Minecraft has become somewhat of an icon in gaming. It has crafted such a simple yet well-executed formula that many have grown addicted to. Like all successes there have been countless clones, some of which are really good and others not so much. Which leads us to PixARK, a spinoff of ARK: Survival Evolved, a game that brought us open-world survival set on an island filled with dinosaurs. This is what happens when the two worlds are combined.
It’s worth pointing out that this is not a beginner friendly game. You will be tossed into it with tons of menus and flashing prompts, so you had better get to reading page upon page of instructions. If you think that you can just spawn into the world and take everything at your own pace, then you are sorely mistaken. There are systems upon systems that you’ll need to come to grips with, including menus galore for things like crafting, skill points, inventory, maps, and a ton more. If you plan on investing your time into this game then this may not be much of an issue, but if you wanted to just jump in and build some stuff it might be rather difficult.
Once you’ve become accustomed to the UI and the systems it’s time for adventure! But you might not make it too far because you’ll soon stumble across dinosaurs that are 60 levels higher than you. This game has heavy RPG mechanics, so it expects you to level up and craft weapons and gear. That would normally be fine if the game’s RNG wasn’t horribly against you. When you start the game you will be randomly spawned onto the map, which normally sends you into areas where the enemies outclass you in every way. It also doesn’t help that the combat can get wonky at times. Sometimes enemies won’t take damage when you hit them, and other times enemies that you can hit will randomly restore their health. It’s not always clear what or how the enemy is doing what it’s doing, which makes combat less fun than it could have been.
Perhaps you don’t want to fight dinosaurs and maybe you just want to go off and explore the world. Well, be careful where you go because this game makes traversing the world as tedious as it possibly could. The game’s map makes the world look massive in size, but every time I would run off in one direction I would quickly run into an invisible wall. This is especially annoying when you are running down into a cave and you hit one, forcing you to awkwardly hop your way back out of it. On top of that, the movement is terrible in this game. Your character has weird movement animations that make even walking a chore and therefore even tasks like jumping over a block feels harder than it needs to be. That gets even worse when there is hardly any solid ground in the game, every 5 feet is an elevation of blocks that you need to jump over in order to progress. It’s hard to imagine how bad the controls are without having played it, so just imagine having to stop every ten seconds and spending the same amount of time trying to jump over a block.
As mentioned before there are RPG mechanics in this game, but they’ve infused survival elements into them as well, making the game slower than it needs to be. You have your standard RPG stats like health, strength, and stamina, but you also have stats for hunger and weather. You can eventually impact these by upgrading them with skill points, but this takes a long time. The developers clearly wanted the players to suffer for a long time before making this game any fun to play. Increasing your stats is as slow as it could possibly be, even dumping several levels worth of points into one stat will feel like it hardly changed anything at all. To be fair gaining levels in the game isn’t too hard, you could just kill enemies to gain EXP or just stand around as you are always gaining a very slow increase of EXP. There are mailboxes that offer side quests that reward you with very meager EXP, but really they aren’t worth the effort and just feel like half-baked busy work.
The atrociousness of the gameplay can all be summed up by the pure difficulty of mining and placing blocks. The most basic and key feature of Minecraft, one that every clone takes precious care in getting right above any other gameplay feature, is terribly done in this game. The blocks are much smaller so they are more difficult to hit. On top of that, there is no reticle to show what block you’re facing, so mining or placing blocks sometimes feels random. You might think this is just a problem due to the third person camera view and perhaps the first person view makes it a much better experience? Well, maybe it would if I could ever find it. Switching the views of the camera should be as simple as pressing a button, but I have searched every menu and every control scheme and have yet to find a way to change camera views. Again a feature that should be so simple and user friendly is made all the more tedious and needlessly complicated.
So I’m not a fan of the gameplay mechanics or the controls or the menus, but unfortunately the game continues to disappoint in the graphics department. It struggles to stay at just 30FPS, but more often than not it will chug on by at 20FPS. There might have been an ounce of understanding for this given how many dinosaurs they try loading on screen, but then you notice the draw distance of the map. It’s so short that you are practically circled by a void of fog by just a couple of yards out, even that might be giving the game more credit than it deserves. Adding insult to injury is the game’s low resolution in both docked and handheld play. How this game can take so many technical shortcuts and still come out running terribly makes no sense at all when Minecraft on the Switch has a smooth frame rate, great draw distance, and crisp resolution. There is no excuse for how badly optimized this game is on the Switch.
If you can somehow ignore all of those issues, then it’s worth mentioning that this game has both online and local multiplayer. We didn’t get to try out local multiplayer, as you need to play with someone who has a second copy of the game. As for online multiplayer, you can set up your own servers and have people join them, or you can go and join in other people’s worlds. Each server can hold up to 64 players, but every server I have joined only had a few. Also, it’s worth mentioning that every issue mentioned in this review has been from the single player mode, so as you can imagine the online multiplayer does not offer a much better experience. Playing with others does make this game more fun, but that’s just by having fun with others rather than the quality of the game itself. If you have to play this game at all, then online multiplayer may be the preferred mode just as long as you have a good internet connection.
I’ve done nothing but talk harshly of this game, so if I have to mention anything positive about it I guess it would have to be the art style. Technical issues aside, this game does look great. It has a great colorful aesthetic that does make it stand out from the visuals you would associate Minecraft with. While the character models are a bit rough, the dinosaurs all look fantastic. Seeing them walk around is always a treat and they have some very solid animations.
The overall problem with this game is that it strays too far from what made Minecraft so great: simplicity. Mining, fighting, and even just moving are fantastically implemented in that title, something PixARK should have copied. The fun and addicting simplicity of Minecraft has been ruined here, and that’s just the core of the game’s issues. Then you also have to pile on the technical issues and the lack of charm. The game doesn’t even have a soothing soundtrack to listen to while you explore, meaning almost every redeemable quality you can think of is just absent from this game.
- Graphics - 5/105/10
- Sound - 2/102/10
- Gameplay - 2/102/10
- Lasting Appeal - 3/103/10
Final Thoughts: AWFUL
PixARK is a Minecraft clone that should be avoided. This game offers a lot of content that is tedious to play through. Everything that should be a simple feature is made far more complex than it needs to be. When just walking around feels like a chore, then you know you’re in for a bad time. This feels like an unpolished early access experience and not a finished $40 game.