In its App Store description, Stormhatt Studios refers to Barmark as a game, then goes on to explain that Barmark has “no goals, no points and no death.” So essentially there is no objective to the game, no reward for playing it, and no reason to try to improve because there is no punishment. Personal definitions of what a “game” is aside, you kind of have to stop and ask yourself: what’s the point of a game without objectives, rewards, and a means to improve?
Well for one, you really shouldn’t consider Barmark a game, as it’s more of an interactive experience. Think of it like one of those museum exhibits for children. There are buttons, and when you press them, a light comes on and you see a rainbow for a second and then it goes away. You can stand at that spot all day and press that button and see that rainbow appear, but you’d never really consider what you’re doing playing a game. Much is the same in Barmark, no matter how many times you poke the pelican, it’s just going to ruffle it’s feathers for a second and then go back to being completely still.
I would disagree with Stormhatt that there is no objective in Barmark, though. A more accurate phrasing would be that there is no clear objective in Barmark. At the ends of many of the game’s zones (a random assortment of 5 from 8 total, with each new session) are machines that can be activated to change the appearance of the area in one form or another. One may light up a dark cave, or make it suddenly windy. The machines exist for a reason, and sometimes the animals will want certain machines turned on, but it’s never revealed why.
So clearly something is going on, but Stormhatt has left it entirely up to the player to decipher what.
That is, if there is even anything to decipher at all.
Because there are no objectives and nothing to do beyond strolling through the environments and occasionally turning on a machine, I’d expect the game to be a pretty flawless experience. Unfortunately, the only two things that Barmark does, come with their own little flaws.
Movement is controlled by tapping the screen to show your character where you want them to go to. Half the time, the game will not pick up your touches, and when it does, there is a good chance that the character will get stuck on an object. There is also a lot of deadspace where the taps just will not register, so you’ll spend a lot of time just tapping around trying to trigger your character to move to the place you want them to walk to.
Also, as much as I enjoyed the art style (though it reminded me a bit too much of Shelter), there were a number of graphical bugs. Certain objects would appear in front of objects that they weren’t supposed to be in front of. Parts of my character would disappear sometimes. And occasionally, the game would just freeze in between loading the different zones.
When there are only two things to do in the experience — walk around and look at things — and they both suffer issues, the experience as a whole is weakened.
Barmark is an experience, and if you enjoy staring at nice visuals or like using your iPad as a living photo frame, then Barmark is something you might be interested in. But to anyone else looking for an actual game to play, keep on moving.