The first release from independent Spanish developer Crocodile Entertainment, Zack Zero offers players the chance to explore outlandish alien planets and take on fiendish creatures with various elemental powers. This game was released with little buildup or fanfare and, while it’s unlikely to end up on anyone’s Best of 2012 list, it’s still a decent platformer in its own right.
The story is told through mostly static storyboard-like images, with the only voice over being a lone narrator. Zack, who is an explorer of some kind, returns home to find his girlfriend Marlene kidnapped by the evil Zurlog, who is offering her return in exchange for a rare element Zack found on his travels. Instead of caving in, Zack sets out to the surface of the planet Zurlog’s base is located on, and the adventure begins there.
The game’s basic gameplay is a mixture of running and jumping in a traditional 2D platformer style, with some basic combat against Zurlog’s troops and other alien creatures mixed in. In combat, Zack can take advantage of his suit’s transforming powers and switch between fire, ice, or rock powers using the D-pad. This system works quite well, with the game even encouraging switching between powers mid-battle by adding score multipliers for each switch.
Graphically, the game looks great, with an obvious care for detail and creativity in the environments. The mixture of lush, colorful planet environments and cartoony alien designs bring to mind series like Ratchet & Clank, which is certainly a compliment. It’s in the actual traversal that some flaws become apparent.
Similar to the LittleBigPlanet series, a key mechanic in Zack Zero involved having three different “layers” of terrain to switch between at certain points. However, this time around, switching feels a bit more tricky. There were many times where the controls for jumping between layers felt unresponsive, and I would end up falling behind a platform to my death. That would result in having to repeatedly sit through the same canned and pre-rendered animation of Zack screaming and plummeting down a canyon. The platforming in general is probably the game’s weakest point, as it feels both uninspired and imprecise in its design and control responsiveness at many points.
The use of your powers outside of battle also feels very routine. The rock power is generally limited to using a ground pound move on obvious cracks in the ground, the ice power allows you to slow down time around Zack to avoid obstacles, and the fire power allows you to surf through the air on a flame to cover those tricky gaps. There are actually some clever points with the flame surf, but the other two powers never feel all that special.
In perhaps another throwback to old-school games, you will die very frequently in Zack Zero; if not from falling of a platform, then from being overpowered by hordes of enemies. Thankfully, the game’s checkpoints are frequent and you have unlimited lives, so you won’t be troubled by the threat of having to start the game or even the level over. It is nice that most of the challenge comes from things that can be overcome through strategy or quick reaction times, and not from having to deal with starting all over.
Zack Zero has some elements that are strong as well as some that are weak. Put together, you have an adequate whole. Wonderful art and a good battle system will keep players entertained, but the tricky platforming and uninspired use of the player’s powers outside of battle may frustrate some gamers. Altogether, it is a game that is worth trying, but don’t expect to be shocked one way or the other by it.
Zack Zero was released on January 17, 2011. This review is based on a copy of the game which we recieved for review purposes.
Wonderful art and a good battle system will keep players entertained, but the tricky platforming and uninspired use of the player's powers outside of battle may frustrate some gamers.