Zack Zero has a problem. The evil alien Zulrog is holding his girlfriend Marlene for ransom. Time for Zack to power up his multi-elemental, nano-technology enhanced space suit, and give Zulrog the good solid kicking he deserves. All that stands in his way are some floating platforms, a lot of crumbling platforms, a heap of bloody annoying flipping platforms, and a few hundred aliens.
That’s right, it’s platforming time again and independent developer Crocodile Entertainment have released a side scrolling 2-D game that’s all 3-D enabled, high-def enhanced, and ready to download from the PlayStation network for $24.90.
So get ready to double jump, power-up, duck, dive, and duck some more as you fight your way across alien worlds, under-ground fortresses and Zulrog’s high-tech, heavily defended spaceship.
And it all looks great. A lot of time, and a lot of the one gig of data, has gone into making Zack, and all the different locations, sparkle. Although it’s a two-dimensional side-scrolling platform game, there is depth to Zack’s environment. Even if it is distracting how distant objects are blurred. But, the way Zack moves through all three dimensions, much like Sackboy in LittleBigPlanet (just without the level of control or cuteness), is very effective.
At its core Zack Zero is a platformer from the olden days. Gaps, deadly spikes, hidden switches, rolling boulders, climbing into the sky, and dropping deep underground. It’s like video games your grandad used to play [Hey! Ease up there! - Ed.]. Right down to the end-of-level bosses. And that is always a good thing. But Zack Zero also has some new tricks.
Zack - or rather, Zack’s suit - has the power of the elements. Earth, fire, ice, and normal (which is kind of air, because Zack throws a frisbee, and that’s sort of air related). You switch between the elements with the directional buttons, giving Zack different attacks and the abilities needed to solve various simple puzzles - like moving blocks of rock or breaking ice barriers.
In Ice mode, Zack can not only break ice barriers but can also slow down time and fire ice balls. Fire mode equips Zack with fire balls and the ability to glide. Although Earth mode slows Zack to a walk, he is able raise spikes from the ground to decimate groups of enemies and, if the floor is weak enough, he can smash a hole in the ground. Each of Zack’s modes is timed so when its charge runs out he returns to normal.
Although the in-game sound design is not quite the Harry Gregson-Williams cinematic opus, it is far more orchestral than electronica. This with the (now) usual online leaderboards, and the already mentioned graphics, brings Zack Zero firmly into the modern era of gaming.
The story, on the other hand a bit confusing and pure old fashioned cheese. Square-jawed hero saves beautiful girlfriend from evil monster. Probably the less said the better. That aside, you begin with a level 20 Zack, tooled up with all his powers. But, suddenly your powers are all gone. For the rest of the game - a flashback, I think - you have to collect glowing balls to level back up and get all those powers back that you just got used to using.
Flashbacks aside, like platformers from the olden days, Zack Zero lives and dies on playability. Unfortunately the game has a few things that make playing a bit of a chore. The main problem is dying - all the time. Now I’ve fallen, screaming like Maria Sharapova as I did so, into a few bottomless chasms in my time. But playing Zack Zero may have tripled my all time total. It’s one of those games that wants you to die.
For example, there is a row of platforms you have to cross. You know the deal, jump from one to the next. To make it interesting the platforms flip over in a certain rhythm, but when you’re half way across the timing changes. There’s no way to react to it or anticipate it. You die. Also, some enemy attacks carry a halo of damage. A concussion wave. So you don’t actually have to be hit by the jumping robot or fire breathing lizard, you just be in the vicinity to die. Or, if you’ve been fighting a whole level by jumping over enemies and hitting them from behind, then you get to the boss, not even a very big boss, and suddenly there’s an invisible wall that stops you getting in behind it - you die.
Playing a game that kills you is one thing, but playing a game that you know is going to kill you no matter how good, quick, or lucky you are is kind of annoying.
But, dying is one of the essential parts of old school gaming. Just like jumping, shooting, breaking boxes, electronic beats, and bosses. And, if that’s the kind of platform game you want, that’s the kind of platform game Zack Zero is.