In the game, you are the pilot of the Cosmic Ark. It's your job to rescue aliens before their worlds are destroyed. But if you're not careful, you'll be destroyed yourself. In the first screen of the game, you must get your ark through an asteroid bombardment. The asteroids come from above, below and both sides, but your ship is adequately protected with guns in all directions. You fire by pushing the joystick in the direction you want to fire. The asteroids come out fast, and faster and faster as the game progresses. It will often seem you're destroying asteroids just a hair away from your ship. But you won't want to waste shots, for wasting shots wastes fuel - and when you run out of fuel, you're a goner! Your fuel is represented by a red bar on the first screen of the game, along with your score. Each shot you fire burns fuel, but destroying the asteroids replenishes it, so if you're good you'll end up even.
The game really gets going on the second screen, which the ark travels to simply by rising to the top of the screen and then falling, while the background changes. Here, you guide a small scout ship out of the ark and descend to the surface of the planet, where two aliens scared out of their wits are scurrying around. It's your job to capture them one at a time with your transporter beam, bring them up inside your ship and return to the ark. But you'll have to hurry - there's an asteroid on the way! Your ship will signal an alert when an asteroid is nearing, and you'll need to get the scout ship back before the asteroid comes to defend the ark - if you don't, goodbye ark. It's preferable to get your job done before an alert.
If you get both aliens, the level is completed, you travel through another asteroid bombardment and have to rescue two more aliens from another planet. If you don't get them both on the first try, you'll have to return for the other one. After the first planet, an planetary defense system will activate, making the rescue harder - it's a rising and falling energy line that fires intermittently, and you'll have to avoid it. If you're destroyed, the aliens you had onboard or in the transporter beam return to the surface. After you're destroyed you can try again, if you have the time.
The game is based on the fuel of the ark - rescuing both aliens on the first visit gives you fuel, while you lose fuel if your scout ship or the ark is destroyed. The game ends when the ark is destroyed by an asteroid and you have no fuel left. But not to fear, like in Atlantis, there are survivors, who escape on a similar looking craft. Could there be a connection to Atlantis? Perhaps...
There is no game music in Cosmic Ark, only sound effects - the sounds of the asteroids rushing towards the ark, your weapons fire, the ark traveling between screens, the scout ship engine sound, the transporter beam, the planetary defense system firing and the ark's alert. The graphics are crisp and colorful, from the ark itself to the colorful, starry background. Changing the difficulty makes the sides of the ark extend, making defending the ark more difficult.
The two screens in Cosmic Ark lend substance to the game it
couldn't have with just one. You're on a mission, not to destroy, but to save.
These two aspects made Cosmic Ark different in its time.