Sometimes game developers make my job really easy. Sometimes they make games that are truly innovative, narratively engaging, beautiful to behold and possessed of so many virtues one cannot help but extol them. Like Skyrim. Sometimes developers make my job really easy by making games that are so horrible you can barely stand to play them, that don’t work properly, get everything fundamentally wrong to the point where you simply don’t know where to start in describing the train wreck, and may even be helpful enough to suggest a review score somewhere in their title. Like Zack Zero.
Zero is a 2D platformer that starts off with a laughable story, which isn’t bad if you’re intentionally being campy. But logical inconsistencies immediately slap you into a harsh reality: Zack’s girlfriend is kidnapped by Zulrog, and during the first stage Zack is knocked into a chasm while in pursuit. The game specifically says that Zulrog presumes Zack is dead because of this. Then in the next scene, Zulrog explains that his evil plan is to lure Zack into his lair in order to kill him (to kill the guy he already thinks is dead). And why? To steal a unique crystal from Zack, use the crystal to power a time machine, go back in time to revive his brother (whom Zack killed previously), so that both Zulrog and his brother can both go forward in time and kill Zack together. It’s like Looper, except it takes longer, makes less sense, and doesn’t give you the opportunity to kill your own younger self before you’ve had a chance to start playing this game.
Let’s get back to falling into the chasm. During the opening stage you’ll get used to Zack’s elemental suit, which assumes a fire, ice or earth form, changing up your attacks and later pretending to provide unique puzzle solutions. Once you fall into the chasm you realize that your suit was powered at its full potential, and for the rest of the game you’ll have to kill things, explore areas and pick up gems just to gain back your lost mediocre powers. It’s clear what the designers were going for, but you don’t actually feel super-powered to start off with, so the game ends up being all stick and no carrot. (Or all carrot and no stick, for those who hate vegetables and have spanking fetishes.)
Not only do the suit powers feel underwhelming, with mostly missed opportunities for clever puzzle design (you have to switch to the earth form whenever you want to pull a lever?) but their combat powers are just as easily ignored. The highlight of Zero is in the enemies you will face, as well as the pleasant looking 3D backgrounds. Unfortunately, that’s the only positive thing about either of those features, as the enemies themselves are often over-powered, attack from multiple dimensions (which confuses the game’s auto-targeting) and what boss fights there are highlight how poor the AI is. (We’re talking boss fights where all you have to do is stand perfectly still and then jump straight up every now and then.)
The environments suffer from the same depth of field issues as enemies do, which is a little disconcerting when you realize that not all platforms are on the same plane, not all platforms look like platforms, and as much as this confuses you as the player, Zack has an even harder time making up his mind. Thankfully when you die the checkpoint system is forgiving, even if it is broken – I actually died in combat at one point, my corpse fell through a locked gate, and I respawned on the other side, bypassing part of the stage.
But let’s not get all caught up in the technical details of how unique those circumstances were and what percentage of players might ever encounter that particular glitch. Let’s talk about the glitch where you’re playing the game, and then you’re not. Yep, sometimes it just stops working and crashes to the desktop, for no real reason. Fortunately, that is a glitch that 100% of people who don’t play this game will never have to experience.
SCORE: 2.0 out of 10
A code of Zack Zero was provided to Pixel Related for review