Zack Zero [Review]
Every now and then we look to indie games to give us the sense of originality that many AAA titles lack in the video game industry. Indie games are able to take the risks that many big budget companies just are not willing to take. Sometimes it works great, and we get amazing titles like Flow, The Walking Dead, Journey, and Amnesia. Other times, we get games like Zack Zero.
You take on role of generic superhero Zack Zero, a man on a quest to save his love, Marlene, from the evil Zulrog. You are given a very brief introduction to the world and what you are supposed to do, which is to save Marlene, smash the evil aliens, and live happily ever after. The game does not try to be complex; you are the good guy, and the aliens are the bad guys.
The first thing that you will notice when picking up Zack Zero (aside from the abysmal voice acting) is the game’s art direction. The developers deserve some credit here, it was clear they were trying to make a visually impressive platformer, and for the most part it works. It feels like a cheesy 90s cartoon and is actually rather pleasant. The characters are rendered with disproportionate heads as well as lengthy bodies and the game has a very vibrant color palate. Unfortunately, that is where the positives to Zack Zero end.
When the opening cutscene begins, you are shown a slideshow with narration from the worst narrator of all time. The narrator overacts the hell out of his lines and as a result you just wind up feeling embarrassed that you’re playing the game. This was likely to follow up on the game’s aesthetic style, though it does not help, as the voice acting is simply that cringe-worthy.
While the environmental backdrop looks rather decent, the overall layout design of the levels is just sporadic and uneven. Pointless obstacles will be placed in your way, as well as small puzzles that would be easy if they worked. Sometimes the environmental areas you are supposed to interact with will not initiate, so when you think you messed up you actually did not and the game simply refused to register the command. The game will also freeze in specific sections on the PS3 version and the response time from when you input a command is off by about half a second.
Zack Zero is a 2D platformer on a 3D plain, but one with some problems. Players will find themselves jumping toward a nearby floating rock, failing to grab hold and plummeting to their death. Zack will fail to grab ledges that are clearly within range; being repeatedly stopped by invisible walls which will send him falling to his death and sending the player to a cutscene. This cutscene happens -every- time you die, and it cannot be skipped.
For the rest of the gameplay, you run about each of the levels smashing enemies with three elemental powers. Your fire powers increase your speed and agility, while letting you burn your foes. (naturally). Your rock-based powers are the slowest of your abilities, however they also cause the highest damage. You can hammer your fists into the ground, watching as the reptilian aliens fly into the sky and come crashing back down in defeat. Your final set of powers are your ice abilities which channel gusts of wind that slow your foes and freeze them in place, letting you hit them with another ability.
The combat would work well if using your powers didn’t also drain your energy bar. This places Zack Zero in an interesting position, as the game wants you to use the abilities yet punishes you for trying to do so. Your energy bar depletes whenever you use powers, however this same bar also protects you from incoming damage. The concept is interesting, however the execution is poor because enemies swarm you in mass numbers. You will deplete your energy through being hit or using your powers and as a result you are forced to run around the map until your energy recharges. This design idea fails because Zack is just not powerful enough to handle many of the swarms of enemies; damage or using his abilities drains too much of his energy.
You never truly feel a sense of power in the game. Zack Zero loses most of his abilities at the start of the game when he is beaten to a pulp by a large space alien. This is supposed to give the player a sense of progression, however it just does not. Your power attacks never change, only grow in strength and you’ll just be mashing the same few buttons as you get swarmed by enemies from both sides.
Zack Zero ended up being a disappointment, something that’s unfortunate considering that the game had potential. Upon first glances of the trailer, the game appeared to have a heavy focus on action and to be more challenging than other popular platformers. As the game progresses its many bugs become more evident, including Zack randomly falling through the map and the game freezing repeatedly in one spot on PC and PS3. Combat is dull, with players finding themselves pressing the same three buttons continuously in combat. Between the generic story, the abysmal voice acting, clunky controls and broken platforming sections, Zack Zero will be a game quickly forgotten about. Fear not, Mario and Little Big Planet, your genres have not been threatened by the new kid on the block.