Join intrepid hero Zack Zero as he fights back the alien menace Zulrog using his ability to switch between the elemental forms of fire, ice and ground! Wait, doesn’t that sound a bit familiar? Ok, lets just ignore for a moment that Zack Zero appears at a glance to be a bootlegged Ben Ten knock-off; to be honest that’s the least of this 2D platfromer’s crimes against humanity. It’s certainly very nice to look at though! The cartoony Ratchet & Clank-esque art style and colourful, busy environments made this game almost bearable for a time; truly the diamonds in the rough. It’s such a shame then that -considering they’re literally the game’s only redeeming features- the art assets have been implemented with a shocking level of ineptitude.
The awkward way the levels have been laid out makes it frustratingly difficult to tell the difference between things you can actually interact with and stuff that’s just background set dressing you can safely ignore. What’s already a pretty fundamental issue is made worse by confusing camera angles and poorly telegraphed sections where you’re required to “jump into” the background layer (à la Little Big Planet) for no apparent reason. Zack Zero is far from the only platformer to suffer from some of these issues, but in most cases it’s made up for by well polished gameplay or at the very least some kind of unique innovation. *Spoilers!* Zack Zero has neither of those things.
The game’s PR blurb promises the “playability of 2D classics” and that’s exactly what they delivered! In fact, one 2D classic in particular comes into mind: Castlevania. Ever tried actually playing Castlevania? Well, the average playthrough mostly consists of seemingly broken gameplay mechanics, untold numbers of totally unfair deaths and a fair bit of cursing on the player’s part. And in that context, Zack Zero hits everything right on the nose. The deaths come thick and fast; Zack’s diminutive health bar ensuring each one of them feels like the game has cheated you in some sinister way, especially on the occasions you die from “falling damage” of all things. Yes that’s right, in a genre almost exclusively about falling from high places then landing on things, they decided you should take damage from falling from high places then landing on things. Good call guys.
The combat side of things doesn’t fare much better either. With no real way to block incoming attacks and you myriad of elemental powers being slow and cumbersome to the point of uselessness, anything more than a small entourage of opponents is more than enough to send you back to the last all-too-distant checkpoint in no time flat. Ironically, this makes the ultra fast long range attack that comes available when your powers are turned “off” feel like the sole viable ability in your entire arsenal. As far as I can tell, the only practical uses of your elemental powers are to complete the game’s tedious puzzles and to rank up extra points during combat. Don’t care about points? Well don’t tell the developers, cus’ they were sure hoping you would!
The top portion of the screen is constantly churning out leaderboard data like “You have the highest score amongst your friends on this level!” and “KawaiiDesuDragon13 has a top score of 452,230 on this stage!” or “You are ranked 343 out of the 960 poor sods that have actually played this game!”. While it’s quite admirable that the developers would try following in the footsteps of the bigger budget titles that that go crazy for this leaderboard tracking stuff, perhaps they should’ve spent a wee bit more time on making the “Game” part a little better first?
Perchance with that extra time they could’ve made sure that almost all the 20 or so boss fights weren’t just the same 3 damn near identical ones repeated over and over? I tell you what, they weren’t much fun the first time round, and they got exponentially less fun after that. But then again, possibly their time would have been better spent ensuring that your span of invincibility after taking damage lasted for more than half a nanosecond? Without a doubt that would’ve cut down on the copious number of times I ended up stun-locked into oblivion. Or maybe, just maybe, they could’ve spent a few moments deleting that annoying cutscene that plays every single goddamn time you fall to you death. Every. Single. Time.
I guess I could use the traditional excuse of “It’s just for kids!” to brush most of these complaints under the rug, but that would imply I’m a terrible person that really hated kids. Truth is, I have no idea who this game is supposedly aimed at, all I know is that I feel deeply deeply sorry for whoever they are and whatever plane of existence they inhabit. The real tragedy here is that the individual components of Zack Zero do show at least some promise in theory. But in reality everything about this game has been handled with such an astounding lack of common sense that makes me wonder if this game saw even a smidgen of quality assurance between its initial conception and it eventually appearing it on my TV screen.
Fun colourful graphics
Score tracking features
Almost all Zack’s abilities seem useless
Difficult for all the wrong reasons
Hard to tell the difference between foreground and background