Zack Zero doesn’t have much of a personality, granted. In fact, he barely raises an eyebrow or opens his mouth throughout his side-scrolling, platform-hopping adventure. However, the intergalactic explorer doesn’t really need to set the world on fire with a bubbly character or cute comedy quips, or spend much time filling us in on how or why he’s ended up on a mission to save his beloved Marlene from the clutches of the evil galactic villain Zurlog.
That’s because Zack Zero is a typical superhero game, where all the talking is done through his actions and where eye-popping superhero powers take centre stage. Indeed, Zack ticks all the right superhero boxes; he’s handsome, strong, and his blue neon experimental suit looks he’s been plucked right from the pages of a Fantastic Four comic. Oh, and he’s got a big cheesy grin.
Though the narrated cut-scenes show off the slick comic-book art skills of fledgling developer Crocodile Entertainment, Zack Zero is all about the gameplay as the hero blasts, jumps, ground-pounds and puzzle-solves his way through some wonderfully designed levels in a style that reminds us of the classic side-scrollers of yesteryear.
The major difference between Zack Zero and many of those enjoyably addictive 8 and 16-bit platformers, however, are the visuals. The HD backdrops to Zack Zero have real depth to them and Crocodile uses a varied colour palette to provide a vibrant setting for the action, creating a visually-arresting world for the many quirky creatures that frequent the planet.
Among the varied bestiary that will attack at any given opportunity, there are giant robots, snapping lobsters and creatures on unicycles, to name just a few, all of which can be destroyed by using Zack’s range of special powers. Like many platformers, combat plays a major part in the gameplay, and by racking up combos and switching powers to kill foes, Zack Zero rewards players with points for global bragging rights and power-ups to increase the effectiveness of his suit.
Typical of platform games, Zack can do all the things you’d expect, such as a double-jumping, or manipulating objects with his strength, but he’s also mastered the powers of fire, ice and stone. In combat, Zack can switch between these powers to burn, freeze and blast away enemies, so there’s fun to be had out of racking up combos, gathering power-ups from fallen enemies and switching between the various powers to attack.
A large chunk of the game can be completed by simply bashing away on the buttons – as there’s only really one form of attack that requires one button press – but the variation comes through switching between skills which in turn creates a more visually impressive combat sequence in which players get rewarded for this experimentation with even more points.
Points actually turn out to be incredibly important if you’re the competitive type. Throughout Zack Zero, players are reminded about how friends and strangers are doing on each stage via pop-ups that tell you how they’ve scored. These pop-ups can be a little intrusive, but also spur you on to want to get more points through switching skills, combo chaining and looking out for the hundreds of green gems and secret treasures that are dotted around each stage. Due to the varied enemy roster – and the ability to switch powers and the rewards it gives – combat is a lot of fun; though it’s unlikely to test the more seasoned gamers.
Away from combat, Zack uses his powers to navigate the stages and puzzle solve. Using the ice power, for example, he can freeze a set of spikes so he can walk safely underneath them, while his stone-based ground-pound can smash through any area on the floor where you see a crack. With the fire power, Zack can even glide on top of it in mid-air, which comes in handy for getting across huge gaps. Along with these three powers Zack can also switch to normal mode where he can use his blade and blade launchers weapons to kill enemies. The stages are designed in a way that makes players combine all of these powers to progress and part of the fun is working out how to get from "A" to "B."
Away from the traditional path though, exploration is encouraged with treasures and green gems that are often tucked away in hard to reach places, and in typical platform style, players will find themselves pulling levers, timing jumps to make their way across moving platforms, double-jumping over traps and switching between the skills to get from one side of the area to another. This all culminates in an end-of-level mini-boss battle. Though these skirmishes are typical of the genre, requiring little more than the ability to spot an enemy’s repetitive behavioural pattern, there are some great boss designs and enjoyable battles.
The action in Zack Zero is topped off by a very pleasant orchestral soundtrack that suits the game perfectly and switches pace cleverly between the slower-paced bouts of exploration and the fast-paced fighting sequences. Overall, the look, sound and character design work together extremely well, which is quite an achievement considering this the studio’s first ever videogame.
Overall, Crocodile Entertainment’s debut title certainly has room for improvement in terms of the combat, but the studio has done well to capture all those important things that serve to make a platform game great, preying on the age-old gaming addiction of collecting things, while including a varied enemy roster and solid level design.
Zack Zero is available to download on PSN now.