Review: ARK: Ultimate Survivor Edition (Nintendo Switch)

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I’ve played ARK: Survival Evolved on Xbox, PlayStation, and PC through Steam, so I wanted to see how it would hold up on Switch. ARK: Ultimate Survivor Edition, or ARK for short, is a huge game, including all the expansion packs and DLC. How would a game as large as this work on a hybrid system? Well, before we get into that, I’ll explain what ARK is all about.

You awake in a strange land, in only your underwear, and, as the title says, your basic goal is survival. There are currently six story arks and six custom arks. Story arks are official maps with explorer notes following the main story, while custom arks tend to be larger and noncanonical. Some creatures are only available on certain maps and have their own unique challenges.

The creatures you encounter may be skittish, neutral, or aggressive to you. Some you can tame, and some are just used to harvest sources after killing. Creatures tend to have unique ways to be tamed, whether passively through berries or getting knocked out and having food put in their inventory. I say creatures because not all of them are dinos, some are mythical creatures, and some are uniquely created for ARK.

As you gather sources to craft items, building parts, etc., you gain exp and level up. (Your creatures can also level up.) Once you level up, you can add a point to boost one of the many stats: health, stamina, oxygen, food, water, weight, melee damage, movement speed, crafting skill, and fortitude. 

Your ultimate goal is to collect all the artifacts from caves scattered around the map and creature parts you can get from killing animals. From those, you go to the boss tribute stand to put the required items in and start the boss fight with your creatures to battle the boss monster in easy, medium, or hard versions of it.

Now that you have an idea of the basic premise of ARK, how does it hold up on the Switch? There are a few differences between the Switch version and the rest. After creating your character, you can usually pick the area to spawn into the map, whether it’s easy, medium, or hard. But in this version, you can’t initially; only after dying can you pick where to respawn. It seems to prefer the easier areas, though, so it isn’t too frustrating that you aren’t able to choose. Also, after you make your character, a short cutscene plays to tease the player with what their goal should be and clarifies what the story is a little bit. I really appreciate this and think it is good for new players, or ‘beach bobs.’

The graphics are muddier and appear washed out in color. The audio also seems a bit compressed. When it turns to nighttime, which is usually hard to see normally, it is ridiculously dark on the Switch. Often you can tweak the brightness by adjusting the gamma in options, but even that doesn’t help in this case. The frame rate seems sort of choppy and sluggish compared to the other versions. An annoying thing about the Switch version is that the quick item slots are only 8 boxes compared to the 10 you usually have. This might only be a thing that annoys me because I have an order I put my tools in the slots, so I needed to simplify what I really need quick access to.

Surprisingly, the online play works well, and it is cool to have a portable version of ARK for playing on the go. But would I recommend it on Nintendo Switch? $49.99 is…pricey for the quality. It’s worth it if you have no other way to play ARK, but only if it goes on sale. ARK: Ultimate Survivor Edition itself is a very good, if not great, game, but this port is more mediocre than the best it can be. While I like playing it on Switch as an existing fan, I’m not sure I would if I was new to the game.

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