If you’re anything like me, you probably had zero idea what Zack Zero was a week ago. The game seemed to materialize out of nowhere and appear on the PSN release list. In my experience, this tends to be a bad sign, but it turns out that this is actually a pretty solid 2.5D platformer.
Zack Zero is the first game from Crocodile Entertainment, a small development studio in Spain. In it, players take control of the game’s titular character in a fairly standard “awesome space guy must save the girl, stop the bad guy, and save the world” storyline. You’ll fight enemies, solve basic environmental puzzles, and defeat some pretty cool bosses as you make you way through an enemy base, an underground cavern, and a prison on your quest to save your fair maiden Marlene and take down the evil Zulrog. In-game dialogue is limited to simple text bubbles, but cutscenes play out in an animated comic book style, voiced by an over-confident and somewhat campy sounding narrator. I could easily take it or leave it – nothing about it is truly noteworthy, but none of it is so bad that it takes away from the overall experience either.
Though it’s a 2D side-scroller, everything is fully rendered in 3D. Enemies, environments, and Zack himself are all crisply rendered and lit and vibrant color abounds. I found the graphics to be pretty impressive, especially for a PSN game. Enemies will emerge from different parts of the environments, platforms will be at different depths, and Zack will even curve around objects in the environment as he moves past them. The developers do a pretty good job of preserving this perception of depth by automating everything that could potentially become problematic. Zack automatically aims slightly up or down when shooting at enemies and automatically transitions between foreground and background layers when jumping between platforms. It all works well, most of the time, with only a few frustrating exceptions here and there.
Zack’s basic abilities include a blade launcher that can reach enemies at a decent range and the same button will automatically trigger melee attacks when enemies are in close proximity. In terms of navigating the environment, a double jump and a ledge grab make Zack a pretty nimble guy. The game’s most notable game mechanic is Zack’s experimental nanotech suit, which allows him to switch into 3 other modes: fire, ice, and stone. Each one provides a separate set of unique abilities, all of which become more powerful as you level up. The leveling system essentially boils down to a simple “the more stuff you collect, the more powerful you’ll get” progression, but having a regular trickle of improvements throughout the course of the game is certainly a welcome inclusion.
My time with Zack Zero was mostly a positive experience, but there were a couple of rough edges here and there. As much as I enjoyed the feeling of depth created by the 3D visuals, there were a handful of times where I had trouble jumping to a platform in the background while positioned in the foreground. Nothing too terribly infuriating, but a bit annoying nonetheless. Think LittleBigPlanet, but with slightly less manual control over which layer you’re positioned in. Falling deaths end in a brief cutscene that depicts Zack plummeting to his death. They’re aesthetically pleasing, but the repeated viewing of the scene quickly grows tiresome in some of the trickier platforming sections. Short intro scenes that begin each boss fight are also unskippable, which can lead to some mild annoyance when you repeatedly die during a fight and are then forced to sit through the scenes again and again.
Minor quibbles aside, Zack Zero is the very definition of a pleasant surprise. Just a week ago, I had literally never heard of the game and now it joins a growing list of solid downloadable platformers available on the Playstation Network. With recent releases like Rochard, Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken, and Sideway: New York, fans of the genre are definitely being well served.
UPDATE: While playing Zack Zero, I encountered a few system lock-ups. I did not hold this against the game when considering my review score, as the game hadn’t officially come out in the U.S. yet. Since I was able to successfully play the game without issue after signing out of PSN, I had assumed that it was somehow related to leaderboards or some other network-related issue that might be alleviated once it was officially released. I’ve since learned that this is not the case and the game still does tend to lock-up if you’re signed into PSN. Crocodile Entertainment are aware of this issue and are working to address it. Please read this post on the Zack Zero site regarding the matter.
Score: 4 out of 5
Recommended if you like:
* 2.5D platformers
* Comic book-style action heroes
* Supporting indie developers
* Multiple suit modes with different powers
* Crisp, colorful graphics
* Finding hidden collectibles
Zack Zero was provided for review by Crocodile Entertainment. For more info on how VGH approaches game reviews, please read our reviews philosophy.