Review – B.ARK
Tic Toc Games’ B.ARK was easily the biggest surprise to me during this year’s bizarre attempt at bringing back E3 in a (failed) digital form. From out of nowhere I was introduced to an utterly adorable shoot ’em up featuring cute animals, high-quality animations, a fair difficulty curve, and more decent nods to Star Fox than even Nintendo’s latest attempts to bringing back the franchise (I mean, the game’s commander is called Salty for crying out loud). When I found out the game was going to be released not only for PC, but also on the Switch, I knew this was the version I wanted to test out. There’s something about the system that makes bullet hell shooters extra enjoyable and B.ARK was no exception.
My previous chat with the developers during E3 2021 showed me that B.ARK was aimed at being both a love letter to most famous bullet hell shooter franchises in the market, with each of the four characters playing akin to a ship from these classic games, and an entry point for newcomers to the genre. It would have different difficulty levels, a training mode (which is rare in a game like this), and a generous amount of checkpoints and health pickups per chapter. This is all present in the final product, and the devs sure delivered with their promise. Bullet hell games are a niche genre guarded by developers and fans that are gigantic gatekeepers when it comes to the genre’s traditions, but B.ARK manages to teach players how to take advantage of its mechanics in a quick and entertaining way.
Technically speaking, everything veterans love (and newcomers fear) about bullet hell shooters is present in B.ARK. Boss battles are all about properly dodging their barrage of bullets, either by paying attention to their attack patterns or using a dash mechanic. Enemies won’t stop shooting at you from all angles and you’ll get offensively weaker the more you get shot at. Finally, there is the occasional puzzle-solving section, something that was probably inspired by R-Type, with some levels featuring a labyrinthine design or switches you need to shoot at. The fair perks, infinite lives, and generous checkpoints make up for what would otherwise scare newcomers, while veterans can lose their sanity with the harder difficulty options.
Sadly, there is one thing I didn’t like about B.ARK‘s approach to accessibility: its difficulty curve. I’d rather call it a difficulty rollercoaster, as it’s very uneven. There were early levels I had a really rough time with, even in an easier setting, while there were later levels that felt like a cakewalk, with me not losing a single health point during the entire chapter. I also found it quite odd that the minibosses (each level usually has one or two) felt harder to defeat than the actual final bosses in a level, since the latter usually revolve around the classic “avoid the barrage of bullets” strategy we’re all used to at this point, and the former actually featuring brand new attack patterns and strategies you have to use in order to beat them.
Besides this unusual approach to a difficulty curve, which can be remedied with learning attack patterns and some good old trial and error (you have infinite lives after all), there is little else to complain about B.ARK. There was an occasional framerate drop and the lack of a voice acting was a bit disappointing for a game that is clearly inspired by Star Fox, featuring a ton of dialogue during missions, but for the most part, those are nitpicks, not serious issues. As a whole, I loved the simple gameplay the title had to offer, as well as its adorable presentation.
What I love the most about B.ARK is its visuals. It’s drawn out and animated like a classic Saturday morning cartoon, with a striking color palette, adorable character designs (the Frenchie won me over in a millisecond), and buttery smooth animations, especially when it comes to the big bosses at the end of each level. The soundtrack was also great. Owing to the game’s obvious love towards Star Fox 64, the soundtrack features the same kind of epic space opera instrumentation, like a classic cartoon set in space.
I am not at all surprised with how B.ARK ended up being. I expected it to be great, and it ended up being great. It has a few issues here and there, namely the uneven difficulty curve and the occasional framerate drop, but all in all this is a great bullet hell shooter that will please newcomers and veterans alike. Especially with its gameplay being a hodgepodge of the greatest titles in the genre, its visuals being so freaking adorable, and its replayability hitting the right spot. If you’re a fan of the genre, or just want some great local multiplayer title for your Switch, give B.ARK a shot.
I loved B.ARK‘s ultra colorful hand drawn visuals and animations, although it saddens me a bit that the protagonist looks so minuscule onscreen when playing on portable mode. There were a few instances of slowdown as well.
Each ship plays like a classic shoot ’em up franchise counterpart, adding some variety to the mix. The controls are great and the game can be played with just one Joy-Con. The only main issues lie on a confusing difficulty curve, with some earlier levels being way more challenging than latter ones, and the occasional framerate drop.
The lack of voice acting is a bit sad considering the vast amount of dialogue being shown during missions, but the space opera soundtrack more than makes up for it.
Fun Factor: 8.5
Its level design is a bit uneven, with an inconsistent difficulty curve, but B.ARK is the kind of game that manages to please bullet hell veterans and newcomers alike with its great presentation and somewhat fair gameplay. It’s also way more committed to being a proper Star Fox game than the last few Star Fox games made by Nintendo…
Final Verdict: 8.5
B.ARK is available now on PC and Switch.
Reviewed on Switch.
A copy of B.ARK was provided by the publisher.