The animals went in cute by cute, hurrah, hurrah! (XBLA)
Space Ark is so cute it verges on the point of being creepy. Imagine Iggle Piggle vomiting glitter and rainbows onto a giggling Tellytubby. That's the scale of cuteness we're talking about here. If the eyes of the Arkonauts were any bigger they would probably fall out of their sockets. Don't let the fact that the game is aimed squarely at younger kids lead you to automatically assume it's rubbish. While that might usually be the case, Space Ark is actually a decent chunk of (incredibly) fluffy fun.
Taking command of the sickeningly cute Arkonauts, it is your job to help them repopulate the galaxy by terraforming planets so that they are suitably luscious for the Arkonauts to reside on. So how is this terraforming process performed? A mixture of atmosphere engines, air purifiers, water generators and life-seeders? Don't be silly, the best way to create habitable worlds is by playing a game that combines Breakout, Peggle and a sprinkling of space-invaders, of course.
Once you've picked a planet to terraform and an Arkonaut to perform the terraforming, you are transported to a small section of the planet. Using the bounce-pad at the bottom of the screen, you spring your Arkonaut into the stratosphere to collect multicoloured DNA crystals. By collecting as many of the same colour crystals as you can in one bounce you build up combos, which boosts your score for the level and allow you to perform the terraforming. See? Perfectly logical.
To completely terraform a section of the planet, you have to complete six stages, after each of which you are presented with a short cutscene that shows the gradual rebirth of the planet, whether it's a lush jungle world or an icy penguin paradise. I'm almost tempted to say there's a vague theme of encouragement towards being green and looking after your homeworld, but it's very much hidden in the background. Rather it's mainly about living cuddly-toys collecting lots of shiny colourful things.
Combos billow out in a stream behind you as you leap about
The left analogue stick controls the bounce-pad, while the right analogue stick allows you to control your Arkonaut in mid-air. At first this is rather confusing, but after a few stages you learn to use the environment to your advantage. Many stages have springy clouds or pinball-style flippers which your Arkonaut can also bounce on, and these can be used to keep your Arkonaut in the air as long as possible while you move the bounce-pad to the appropriate spot for your next combo. Should you miss the bounce-pad, you lose a life and all of your combos, which can be regained if you quickly re-collect them before they disappear.
Further twists come in the form of power-ups that affect your bounce-pad. These range from a power-up that makes your bounce-pad grow to the machine-gun bounce-pad, which gives the pad the ability to shoot the crystals a-la Space Invaders and massively increase your combo score.
Additionally, alongside the DNA crystals are various foodstuffs which can also be collected, acting as multipliers to your overall score. Amusingly, when they are introduced to game it is accompanied by the message “Arkonauts love food!” as if this is something out of the ordinary. Perhaps the rest of the galaxy's inhabitants are anorexic by nature.
There's certainly plenty of meat to the game; each planet can take a good couple of hours to completely terraform, and there are at least five planets, along with plenty of obscenely adorable Arkonauts to unlock. The problem with Space Ark is there's very little variety to the initial template, and while the gameplay is initially quite compelling, the addiction quickly fades after the first few hours.
A cow hanging from a rainbow. I need to stop getting my mushrooms from ASDA
Unlike other casual games like Plants vs Zombies, the unlocks don't really add anything to the gameplay, and once you've got the knack of the control system, it's rare that you will really feel challenged by any of the stages. There are a few different modes available such as Time Attack, Survival and a two-player split screen multiplayer, but again the variation these modes offer is minimal.
Space Ark is a decent kids game, and it will probably hold the attention of an adult for a good couple of hours, but eventually the repetition begins to grate, and staring into the hypnotic disney-eyes of the Arkonauts becomes slightly disturbing as you begin to wonder whether they can see into your soul. Fun, but best not played late at night after a few drinks, else you may develop a phobia of anything with eyeballs bigger than its hands. Top Game Moment:
TOP GAME MOMENT
Grabbing the machine-gun bounce pad and wiping a stage clean in seconds is immensely satisfying.