While a video of a dog jumping on a trampoline might sound like strange inspiration for a game, it was the starting point for Space Ark from Strawdog Studios. It's an arcade-cum-puzzle game that features a menagerie of cute animals on a trampoline and enough brightly coloured rainbows to startle even the most hardened of Peggle players. We invited Strawdog to our London office to get some hands-on time with its wacky puzzler.
Space Ark follows the adventures of a team of intergalactic animals known as the arkonauts. In an unfortunate twist of fate, their home world is destroyed by a black hole, so they must travel the galaxy looking for the perfect planet to terraform and create a domicile. It's your job to see that they succeed in their task, lest the galaxy be overrun with homeless wild animals flying around in spaceships. The mechanics of the game are similar to those in the arcade classic Arkanoid and are based on bouncing an arkonaut into the air from a moveable trampoline at the bottom of the screen. Your character and the trampoline can move independently of each other, with an analog stick assigned to each. Scattered across each level are coloured DNA crystals, with the aim being to try to bounce your character into them and collect them all. If you collect more than three of the same coloured crystal, it will result in a combo, which will then produce fruit. Fruit increases your score multiplier; thus, the larger the combo, the better the fruit you receive and the higher your multiplier goes. Most levels require you to score a certain number of combos, as well as collect all the crystals before you're allowed to proceed.
At the end of each level, you're given a score total, which is then added to your multiplier. High scores are linked to leaderboards on Xbox Live, and you can see the scores of people on your friends list that have been playing. Ultimately, this is where the meat of the game lies, and much like the score chasing in Trials HD or Geometry Wars, it should be an addictive element of the game. Getting high scores requires more thought than simply completing levels because you'll often have to strategise how to use fruit and crystals wisely to maximise points. Some levels lay out the crystals in neat rows, while others require more thumb dexterity to guide your character over complex patterns. Arkonauts aren't the only method of collecting crystals, as many levels contain power-ups that make the job easier. We found one that turned the trampoline into a gun, allowing us to shoot crystals rather than bounce our character. Others turned the trampoline into a fruit vacuum that automatically collected falling fruit. Visually, the game is bright and colourful. Rainbow trails follow your arkonaut around the screen, crystals pop with luminescent flashes of glitter, and successfully terraforming a planet sprays multicoloured confetti across the screen. The character design is undeniably cute, and the various animals look like Beanie Baby versions of their real-life counterparts. If none of the cutesy characters take your fancy, then you can play with your Xbox Live avatar instead. The game also has a good sense of humour and never takes itself too seriously. For example, arkonauts break-dance during loading screens while many levels have silly names like "Houston We Have a Panda" and "Like a Rhino-stone cowboy."
Space Ark's premise is certainly unique, and the game looks to be an interesting take on the puzzle genre. We did have some difficulty moving both the trampoline and arkonaut at the same time because it was like trying to rub your head while patting your stomach. However, with practice, the controls soon became second nature, and we had lots of fun in our short time with the game. Space Ark is due for release in the second quarter of this year on Xbox Live. Keep reading GameSpot for a full review soon.