It’s so hard to create a good platforming game these days, just because of the legacy that other classics have lived up to. Think about it — has anyone really made a game as good as the original Mega Man series (9 and 10 not withstanding, obviously)? Or for that matter, a 2D platformer that was in the same league as Mario. These newbies keep on trying, but they’re missing that certain something to make them remarkable. Unfortunately, in the case of Crocodile Entertainment’s PSN effort, Zack Zero, there’s a lot more than a certain something missing. The game just isn’t any fun.
Zack Zero (who thought of that name, anyway?) fashions himself after Mega Man, an interstellar hero who survives an alien battle and manages to take out the alien leader’s brother in the process. But before he can kick back and rest easy with his gal Marlene, the leader vows revenge and finds a way to try and open a time portal to bring his brother back. Somehow, Marlene is involved in this, so he kidnaps her and puts the universe in peril while he’s at it. It’s up to Zack to buck up and save his girl, along with everyone else – but the girl first, you understand. Priorities…
When we’re first introduced to Zack, it almost seems like we’re in for a platforming experience that mixes the finest Mega Man-style materials with the space universe of Insomniac’s Ratchet and Clank series. At first, some of the level design is quite impressive, with interstellar enemies popping out of nowhere and fresh detail throughout, as if you’re stepping out on Tattooine – or some other sandy planet – for the first time. It’s a promising start, but the game simply can’t keep pace.
Too many problems emerge as you play through Zack Zero. First, it’s glitchy, and too often you’ll run into invisible walls that will prevent you from reaching something that’s simply sitting RIGHT THERE in front of you. Secondly, the game likes to play around with its 3D layout, even though it’s strictly a 2D game. That means you’ll have to take alternate routes at times, and sometimes even jump from background to foreground. It’s a decent idea, but it's poorly executed thanks to gameplay issues and those glitches. As a result, you’ll die – often – and soon be willing to give up the battle before it starts.
Furthermore, the gameplay just never feels balanced. It’s cool how Zack has a number of abilities in his suit, including fire and ice attacks that can actually be combined together. (For instance, freezing an enemy and then blowing him up with a fireball? Nice.) However, the platforming itself feels inaccurate, and enemies often take the cheap way out, especially bosses that take a little too long to defeat. Had Crocodile Entertainment gone with something more balanced, it could’ve easily had something along the lines of Mega Man as far as its staging is concerned. Too bad that doesn’t happen.
What’s more, annoying online messages keep getting in the way. Having a leaderboard with score updates for Zack Zero isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but Crocodile’s notification system sucks. These messages pop up like once a minute (or even twice) and cause major distractions in a game that’s already frustrating you to no end. Thanks, guys.
Lastly, the audio – ugh. The music is okay, but seems to play out more alongside campy B-movie classics, rather than something traditional like Ratchet and Clank. Furthermore, the voice acting is bad. How bad? Let me put it this way – the old 80’s remake of Flash Gordon (y’know, the one with Sam Jones) had more meaningful dialogue than this. Yep, that bad. At least the sound effects deliver, but just barely.
In the end, Zack Zero couldn’t live up to its inspirations. There’s some decent design in here somewhere, but it’s cluttered amidst unfocused gameplay, lame audio, and annoying online set-up. If you need to go with an interstellar platformer, go with the Blue Bomber. Can’t lose that way.