Originally the product of a game jam that evolved into a fully fledged game, HackyZack released on Steam back in 2017 before making its way to Switch a year later. Now the challenging platformer is heading towards a release on PS4 and it’s one you should approach with caution. This precision platformer isn’t for the fainthearted.
HackyZack does some new things in this genre. Unlike a lot of other ultra challenging platformers where the idea is to get from A to B while avoiding obstacles, this title asks the player to kick a variety of balls from one spot on a level to a goal, while keeping both the character Zack/Mym and your ball away from obstacles. It’s basically hacky sack (see what they did there?) in a platformer.
To get the ball from one side of a level to another, you have to kick it. Get close to the ball and a circle reticule appears around it with an arrow pointing in any of the 8-wind compass directions. Whack the square button and you’ll punt the ball in the direction you’re pointing. You control the direction of the ball with the same stick that you move your character so it’s quite intricate and a tad fiddly but it’s a pretty ingenious solution to 2D platforming football.
The Goal Mode for HackyZack, made up of 6 themed game worlds and 54 levels, goes from painfully simplistic to mind blowingly difficult in the space of 11 levels and 20 poultry minutes. The initial learning curve here is less of a curve and more of a cricket bat to the cheek bone before it levels out. To begin with, you have to navigate white dashed lines which effect the flight of a ball but allow you to jump right through them. Simple enough. Next up are Switches that are only activated by a ball and often time out, and a new type of ball, a beach volley ball that’s bigger but has a little more bounce too it. Then there’s blocks that bar/help your progress but are destroyed as soon as the ball touches them. Light weight balls and Portals which instantly transport a ball from one spot to another, carrying its momentum with it. Each new world adds a new level complexity which build upon one another.
For the most part though, HackyZack is all about trial and error and error and error and error and error. A quick glance at any of the levels in this game will normally give you a good understand of what you need to do to proceed. Pulling that off though, is a whole different story. Kicking up, double jumping, kicking up again, one more jump off a wall ride and you’re kicking the ball up and right towards to gap, hitting a switch on the way through. It’ll be 30 times until you’ll get it right but when you do, it’s such a gratifying feeling.
For an added challenge, each of the games 54 levels has a sticker in a hard to reach location which can be collected by hitting it with the ball. Hitting this sticker opens up a new version of the level in Target mode which removes the goal from play and instead, tests the player to hit a number of floating targets in the fastest time possible. Hitting these stickers is entirely optional but some of the Target mode levels are great and worth the extra frustration spent in getting them.
HackyZack is one of those games that has obvious objective quality. You can see the smart design choices that go into the level design, the millimetre exact placement of walls and obstacles and the way the mechanics have been balanced to provide a persistent challenge. It’s a game that constantly throws something new at you to consider and does so in a hands off way that forces you to learn on your own.
Subjectively though, HackyZack isn’t quite as appealing as its peers, at least to this critic. There’s some design decisions that have left me thinking “…Why do that?”. For example, when you double jump with Zack/Mym, the character flashes in and out of visibility for a moment. I’m sure there’s some valid reason for this but for the most part, it just makes the game a little hard to read. The same can be said about a circular wave that expands from a kick location, distorting the background.
As for visuals, HackyZack has a bold and clean art style throughout that leans into the SNES/arcade pixel art style successfully. This style really helps to portray information quickly to the player so that just a cursory once over of a level can tell them everything they need to know. The backgrounds are never too busy to distract from the foreground action too. The soundtrack is an excellent mix of funky nu-jazz and electronic beats which complements the art style while acting as a soothing balm to the tension the game play can create.
So HackyZack is a tough precision platformer that makes the most of its unique hook of combining ball control and platforming without being revolutionary. A hands off approach to presentation and framing means the initial learning curve is a tall one and there’s some questionable effect choices in there, the visuals seemingly doing more than was probably necessary and in doing so, busies up the screen more than it should. Still, when everything comes together after many failed attempts, HackyZack can be a satisfying experience.
HackyZack is available now on PC and Nintendo Switch and will be kicking off on the PS4 (review version) on February 12th, 2019 in the US and 13th in Europe.
Publisher: Humble Bundle /
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we recieved a copy of the game from the publishers. For more information, please see our review policy.
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