You’d have to live under a rock to be unaware of just how popular Minecraft is with kids. And you’d also have to walk around with your eyes closed to be oblivious of how much the survival genre has grown in the wake of ARK: Survival Evolved.
Both Minecraft and ARK: Survival Evolved are juggernauts in their respective fields, and one company aims to combine them both to make a game that is of this moment: Snail Games. Its game, PixARK, essentially takes ARK: Survival Evolved and gives it a Minecraft makeover. Instead of realistic 3D graphics, worlds in PixARK are made up of cubes; lots of them. As a result, its visuals are colourful, cute and bold; i.e. perfect for kids.
A game for
Just like LEGO though, while PixARK is aimed at kids, it’s really suitable for everyone. Despite the drastically different visual style, there’s not much else separating PixARK from the more adult ARK: Survival Evolved. You can play them both in single player or online with others, for example. And when playing online you can either team up with other people or be a thorn in their side. It’s up to you.
The core gameplay is pretty much the same too. Dropped into a randomly generated environment, PixARK is all about surviving, and eventually thriving. Initially you’ll have nothing, so your first port of call will be to collect anything that isn’t bolted down that will help you to survive. Chances are you’ll amass large quantities of berries and fibres, and then also wood when you realise you can punch trees to eventually fell them.
With your materials you can head into a menu to craft helpful items, though you might need to unlock some engrams first. Even that’s quite a simple process though, enabled by you levelling up. Nearly everything you do in PixARK provides you with experience, and as you level up you gain access to more advanced engrams while also earning the points needed to unlock them.
With plenty of experimentation and some trial and error, things begin to fall into place. Within an hour or two you’ll have probably made some basic clothes, developed some primitive tools, and maybe even built a small shelter. Or you might have just run around like a maniac, seeing what’s in your surrounding area. I wouldn’t really recommend the latter option.
Of course, however you choose to spend your time in PixARK, you need to always be aware of your hunger and hydration levels. While dying as a result of a dinosaur attack is embarrassing enough, finding your life cut short because you simply failed to eat or drink is even more so. You also need to be aware of your character’s temperature, as that can have a huge bearing on things. On the whole though, PixARK feels fairly lenient with its survival aspects; they’re there, but looking after your character’s health doesn’t feel as demanding as it does in ARK: Survival Evolved.
Unfortunately, combat is where PixARK really lets itself down. Should a nearby dinosaur suddenly decide it doesn’t like the look of you, your best option is to simply run. The blocky nature of the world can sometimes make that troublesome, though. Of course, standing your ground is another option, but if all you’ve got are melee weapons you’ll just end up exchanging blows tit-for-tat until one of you falls. As you can imagine, that’s neither fun nor exciting.
Room for improvement
As PixARK is currently an Early Access/Preview Program game, however, there’s time before release for the combat to be made more exciting and involving. In fact, one of my main concerns about the game in its current state – its convoluted menus when playing using a controller – is planned to be addressed as the title reaches launch.
One issue that seemingly won’t be addressed when the game launches is the lack of tutorials, though. As it stands, PixARK is easy enough to pick up if you’ve already played ARK: Survival Evolved. For total newcomers, however, it’s not all that welcoming. There are some basic tool tips that point you in the right direction from time to time, but for a game aimed at kids, I expected more.
Cuter and more easygoing
I know kids are resourceful little blighters these days, but I can imagine many younger children – or indeed their parents – being totally lost when they start PixARK. Snail Games has made a game that looks like a child’s game, but is still effectively ARK: Survival Evolved. Without streamlining its gameplay a little more or adding in some helpful tutorials, it’s hard to truly justify its existence.
Still, I can’t deny that PixARK is lot of fun to play. It’s ARK: Survival Evolved but cuter and a little more easygoing. I can imagine many kids too young to play the full-fat version persisting with it until they’ve got down the basics, but in its current form I see it more as a game for kids to play with their parents who can steer them in the right direction. Or for grown up ARK: Survival Evolved fans looking for a new spin on their favourite game.