There’s nothing wrong with trying to design a platformer that appeals to the old school. A lot of us grew up playing games on the NES, SNES or some older system, and fondly remember the good ol’ days where the likes of Mario and Sonic truly got their start. But even with the boldest original idea, your platformer doesn’t stand a chance if the gameplay isn’t solid enough. There are countless Genesis games we can easily point out that suffer from this issue. And, sadly, Crocodile Entertainment’s Zack Zero is stuck right alongside them.
In the game, you’re a space hero who’s kicking back with his lovely lady Marlene, after successfully stopping an alien conquest that results in the death of its leader. But his brother, Zulrog, isn’t taking the death so easily, and wants to use a time vortex to save his brother. He needs Marlene in order to activate this, so he orders her kidnapping, putting Zack back into action to save her. It turns out there’s more at risk than you might think, as Zulrog’s plan puts the entire universe in danger. He needs to act fast.
Zack Zero has a lot in common with other 2.5-D platformers, similar to the Klonoa games and the recently released ScaryGirl. You’ll move along 2D planes while running around in a 3D environment, moving your way up platforms and occasionally jumping into the background, ala LittleBigPlanet, for further exploration. At first, Zack Zero’s worlds are quite visually appealing, coming across like an interactive cartoon. It’s almost as inspired as Insomniac’s Ratchet and Clank games when it comes to interstellar design.
But this design also has flaws. There are times you’ll need to navigate trickily placed ledges, some of which result in untimely deaths. Also, switching back and forth between two planes is unnecessarily frustrating, as is moving along an alternate path, which should be as simple as just pressing in one direction and going with it. What’s worse, invisible walls and glitches get in the way, signs of a rushed product.
This, combined with the combat gameplay, becomes a real hassle over time. Zack isn’t the nimblest of heroes, and his double jumping takes getting used to when it comes to out-of-reach distances. Furthermore, his routine combat attack is kind of dull. He does have access to special suit abilities, including fire and ice attacks, which he can combine together to perform combos. These are interesting, but not nearly inventive enough to really overshadow the problems that exist with the general gameplay. And some of the enemies can be really cheap, especially some of the later bosses in the game.