There Once Was a Facepalm
Zack Zero has a serious issue. And no, it is not rescuing his lady friend from the evil Zurlog, traversing floating platforms, or fighting aliens in a suit with elemental powers. Zack Zero’s biggest problem is that it is a clunky mess inundated with inconsistent gameplay and unintuitive controls. It has some interesting ideas and novel tricks up its sleeve, but the amalgamation of the former with the later results in a bland cocktail that leaves a peculiar and unpleasant aftertaste. I am being polite.
Understandably, story may not be of the most paramount importance to some, but even in the most apathetic titles, story can help drive the tale forward, providing narrative bridges between different scenarios. However, there is a very clear difference between a bad story, and one that feels like it was penned by a unwilling child in a sci-fi writing competition that his overbearing parents forced him into. I understand satire, and I get the thinly veiled self-deprecation of games like Borderlands, but this is neither. From the set up, to the selection of names, to the language used to depict the “comical” undertone of this allegedly brave and noble quest, the story feels tasteless, uninspired and unimaginative.
The voice-acting is no better, with the narrator sounding like he would rather be nursing a double scotch at a dimly lit bar, than deliver these lines with the slightest bit of genuine enthusiasm or emotion. The various levels in the game are divided by minimally animated, wince worthy cut scenes. These continue the dismal voice-acting, arbitrarily driving the alleged plot forward. Honestly, it may have improved the game a little if these had been scrapped altogether. But wait, this is not the worst part. The worst part is that it unapologetically ends without resolution and on a cliffhanger. “See you in the next adventure of Zack Zero.” God I certainly hope not.
Elemental Suit Zero
The basic mechanic in Zack Zero is the nano-powered (magical?) suit that he dons to fight the forces of evil. It has a normal mode, and a fire, ice and earth state. Each mode allows for a unique set of abilities that can be used to solve puzzles, glide across precarious drops, or breaking through the environment to new or hidden pathways. You can also use combinations of your suit’s various powers to wreck havoc, like freeze enemies, and then switch over to earth and pummel them into disintegration, and doing so also earns you extra points. It is a fun dynamic, if it was not limited in scope, or stagnated by inconsistent platforming.
That being said, there is a distinct lack of an imaginative push behind the powers. It is almost as if someone came up with the idea, built a game around it, but never fleshed out how it could function to enhance gameplay, rather than be used at strategic points to break through the umpteenth structurally unsound floor section. The suit is cool, but the implementation of how it could have impacted gameplay and the environment is rudimentary at best. Ice freezes. Fire burns. Earth shatters. The true travesty is that games like Magicka have already fleshed out how to intelligently combine elemental powers to create a visual masterpiece that is easy to pick up, difficult to master, and incredibly entertaining in between. Zach Zero could have learned a thing or two (or seventeen) from it.
Uh, it didn’t crash?