E3 2021 Hands-on: B.ARK (Nintendo Switch, PC)

Pets in Mechs… Need we say more? This week we not only got to try out a demo for Tic Toc Games’ B.ARK (as seen on Monday’s E3 presentation) but we also got to sit down for a quick chat with Abraham Morales (Game Director) and Sara Pocock (Studio Art Lead for TTG) as they took us through the basics of the game and answered some of our questions. You can check out the interview below – but here are some of the highlights…

B.ARK (Bio-Interstellar Ark)

Apparently, the story went something like this: “How cute would it be if our pets were piloting Mechs in space?!”… And the rest, as they say, is history. Yes, with that great idea the Tic Toc Games team em(bark)ed on creating a game that would eventually become B.ARK; A character-driven, Saturday cartoon, old-school-style shmup that simply explodes with charm. After a fantastic animated opening sequence, you’re introduced to Barker (Dog), Lucio (Bear), Felicity (Cat) and Marv (Rabit) the unlikely group of furry friends that are tasked with saving the universe from the cybernetic fish armada – the Dark Tide.

You then choose from one of the four, with each character sporting their own unique gameplay style and power-ups. Then (either solo or with three friends that’ll join you on the couch) you are tasked with firing your way through levels made up of a fantastical, swirling kaleidoscope of colourful projectiles. The game is mostly cooperative but there are also some competitive elements. It’s truly bright and engaging and the fun music just adds to the whole spectacle. As you can probably tell – I really enjoyed the demo. I even tried the included level several times with all the different characters. And I’m not even the biggest fan of the genre! But it just gushes with fun and I was very quickly whipped up in the wonderful frenzy and of firing, and dodging and flying around the strange aquatic-space themed worlds.

The team behind the team

Talking to Morales and Pocock it’s clear both speak enthusiastically about the goal of delivering a game in a genre that you don’t see very often anymore and in a way that’s accessible to players of all levels. They explain that the first level is made to present a challenge while slowly introducing (even inexperienced) players to the game’s mechanics as intuitively as possible. They point out the more solid background, the high contrast trail of enemy fire and even the fewer number of enemies as examples of these visual and gameplay cues. Small adjustments like this along with three difficulty levels (the toughest one opens up after finishing the game for the first time) – all mean they hope the game is welcoming to any player.

Along the way, both Morales and Pocock say they derived inspiration from a variety of titles including Gradius, Star Fox and even Sonic. And whether it is the unique power-ups, the characterisation and personality-filled comments of each of the animals (and Bosses) or even the way the levelling up of the weapons occurs and what happens when you get hit – their influences combine for what seems like a really enjoyable and complete experience. The team also explain how they have really worked on the balancing in the game. This means whether you’re playing as Marv with their heat-seeking missiles or Felicity’s spread-shot and whether you’re playing with friends or alone – you should still have a great time.

Schmupping good fun

It’s always great to try a demo and have the gameplay feel really polished. However, what really stood out to me was all the extra bits that B.ARK also has going for it. The team is clearly very enthusiastic about the game. The wonderful character animation (hand-drawn frame-to-frame) and accompanying music makes everything feel really appealing. And the team has a clear vision about something we haven’t seen in a while – and that clear identity is something I found very encouraging. Be sure to listen to our full chat in the video below. And in the meantime, you can download and play the demo on Steam. The game will also be coming to the Nintendo Switch this year – and the even better news is that we may not need to wait very long to find out exactly when – with the team hinting that that announcement could be imminent.

Nintendo Nerd, sharing my love of Mario with the world one pixel at a time.

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