Leaderboards have been an integral part of gaming since its inception, and it comes as no surprise — even decades later — that developers are still making games that encourage friendly, score-based contests. Take Action Henk, for example, as Dutch developer RageSquid has created an experience that — like Joe Danger and Doritos Crash Course before it — tests our skills at completing crazy obstacle courses in record times.
Outside of its basic set-up, there’s little to Action Henk. You run, jump, slide and swing your way through a multitude of devious courses, all while attempting to set the best time possible. It can be a real rush, and it’s designed to promote replayability, but the truth of the matter is that the game’s fun factor is fleeting and frustration sets in quickly. It’s unfortunate, for sure, but it’s simply how it is with this release.
Things begin with a stylized commercial for an action figure named — you guessed it — Action Henk. He’s in fine form there, oiled and majestic, but that was before and this is now. It’s apparent that Henk has let himself go, and has become a fan of beer or food. Maybe both. Either way, he’s much more expanded now than he originally looked, despite being made of plastic.
Henk isn’t the only playable character in his game, and I wouldn’t even call him the best. Although it doesn’t really matter who you choose to play as, there’s a list of several avatars to pick from, as well as costume variants. It really depends on who you identify with most and want to use to represent you, as you use your controller to attempt mastery of each course. Keep in mind, though, that only Mr. Henk happens to be playable from the get-go, with each additional character (and outfit variant) needing to be unlocked by completing challenges throughout the ‘campaign.’ Said challenges pit you against them in tough, one-on-one races.
The campaign, itself, is broken up into different course lists, which all use the age old progression system of “Earn X amount of points” to continue. This time around, though, those points are medals, which come in metallic forms like bronze, silver and gold, as well as the ever elusive rainbow version. If you get all (or even half) of the rainbow medals, you’ll have my commendation, because this is one heck of a hard game.
Therein lies the problem: Action Henk wants to be a fun game that can be enjoyed casually or competitively, but its focus on difficult par times for its medals quickly becomes frustrating. Despite the title’s colourful and humorous look, with its pop culture inspirations and iconic posters (like an altered Jaws print and an image featuring the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater logo), it expects you to be too perfect. Any little mistake can really screw you over, especially when it comes to silver and gold medals, and the challenges are where this really shows.
Fans of the Trials games likely won’t mind such a difficulty level, but those who buy this game thinking that it will be accessible will end up being disappointed unless they have lots of patience and are willing to retry things multiple times. Checkpoints can help you learn the layout of each brief course, but they’re not very helpful if you’re actually going for a medal, because the ghost you’re facing (if you choose to do so) will always run right by you if it wasn’t already ahead of you to begin with. Honestly, the best advice I can give is to focus on the ghosts themselves, because they’re the best to learn from even if their perfection is frustratingly difficult to emulate.
This issue wouldn’t be so problematic if the controls were tighter, but they’re not perfect like they needed to be. There were times where I’d miss a jump or a grappling hook shot because the button inputs wouldn’t register, and it quickly became evident that the silver and gold ghosts had a distinct advantage when it came to using the hook to catch onto the bottom of a platform and flip upwards to land on its top. T
hings were generally just too imprecise and finicky for a game that requires this much precision in order to progress, within a genre where any minor control hiccup is magnified. Joe Danger and Doritos Crash Course — both of which happen to be personal favourites that I became very good at — felt better and were less frustrating as a result.
It also feels as if there’s something missing. Perhaps you could refer to it as a wow factor, charm or a hook, but it’s hard to articulate on paper or in print. I just didn’t feel as connected to this game as I hoped I would, despite its difficulty, and came away wanting.
There is a decent amount of content to be found, though, given that there are over 70 levels to play through, as well as bonus stages that task you with collecting coins. There’s also local multiplayer for up to four people, should you be able to gather some friends, and a custom level editor that is exclusive to the PC version of the game. For some reason, online multiplayer and the ability to face friends’ ghosts are also PC exclusive options, which is quite bothersome.
Don’t be fooled by Action Henk‘s cute and colourful look, or its pop culture-filled charm. This is a very tough game, and one that will have you squeezing your controller in frustration. Some will like that about it, and fall in love with it, but not everyone will be wowed by what this out-of-shape has been of an action figure has to offer.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with.
Action Henk isn't all that it could have been, due to some slight control issues and a hefty dose of frustration. Those with lots of patience and masochistic tendencies may find something to love, but this is a game that definitely won't appeal to everyone. It's too bad, too, because there are some really solid building blocks to be found here, in a game that takes ideas from Joe Danger and Doritos Crash Course and tries to up the ante.