Developer: Tic Toc Games
Release Date: July 29, 2021
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Tic Toc Games
The opening cinematics for B.ark set the stage for a delightful adventure. The vintage Cartoon Network-inspired origin animation is nothing short of gripping. Without spoiling any of this must-see introduction, we are treated to a charming shmup of adorable creatures and angry robots.
B.ark begins one year after the opening scenes. A gang of misfit pets pilot space mechs in an attempt to take back control of the solar system from the Dark Tide, an armada of evil robots. Each character has a unique ship with its own defining characteristics and playstyle. For example, Barker, the dog, has shooting buddies; Lucio, the bear, has exploding bullets; Marv, the bunny, homing missiles; and Felicity, the cat, utilizes spread shot.
During gameplay, players choose a character. The game can be played solo or with up to 3 other players in co-op to overcome challenging side-scrolling, shoot-em-up, bullet-hell action. However, players ultimately need to work as a team to overcome the Dark Tide. This requires the Utilization of dashes, offensive and defensive skills, and a fusion technique using superpowers to pummel the enemy with vibrant and exciting attacks.
Navigate elegant levels on planets throughout the solar system and face off against daunting bosses with uniquely challenging attack patterns. The gameplay is simple: avoid enemy attacks. Instead, collect plutonium power-ups and health to help you continue your journey to take back the solar system. Every time you get hit, your power-ups revert, lowering your attack power and shot spread. Saving your superpowers allows you to fuse with your teammates for devastating hybrid attacks, or you can hold on to them to annihilate the boss.
The game rewards you by not getting hit. Your attack power increases with power-ups and makes the level and its bosses easier. You can dash through small projectiles giving you a chance to get out of sticky situations. During my playtime, I could only access the single-player mode, but I could only imagine how much fun and exciting co-op would be. However, I noticed that on-screen displays were distracting.
Each level has three difficulty settings adding to the replay factor. Easy difficulty is challenging enough, but as you acclimate to shooting patterns, upping the ante proves to be as exhilarating as it is difficult. Adding to the challenge are level obstacles and moving platforms to hinder your progress. Enemies have homing missiles, and enemy orbs can stick to your mech, slowing you down and all but eliminating your opportunity to dodge enemy projectiles.
The enemies are creative and dynamic, from robot Kraken to axolotls and metal manta rays. All the enemies and bosses were fun and unique. The main characters themselves all have backstories that played out in the communication before the start of the levels. Completing levels with corresponding characters unlocks a character’s “memories,” a collection of beautiful illustrations showing how the Dark Tide has affected them and brought them all together.
B.ark shines. The traditional 2-D animation is stunning, and gameplay gives off that retro shoot ’em up feel with modern sensibilities. Some features go underutilized and crowd the screen, but that doesn’t take away how excited and diverse the gameplay is. This feels like a Saturday morning cartoon and offers multiple difficulty options and characters to approach the shmup experience no matter your skill level. B.ark happens to be as strong as its bite, and it shouldn’t be overlooked.
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