PixARK Nintendo Switch Review

June 14, 2019

Whether or not you’re a fan of survival games, you’ve likely heard of Studio Wildcard’s ARK. Dropping you into a world filled with murderous dinosaurs and prehistoric animals, with a smattering of mysterious Sci-Fi elements, the game rapidly gained a massive following. After spending many hours on PC and Xbox One, I was ready for something slightly different – queue the announcement of PixARK, a Minecraft-esque reimagining of ARK. With a new artstyle and a world/crafting based on blocks, the promise was there for a great game. However, the reality of PixARK is far from it.

For those who haven’t played a survival game in the past, the name of the game in PixARK is to be dropped into a random place within a region and survive. How you do this is up to you, as the game throws you directly into the deep end with only the slightest of tutorials. Want to be a pacifist and live on berries, avoiding combat at all costs? You can do it. Want to murder everything around you and raze the world for all of its natural resources? Have at it. PixARK is all about eschewing formal narrative to give you a sandbox to build your own narrative experience. There are quests you can find, which have you performing tasks that help you learn a few more of the detailed mechanics in the game, but beyond that you’re left on your own.  What this means, however, is that if the game’s systems and world don’t interest you, PixARK has little to offer.

The original ARK was known for how punishing its world and systems could be, but things in PixARK are much more leisurely. Unless you specifically alter the settings in your game world, you can live for a good hour or two before you really start feeling the pinch of starvation. Because of this, there’s little tension to the game beyond worrying about high-level predators that are out to eat you. While I can appreciate a slightly more leisurely and less harrowing experience, a bit of the magic behind the survival genre is lost in PixARK. Fortunately, you can freely tune the settings of your own game instances to make it the experience you want. This lower difficulty level moves into death as well, as you keep any equipped items upon death, just losing the other contents of your backpack. There’s a definitive level of accessibility to PixARK that is both refreshing and somewhat disappointing.

Beyond this, PixARK is a complex combination of systems and interactions that are hampered by poor controls and implementation. Interacting with blocks in the world requires pointing the camera directly at them, but by default the game doesn’t have a reticle (this can be enabled in server settings) so this can be a frustrating experience. It’s especially frustrating when you’re trying to build structures, as the block placing requires a particularly finicky level of precision. Crafting and levelling up are both integral to your survival in PixARK, as you build what you need to live, increase your stats and learn new crafting recipes – thus improving your survivability. All three of these are done within highly complex menus that are nothing but horrific to use. Movement within the menus is locked to cardinal direction inputs, but nothing within them is properly aligned, leading to these inputs to move your input in weird directions that don’t match what you  have pushed. It got to the point where I decided to just enter the game’s menus the absolute minimum amount possible. When interacting with the most fundamental systems in your game is an act of frustration, there is something incredibly wrong.

A criticism levied at the Nintendo Switch port of ARK was that it was a blurry and a poor running port. With a newer, low-poly art style you’d expect that PixARK wouldn’t have any issues running on the Switch, but that’s far from the truth. PixARK employs a clean, blocky art style that is fun to look at, but is largely lacking in detail. Despite that the game isn’t able to hold a steady framerate, often chugging when multiple things are happening, especially when the lighting or weather effects – both of which are the highlights of PixARK graphically – kick in. Accompanying this is a draw distance that is utterly atrocious. While some very distant points of interest are always present on screen, the view distance maxes out at something like 50 metres, with absolutely nothing drawn in beyond it. I’m not talking about hills with details popping in on them, I’m talking complete landmasses being invisible until you’re almost upon them. The Nintendo Switch certainly isn’t a powerhouse of a console, but games like Breath of the Wild and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 have shown that it is capable of so much more than what is happening here.

PixARK had the potential to be a great new survival/crafting game but falls into multiple traps that pull it down. The game runs terribly, its menus are a nightmare to navigate and there is little to propel you forwards. The lower default difficulty level could appeal to some, but you’d be better spending your money on any number of other games based on survival or crafting.


- Lighting and weather effects look good
- Lower default difficulty could appeal to some


- Game runs poorly
- View distance is largely stifling
- Textures almost entirely lack detail
- Menu navigation is utterly atrocious
- Controls are finicky and frustrating

Overall Score: