue, asphyxiated animals floating dead in space out of 10
Feature by Chrissy Welsh