The shoot ‘em up genre, also lovingly referred to as shmups, typically gives players a powerful vessel, a light story, and a screen full of enemies to destroy. B.ARK sticks close to the genre while also giving players something new: the playable characters are animals fighting to get back to Earth to save humans. I had the chance to play Tic Toc Games’ B.ARK ahead of its launch this month via an early build Steam demo.
B.ARK takes place in humanity’s future, where the Earth is overrun with an aquatic alien life called the Dark Tide. In a bid to survive, humans launch ships into space. One such spaceship has a few animals in an escape pod, which is lucky because the ship gets caught in the clutches of one of the evil Dark Tide robots, leaving the humans with only one choice; eject the escape pod to save the animals.
Cut to one year later, and the animals are rescued by a passing vessel controlled by even more furry friends. From here, the game begins, with players able to select from one of four animals to use throughout the side-scrolling levels as they work their way from Neptune back to Earth.
Each character has a unique firing method, ship, as well as a super that can be activated. There’s the cat that shoots a scatter shot and uses a massive laser attack for its super, a dog that has little helpers that hover around its ship, a bear that boasts explosive rounds, and a bunny that has homing rounds and can slow down time.
For those playing solo, you can pick one of the four characters, while those playing four-player co-op will need to have a serious discussion about who gets to play what character. To add a bit more flair to the strategies, the various abilities of the animals fuse together to create powerful combos that will come in handy when facing the Dark Tide foes.
Levels are constructed in a horizontal, side-scrolling manner, where environmental hazards will need to be avoided while ducking and weaving between the attacks and movements of the enemies. These run-and-gun sections are separated by boss fights that require players remember attacks and react accordingly.
There are also hidden goodies to find in the levels, such as memories that give a little more background into the animals’ history. Furthermore, the story is delivered in cutscenes as well as through text-based dialogue between the animals, which occurs as you shoot enemies and dodge obstacles.
Players that find themselves crushing the competition will be able to take advantage of difficulty settings, which sees three different options ranging from a casual experience to “insane”. This ought to provide players with another reason to revisit previous missions, with the first being to achieve greater scores.
For lovers of the shmup genre, and for those that want to imagine what their pet would be like as a spaceship-piloting, alien-defeating hero, B.ARK is looking to offer a fresh perspective of the classic experience. Look for B.ARK on Steam when it launches on July 29, 2021. It will also be available on Nintendo Switch.
The preview is based on an early Steam demo available via the B.ARK Steam page. B.ARK is scheduled to release on July 29, 2021.