Where other arcade titles mask their retro inspiration in layers of subtlety, Strawdog Studios’ Space Ark is content to display its influences with pride. This is Arkanoid, revamped with a distinctly 2010 aesthetic, but it’s also Rainbow Islands, Bomb Jack, Lunar Lander and Katamari Damacy filtered through shades of Rez. Unsurprisingly, it all ties together into something that could hardly be described as unique, but certainly stands up as more than just a simple homage.
In the tradition of most of the games listed above, Space Ark is a level-based arcade collectathon. Controlling a jelly-like bounce-pad with the left analogue stick and the trajectory of your thrust-controlled bouncee with the right, each short stage requires the clearance of hexagonal shapes arranged in various patterns in the sky. Bouncing your chosen ‘Arkonaut’ into a group of same-colour shapes attaches a visible combo chain, whilst falling on the floor smashes it into pieces and necessitates a Sonic-style scramble to collect your hard work before it all disappears. Life-saving power-ups are uncovered from breakable blocks, and high scores are the primary drive, so keeping your character constantly aloft is key.
So far so simple, but several factors quickly complicate matters and make for hectic juggling acts. Environmental elements such as flippers and bouncy clouds serve as obstacles or platforms, whilst multiplier-increasing fruit frequently falls from the sky, tempting the player to split their focus between catching their character or striving to reach a higher score – risking their accumulated points in the process. Failure is hardly a chore however, as Space Ark shares a similarly joyous primary-colour palette as fellow arcade darling Peggle, and positive feedback is rife throughout even the most catastrophic attempts.
What it unfortunately doesn’t share with Peggle is a sense of addiction. Juggling your Arkonaut between obstacles and aiming for a constant chain becomes increasingly difficult on later levels, but overall the pacing is slow and progress all too easy. There are perfect ranks to aim for on each stage, the ever-present friend leaderboards to conquer and a few more tertiary modes to delve into, but the drive to replay any of the content is minimal once the main tour is completed.
Bright then, but ultimately shallow.