Zack Zero came out of nowhere on PSN and provides some platforming thrills, but unfortunately, provides far more frustration. It’s rather unfortunate too, since the idea of having a game centered around a character with a super-powered suit is a good one. You start off having access to a fully-powered suit that alternates between his default powers and three elemental ones, basically turning him into a version of the Thing, the Human Torch, and Iceman before having most of your power stripped away ala the Metroids or more recently, Shadow Complex.
Switching between each power is as simple as pressing a direction on the d-pad. His regular getup allows him to do double jumps and use a boomerang blaster to get around. However, each other power is vital as well. Sometimes, you’ll need to use the Earth form to smash objects like the Thing, or use its increased weight to avoid wind gusts that knock the other forms around into peril. Beyond their obvious projectile uses, the ice and fire abilities make traversing the world easier. You can freeze time with ice to avoid spikes, while fire-surfing is a great way to clear a long gap. Each form feels different enough to make them all seem like worthwhile inclusions, and they give the gameplay some variety. Being able to switch between planes also keeps things from getting old - at least in theory.
Unfortunately, much of the gameplay is quite flawed. The hit detection is faulty and will cause many needless deaths as a result. Sometimes, you’ll have major damage registered via an enemy attack that didn’t come close to hitting Zack’s character model. In the case of boss battles, this can lead to some speedy deaths because of how powerful their attacks are. Falling deaths are a bit more common than they should be due to the poor usage of multiple planes ala LittleBig Planet, although not as well done. It’s hard to tell where one plane begins and the other ends, and there’s sometimes a delay in pressing either up or down to get to the desired plane. Moreover, there’s an annoying little cutscene that plays every time you plummet to your demise. These vary along with the level, but still get quite old. It’s a theoretically minor thing that winds up being one of the biggest annoyances during the actual game itself since it takes up so much time over the course of even just a single stage - let alone the full game.
There are also points where you’ve caused one enemy in a group to explode, resulting in other enemies being completely covered and getting in free hits - something that can also happen after one of those ever-present camera cuts, which come back just in time for enemy’s attack to damage you, but not giving you enough time avoid it. This same issue comes up due to foreground elements like buildings blocking your view and even respawning at an area where you can’t attack until after you’ve taken one, or just having the game simply not respond to your button press. Issues like this are game-breakers because while they can be overcome to a degree, they add far more frustration to the game than it should have.
Thanks to the multiple powers, combat is at least varied and can have some depth to it if you change forms during battle, but usually amounts to facing a few waves of generic enemies, solving a puzzle or two, beating more enemies, solve something else, and then fighting a boss. This formula drags during extended play sessions, but in very short bursts, it can be fun, and unlike a lot of platformers, you can actually play this in short bursts without losing a lot of progress. The developers have placed liberal checkpoints throughout each stage, so if you get frustrated and want to take a break, you can come back to an area pretty close to where you left off - you don’t have to worry about losing your progress for a given level. It’s a little thing, but really does make things easier on the player, so I’ve got to give the developers some credit for that.
Zack Zero’s environments look lush, but given that its graphics also make it harder to navigate the world than it should be, they’re also a bit of a hindrance. There also isn’t a lot of visual variety within each stage, leading to stages seeming more repetitious than they should. Character models are also a bit too bland for my liking, although the fire power does result in an impressive flame effect around the character and some nice lighting effects as well. The main game’s animation isn’t all that impressive, but between-stage motion comics look nice and sharp, with the right mix of animation and traditional comic book styling.
The game’s udio is pretty decent overall. The sound effect work is pretty generic, but gets the job done while the music isn’t memorable, but has a nice, heroic vibe to it that fits nicely. The voice work is largely campy and fits the Silver Age of comics nicely, so it’s something that won’t bother fans of it, but probably won’t be enjoyed by fans of more serious fare.
Overall, Zack Zero does a few things well, but doesn’t offer a very fun or satisfying platforming experience. Important parts of the gameplay like the actual platforming are flaky and the combat can be flat-out broken at times. I really wanted to like this game more than I did, but it just doesn’t offer enough fun for any sustained length of time. It’s impossible to recommend for a purchase at full price, and even if it gets a 50% off discount, it’s a maybe at best.
This review is based on a redemption code for the PlayStation Network release of Zack Zero provided by Crocodile Entertainment.