In a world where games are endlessly marketed and every little detail is known about them months in advance of their release, it is nice when a game can just appear on the scene and surprise you. Zack Zero, the Crocodile Entertainment developed platformer, kind of does this. The game delivers a solid first impression visually, but unfortunately most of the other reasons it is surprising are less than stellar.
Zack Zero centers on the quest of Zack to rescue the love of his life, Marlene, from the clutches of the evil Zurlog. Zurlog has taken over the universe by kidnapping Marlene in an effort to trick Zack into creating a time paradox. This story is conveyed to the player via some less than inspired cartoonish stills complete with an overly dramatic voice over. It is obvious the game is attempting to emulate early sci-fi pulp adventures but it does not quite hit the mark. However, regardless of how mediocre the delivery of the story may come across, platformers live and die by their gameplay and Zack Zero is no different.
Much like the Little Big Planet series, Zack Zero is a 2D platformer that inhabits a 3D world. The 3D world is bright, colorful and quite pleasing to the eyes. Unlike Little Big Planet where everything in it operates on the same rule set, only Zack is forced to abide by the rules of 2D platforming in his world. This discrepancy has the effect of allowing for enemies to come from both the foreground and background . It can look cool but it also has the unkind effect of allowing enemies to attack Zack without recourse. This fact caused my Zack to die more than one untimely death, frustrating me quite a bit.
Even more frustrating than getting attacked with no genuine way to defend myself was the overall design of many of the boss and mini boss encounters. Taking a cue from retro platformer design, Zack Zero pits the player against bosses that attack with a simple pattern. Figuring out the pattern and navigating around it to score attacks is the base of all these encounters. Unfortunately, many of them happen in awkward locales that put Zack against attacks coming from off the screen or needing to jump with no room to do so. The final boss in particular was extremely frustrating with the boss’ rocket attacks coming from off screen.
Combat takes up a good portion of the game, and sadly a lot of the combat is less than stellar, but the combat does not define Zack Zero as a game. It is called a platformer for a reason and the best parts of the game revolve around Zack running, jumping, and figuring out puzzles. The platforming in Zack Zero is far from a perfect experience; I suffered from recurring input lag while timing jumps but the design is solid, and more importantly, quite fun for most of the game.
Zack is not your ordinary space ranger, he comes equipped with three different suit powers and, much to the game’s credit, these powers are available from the get go and they never get taken away. Use of each suit is tempered by a power gauge and can be easily selected on the controller’s directional pad. While each power does have a combat effect, they are mostly put to use in the environmental puzzles scattered throughout the world and the best puzzles effectively use all of Zack’s powers to solve.
Few games have ever had me swinging on either side of the fence quite like Zack Zero did. There are some truly great gaming moments in the game but they often overshadowed by its mediocre presentation and incredibly flawed design choices. Additionally, I ran in to a situation where the game hard froze my system, forcing me to uninstall the game from my PS3 and re-download and install it – twice. Because of these factors it is hard to recommend Zack Zero without a host of reservations. However for fans of platformers, that have finished with last year’s biggest and best releases, the game can offer a solid and fun, albeit frustrating at times, four to five hour diversion.
- Visually vibrant game world
- Solid platforming action
- Combat is a major weak point
- Narrative presentation leaves a lot to be desired
- More than a few technical glitches
3 / 5