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Of all of the survival sim games that I’ve tried, I found Ark: Survival Evolved among the most complicated and unforgiving. You would think developer Snail Games would want to tone down those elements for its family-friendly PixArk adaptation, but it didn’t — and I think that’s why it works.

PixArk is a voxel-based take on Ark that is available now for $25 on Steam’s Early Access portal for unfinished games. It combines the mechanics and systems of Studio Wildcard’s intense dinosaur survival sim with the visual style of Minecraft. This enables a broader audience to come in and try PixArk because proper Ark goes for a photorealistic look that makes everything feel more violent. But while the blocky graphics give PixArk access to younger players, it’s Ark’s deep crafting system and animal-husbandry system that should win kids over.

When I think about Ark, two things come to mind: its massive library of craftable items and riding dinosaurs. And I think both of those things excel at providing the kinds of challenges that enthrall young people.

When I open the crafting menu and see dozens of potential things that all require different materials, my eyes glaze over. But Minecraft has proven that a lot of kids love throwing themselves into a system like that. They love that it is something that seems overwhelming but is ultimately an obstacle they can master. Kids also tend to love experimenting and figuring out how various tools and building structures work. PixArk gives them a chance to do that.

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PixArk also fully embraces Ark’s animal system. You can tame beasts and keep them in pins, but you can also build saddles to ride them as well. It isn’t exactly the same, but it reminds me of Pokémon. In the way that young players learned all of the characteristics and abilities of their favorite pocket monsters, they can do that with Ark’s menagerie of dinosaurs and large mammals. While you might start out riding a lumbering phiomia, a patient player will eventually work their way up to flying dinosaurs.

PixArk can also work for older players. I am still having a good time even if it’s not a revelation. But PixArk has an opportunity to reach a new audience here, and that is the story with this game. And it’s one that could pay off as it continues in Early Access and continues to get new features.

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