California-based indie studio TicToc Games is set to release its nostalgia-fueled title B.ARK later this year. This new game from the team behind Funko POP! Blitz and Adventures of Pip is an adorable take on the shmup genre. Inspired by classic Saturday morning cartoons, B.ARK is expected to deliver some frenzied four-player couch co-op fun.
During E3 2021, TicToc Games invited us to try out a preview demo of B.ARK and get to know the game a bit better ahead of its release. What we discovered is a game drenched in 90s nostalgia, both for the cartoons and the video games that generation grew up with.
And like those cartoons and games, B.ARK is best enjoyed with friends. B.ARK is a couch co-op game and it supports up to four players, although it can be played solo.
Bio-interstellar Ark team to the rescue
In B.ARK, players have the option of playing as one of four characters: Barker the Dog, Felicity the Cat, Lucio the Bear, and Marv the Rabbit. During our preview, game director Abraham Morales explained that these characters came from the studio’s love of pets, and their desire to represent a roster of animals that have a cute flair to them and are also approachable for players.
Barker, Felicity, Lucio, and Marv are all equipped with their own ships, ready to save the world from a cybernetic fish army, known as the Dark Tide. Rather than pit the characters against an onslaught of generic, flashy robots, TicToc Games opted to design unique enemies and bosses in line with the game world they had created. Based on our time with the game in preview, there are is a variety of biomes to explore.
Players will assume the role of one of the four heroes, and use their individual special abilities. Lucio, for instance, has access to exploding bullets. Marv, on the other hand, fires homing bullets that can track towards enemies behind him. Marv instantly became a favorite of mine, as I could often rely on his homing bullets make up for my subpar aim skills.
Having each character sport their own ability kept the gameplay fresh during the preview. There’s an incentive to experiment while playing solo. Though, when playing local co-op, the screen really pops when everyone is using their ability in unison, and it can be quite a rush.
Shoot ‘em up? More like cute ‘em up
From an art style, B.ARK carries some notable homages to cartoons like Steven Universe. The game also has a flair to it that the 90s generation can latch on to and think fondly on. When playing, you could almost imagine the cinematics playing out on an old CRT TV.
From a gameplay perspective, the game takes on the shmup and bullet-hell genre. On top of that, there are small homages to Starfox, a series that inspired B.ARK in many ways. During each mission, dialogue windows will appear on the screen. Characters will deliver exposition and move the story forward this way.
TicToc Games wanted to avoid developing a game that was solely focused on catering to fans of the genre, and wanted for B.ARK to be more accessible. The game offers three difficulty levels – Normal, Hard, and Insane – so players can have a good time regardless of their level of experience with shmups. Even on the Normal difficulty, bullets, lasers, and other hazards fill the screen to a large degree. Luckily, you and your team have a decent amount of health available.
A shmup for everyone
To balance the chaos unfolding on screen, each character can dash and dodge out of harm’s way. It’s not a foolproof way of avoiding damage, as you can quite literally get stuck in between a barrage of attacks. That said, it isn’t until the harder difficulties, when the health of each player is lowered and power-ups are few and far between, that B.ARK becomes a difficult game. And even then, it never felt unfair.
The game is divided into six different stages with a tutorial and a secret level. Each level follows a standard formula of facing waves of enemies and defeating three mini-bosses in each level. Every miniboss poses its own threat.
Starship 2000 stood out to me based on its design: a starfish-shaped ship, which fired a plethora of attacks from each of its five points. It created a fun loop of dashing and maneuvering through each attack all while chipping away its health. B.ARK‘s other bosses are well designed, too.
Announced last year, TicToc Games was initially aiming to release B.ARK in 2020. However, due to development complications throughout the pandemic, it was delayed until later in 2021. Although a release date has not been set yet, game director Abraham Morales did note that more information would be coming soon.