Sometimes it’s nice to just sit back and enjoy a video game in all its big, dumb glory. I enjoy a mature, gripping story as much as the next person, but games like Zack Zero exist to clear the palate and bring you some instant gratification. Nothing says ‘video game’ quite like this title; a 2D/3D science fiction sidescroller, in which you play as the titular hero who runs, jumps, shoots, burns, freezes, and blasts his way through a variety of environments in a quest that, despite its very polished presentation, is exactly (or is it…exZacktly) what it seems to be — an old-school run and gun action game. The question is whether that kind of simplicity of premise is enough these days. After playing this game, I argue that it is.
Unlike some other beat-em-up games I’ve played this year, the developers of Zack Zero clearly understand the concept that it isn’t fun to have to hit a basic enemy 17 times before they die. In this game, a ranged shot will take out most basic enemies in one or two hits (and that’s not even taking into account your special attacks). The challenge here lies in dealing with enemies coming from all sides, those that fire guns at you, and larger ones who require special tactics. I got myself backed into a corner a few times, but for the most part combat is pretty easy and very satisfying. It is enough of a diversion that it requires your full attention, but never veers into frustrating territory.
Combat is beautifully balanced in that the increasing difficulty of enemies never feels out of proportion to your level, thus creating a streamlined gameplay experience. Also, bosses are just challenging enough to be interesting but have checkpoints so you don’t need to start all over if you die. In some ways, this game actually almost feels a little bit too balanced; there is never a need to change tactics to compensate for stronger enemies because your character level is so well synced up with what you’re encountering in the moment. The only issue I had with standard enemies is that there is not enough variety in terms of their attacks or how you should approach them.
There are platforming sections and puzzles in Zack Zero which are for the most part quite enjoyable. Animations and transitions between 2D and 3D planes are impressive, yet at times this part of the game can suffer from the ‘Uncharted Effect’. What this means is that it is difficult to know what your character can interact with just by looking at the environment. On more than a few occasions, I found myself jumping to my death trying to reach a ledge that wasn’t the correct thing to jump towards. It’s not terrible or anything, but games like this are all about maintaining a constant flow while you are doing things that look cool, and having to jump around like an idiot breaks that flow.
From the beginning of this game, you are equipped with powers of fire (flame attack and long jumping), ice (freezing attack and slowing time), and earth (shockwave attack and pounding holes for new pathways). Inevitably, and as with Castlevania or Metroid games, Zack Zero pulls an abilitease on you by training you how to use your fully powered abilities and then dropping your level down to the start. On one hand, it’s a clever idea because it allows and forces you to make use of your abilities right from the start to solve puzzles and access new areas. Also, your primary attack is more than sufficient for dispatching enemies. On the other hand, it removes the excitement and possibility that comes with acquiring a new skill or ability. Consequently, these cool abilities don’t really feel particularly special beyond the first couple of levels.
There has been a trend with indie games like Shank and Sacred Citadel to recapture the arcade era of action sidescrollers, and Zack Zero is one of the few that really nails down the big dumb fun of it. Tight gameplay, beautiful visuals, and a nice and easy difficulty curve add up to a pretty fun little game.
In spite of its flaws, I had a hell of a fun time playing Zack Zero. It’s like the big, dumb Summer blockbuster movies that come out every year. Let’s be honest — there’s nothing here that’s going to warrant discussion for our Game of the Year, however this game will give you a few hours of outstanding and undemanding entertainment. If you have the itch for something like that then Zack Zero is reporting for duty to scratch it.
[+Fantastic looking game] [+Fun bosses] [+Satisfying combat] [+Clever platforming and puzzles] [-Same abilities throughout] [-Sometimes confusing platforming]