Nintendo Switch can always use more cute yet challenging games to bring family and friends together, and Tic Toc Games‘ B.ARK stands poised to fit the bill perfectly. First revealed at the March Nintendo Indie World Showcase, B.ARK is a single-player or upward-of-4-player cooperative cute ’em up sidescrolling shooter about an adorable team of animals fighting to save the galaxy from villainous cyborg sea life. It’s a little crazy, but in a fun and dynamic way. We had the opportunity to speak with Tic Toc Games Game and Animation Director Marc Gomez and Director of Gameplay Mike Herbster about what we can expect to experience in B.ARK, including its attractive traditional 2D animation and some unlikely inspirations for its gameplay (Metal Gear?!).
Nintendo Enthusiast: Could you speak about your industry experience in video games and more generally in animation?
Marc Gomez: I’ve been in the video games industry since graduating as a character animation major at CalArts. I got my start at WayForward Technologies working on Game Boy Advance titles. While there, I was able to put my traditional animation background to good use on pixel animations using all the same principles. I got to work on several pixel animation projects before animation directing on Contra 4 for the Nintendo DS. My first jump back into traditional animation was for A Boy and His Blob for the Wii where we animated most of it in pencil and paper. B.ARK is the first title in a while where I’m revisiting traditional animation again.
Mike Herbster: I myself have been working in the game industry since 2006. My first title as a level designer was a SpongeBob game called Creature from the Krusty Krab. Next was Contra 4; then I upgraded to Lead Level Designer on A Boy and His Blob, BloodRayne Betrayal, (Marc G. did a large amount of the animation for Rayne’s movements and attacks.) and Double Dragon Neon. Shortly after those titles I got the pleasure to help out with design work on Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove!
How long has B.ARK been in development, and are both Tic Toc Games studios focused on this title right now?
Marc: We’ve worked on B.ARK for the past year, but we have been experimenting with different play styles for the project over several years. Members from both our U.S. studio and Philippines studio have come together to work on the project with great results.
What inspired the decision to use traditional 2D animation for this game versus other options? And how has this artistic choice benefited (or maybe also challenged) the development of the game?
Marc: Traditional 2D animation has always had this charm for me growing up, and it’s always an option I want to reach for if the game design allows for it. With B.ARK, we had a great opportunity to showcase animation on large enemies while pairing it with a deeper narrative and fun characters.
Were there any particular games or even cartoons that inspired B.ARK visually, whether with regard to animation or in terms of general art style? There’s a definite jolliness to the way the hero characters bop along and also a sense of panic when they’re evading danger.
Marc: Wario Land: Shake It! was the title that made me believe that you can make a game using traditional animation. Dragon’s Lair was cool but felt more like a series of Quick Time Events. Visually, I’m very inspired by the game Gris and all the titles by thatgamecompany.
How would you describe the core gameplay of B.ARK for those who aren’t already familiar with it?
Mike Herbster: As one of the pilots of B.ARK you’ll be traveling through our planetary system defending it from the encroaching fish armada! Players dodge, dip, dive, and duck through stages while defeating harrowing enemies and having a blast strolling through the universe.
At the very least, there seems to be some Gradius flavor in the game, among other things. What games — shmups, cute ‘em ups, or anything else — would you say may have influenced the gameplay?
Mike: The top 3 Herbster influences are Darius, Parodius, and Twin Bee!
Marc: For me, Gradius V is a masterpiece, as are most of the games developed by Treasure.
It seems cooperative multiplayer is a core component of B.ARK, with, for instance, Lucio’s Bear Shield ability being able to potentially protect the whole team from incoming attacks. You have also described a scoring system after level completion that measures “who’s been the most helpful” on the team and may not reward greedy players. How will that system be calculated to be most fair?
Mike: So our tally screens take inspiration from The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures, which gave players a chance to vote for who helped/hindered the most and dealt out a + and – to the correct players. For our tally screen we will be offering objectives like “Friendliest Helper,” which will give a heavy bonus to players who save others!
Conversely, since multiplayer appears to be such a major part of the game, what are you doing to try to keep the single-player experience enticing?
Mike: Single Player will have its own tally screen that focuses on enemy destruction, damage taken, and the fact that the player can’t be saved in the middle of gameplay like you could be in multiplayer! If you die alone in space no one can save you! 😛
How long do you anticipate one playthrough of the game to take, and what elements do you expect will add additional replay value to the experience?
Mike: We are going for a classic shooter time frame for 1st playthrough, and content being unlocked after your first completed run!
What do you believe is the unique feature that will distinguish B.ARK from other shmups and cute ‘em up experiences available on Nintendo Switch?
Mike: The gameplay in B.ARK is all about cooperation and competitive action, while also aiming to make sure players get to engage with many different enemy types and bosses!
Marc: On the art side, we definitely believe the traditional animation style and deeper narrative behind the characters will draw the player into loving the characters as much as we do.
Ultimately, this is a game about cute animals blowing up cyborg sea life that is somehow trying to take over the galaxy. How did you arrive at the decision that the bad guys were going to be things like killer robot crabs and narwhals, instead of the usual aliens (etc.)?
Marc: We wanted an antagonist close to home so we could draw more empathy toward our enemies. Both Herbster and I love the Metal Gear series and how they treat your relationships with your foes. There is a buildup behind each boss encounter, so we wanted to make sure they all had narratives you could relate to.
What release window are you currently targeting for the game on Switch? And is there a possibility of it releasing on additional platforms?
Mike: TTG is planning a Q4 release date, but as the shifting sands of time move our release date still eludes us! I’m super interested in ports to other platforms, but at this time TTG doesn’t have any confirmed plans.
When all is said and done, what do you hope is the major takeaway or sensation that players will have or feel from playing B.ARK?
Mike: My intention is to have the player have fun and be entertained by all the sights and sounds that the B.ARK pilot will be experiencing!
Marc: I tried to make a seamless story experience from the opening cinematic, to the menus, and into gameplay. I hope people find themselves immersed in the world we present to them and fall in love with the different animals of the B.ARK team!