Sometimes a game comes along that challenges the way I think about the industry, and my hobby in general. A game so bad that it leaves me in awe as to how such a thing can be produced. Zack Zero is one such game. Underneath the mediocre combat, platforming, terrible boss fights, and one of the worst stories to come out of a video game in a long time, the game is also flat out broken. For all of the effort Crocodile Games set forth, or may have, the prospect of the game itself seemed dead on arrival immediately as you hit the first loading screen.
Literally nothing of value has come out of the three hours I have dumped into this game. Yes. Three hours is the length of the game. If any game can be considered meatless this would be a good example of such an instance. Zack Zero starts out immediately on the wrong foot with an intro that seems to mimic 90s comic book styles but falls flat on its face due to it simply not looking good. The cutscenes feature a narrator, but the voice presented and script read feel more in place with an educational PBS show directed towards preschoolers. We’re told that Zack Zero and his love interest Marlene were targeted by a big bad alien for the death of its brother, so it kidnapped said love interest. Honestly, that’s the long and short of it, and we’re left with that rotted apple dangling off of a barbed stick for the entirety of the game. It starts off decently: the outdoor sections are nice and colorful, but the textures are muddled and lack a considerable amount of detail. It looks like something out of an Xbox 360 launch title.
For a platformer there is a great deal of emphasis on combat, which is painfully mediocre and features an auto-aim targeting system that ends up fighting you more so than doing any good. I found myself fighting the controls in order to get the shot I wanted, and any sort of pre-meditated plan can be thrown out the proverbial window because the auto aim seems to do whatever it pleases. The fights are the farthest thing from varied. You will encounter the same four minibosses countless times in each level. Nothing much is different from encounter to encounter, except when the game feels like trapping you in a contained area to beat monsters (smash the attack key mindlessly!) until each one is killed and the advancing area is unlocked.
The abilities from Fire, Ice, and Earth can be more or less ignored altogether. All three have specific abilities in terms of platforming, Fire makes you run faster, Ice slows down time and Earth breaks things. You can level all three abilities through combat and collecting green gems but it doesn’t feel as if it makes much of a difference. While in most games leveling up is met with, at the very least, mild fanfare, Zack Zero ups the ante with absolutely no fanfare, and the feeling as if nothing has changed as the protagonist apparently grew in strength. All three abilities are implemented in a hamfisted manner for the various obstacles you encounter. Sometimes the game would drop a gate that needs opening from a lever off in the opposite direction. While Zack possesses the ability to hover in air long enough to make it over the gate with a healthy amount of energy left the game inexplicably cuts the ability short.
It feels as if the game changes the rules in order for you to experience the backtracking it’s so proud of in order to arbitrarily use a specific ability. After all, it would be terrible if the players were allowed to use the abilities they themselves enjoyed to advance in the game, rather than dictating the experience for them. The game has yet to find a legitimate puzzle that doesn’t involve “pulling lever on the other side of the level/pushing a button”. In fact, there is only one instance in the game where something half-qualifies as a puzzle, except the answer key is literally five feet away from the puzzle itself and you have someone prodding you in text to “FOLLOW THE PATTERN TO SOLVE THE PUZZLE!” She may be there for help but I cannot tell, as the developers felt the need to hold hands throughout the game. A great deal of time they take it entirely too far as she states the obvious countless times and repeats information at any given moment. Her implementation into the game feels like an especially demented Navi from Ocarina of Time. Nothing she adds is of any value and it also serves to remind us of the embarrassingly atrocious story you have to be involved with.
There is no consequence in this game, and if you die you spawn fifteen seconds away from where you once were. This game creates checkpoints so often it seems as if the developers were scared of players ever having to put effort into overcoming its obstacles. It even checkpoints in between bossfights at different stages of health. If you happen to die, whether from the jittery jumping controls, confusing scenery, lack of direction or from one of the myriad glitches, you’re treated to an animated cutscene which features Zack Zero falling into a static picture at sub 20 frames per second. Other times you’re treated to a zoom in picture of the enemy boss which lasts two seconds and plays a laugh every now and then. The game also seems to change its mind on where to spawn you at times if you happen to die, sometimes even causing instant death on spawn not that it’s of any consequence because there’s absolutely no game over to be found here.
The glitches are numerous and frequent, some were minor, such as getting stuck into an enemy or boss. Many of them however, were level breaking. Countless times I found myself falling through the terrain or bypassing obstacles altogether due to clipping through a wall. At one period of time I actually spawned inside the terrain of a level, preventing any forward or backward progress and forcing a restart. It makes me wonder if Crocodile Games mistakenly released an in-house debug version of the actual game.
The bosses come in all shapes and forms are insultingly easy, with even easier mechanics. It doesn’t help that any excitement that could occur with the boss fights is instantly dashed once you realize the frequency of the checkpoints. There is no challenge whatsoever to be found in this game. The poor controls and no challenge in this platformer take away any enjoyment you may have had.
The campaign meanders about with no real conflict until the actual game ends, at the aforementioned criminally short three hours. The final boss fight proving to be the easiest of all. In fact, the entire final stage featured almost no platforming whatsoever and each level became shorter and shorter as the game progressed, with encounters becoming easier. The mind-numbingly abysmal plot goes nowhere, and absolutely nothing is accomplished at the end. In fact, during the final cutscene, the terrible drawings and even worse voice actor cut out mid-sentence to reveal a splash screen which comes off as a comical slap in the face. After the end of the game, I don’t remember a single character involved in this game besides the main character without some sort of reference. I cannot even remember the name of the final boss or why I even bothered taking this pointless journey.
I don’t know if there is a single redeeming quality I can make about Zack Zero. I could mention that it is a great teaching tool for aspiring developers on what exactly can go wrong in the game development process. Something must have happened to cause a stumble of this magnitude. If it weren’t enough for the middling combat and poor puzzles, the final nail in the coffin is the countless glitches encountered. As if the aforementioned combat and glitches weren’t enough, the game peppers in a story so atrocious that makes this game something that can be skipped entirely. I checked the leaderboards to see where I placed in my completion through the game, ignoring almost all the collectibles and gems for leveling up as I just wanted to see the hilariously awful story through. I finished 5th, and only the top 400 managed to post a score at all. If anything, I feel accomplished about such a feat. I feel like I was the only person who played through this game, and likely, for the PC, I may be the only person thus far to do so. Heed my warning and don’t play this game. A game this broken doesn’t warrant a playthrough of any kind and is the sort of purchase that fills one with regret instantly afterward.