Space Ark Hands-On

How do you save a planetary system from a rampaging black hole? By collecting crystals and fruit, naturally.

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With its obvious nods to Arkanoid, the upcoming Space Ark--from UK developer Strawdog Software-- wears its influences on its sleeve. There's definite brick-breaking homage here--albeit wrapped around a cutesy story starring animal heroes known as arkonauts and their quest to repair a series of planets ripped apart by a roving black hole. In fact, with its anthropomorphic characters, abundant fruit bonuses, and loopy, colorful aesthetic, Space Ark owes just as much to early Japanese arcade games as it does anything else. Strawdog Software recently came by GameSpot HQ to give us a first look at the game, which is due for release this spring.

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The basics of Space Ark are simple: You bounce your arkonaut on a bounce pad and look to collect crystals of various colors that are suspended midair. Collecting crystals will earn you points and collecting more than three crystals at once will earn you combos, a certain number of which you will need to collect in order to finish a level. At first, that number is relatively low; as you progress through levels that become more complex in design, the number of crystal combos you'll need to collect will increase as well. You can also collect fruit that will give you a multiplier to your score on each level--certain fruits are worth more than others and these point multipliers become crucial to your success.

Each level you play has a different layout of crystals, fruits, and other objects that can affect your actions on the level. For example, jumping onto a switch might bring forward a layer of crystals that were previously hidden. A series of treadmills will help you reach higher spots on a level while fans suspended midair will push you in the direction they are blowing. There are also clouds that you can use to leap off of to reach higher areas. Finally, there are the occasional power-ups you can grab that will change the properties of your bounce pad. For example, a machine gun will let you quickly grab crystals and fruits simply by shooting with the right trigger. There's also a shield that will prevent your arkonaut from dying should he or she hit the ground (rather than your bounce pad).

There are several modes to choose from in Space Ark--the main mission mode is where you'll start off, playing through each of the five worlds that comprise multiple levels with different arkonauts. Playing through the mission mode will unlock additional modes, including Time Trial, where the goal is to get through a series of levels as quickly as possible. Survival mode gives you a certain amount of time to exit a level before it's game over, and picking up a certain number of combos will add time to what you have left.

Fruit frenzy, indeed.
Fruit frenzy, indeed.

Perhaps the best part of Space Ark is the game's split-screen local multiplayer. Here, two people play on the same level, fighting to collect as many crystals, combos, and fruits as possible. It sounds simple enough, but there are some dirty tricks you can play on one another. For example, should a player miss his or her arkonaut and hit the ground, all of his or her combos will be on the ground and ripe for stealing. You'll earn bonus points for exiting a level first or for collecting all items on the level. But as a result, it's not always clear who will win a level until the final point score screen tallies up the results of all the multipliers and bonuses.

As an Xbox Live exclusive, Space Ark will let you play either with the arkonauts or with your Xbox Live avatar. The game will have more than 140 levels to play through and will be available this spring on Xbox Live Arcade. The game's price has yet to be announced.

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