By Peter Watts
OK, I will cut the chase with this review. Hacky Zack is tough as nails. It is even harder when trying to play it on a bouncing bus or a speeding train. While it looks great on the Switch. Be mindful that Hacky Zacs cute aesthetic hides a sometimes mean, hardcore experience that will not be too everyone’s taste. Hard games are nothing new to Switch owners. We have had the sublime Celeste this year and Super Meat Boy ported across very well. I loved both those games so went into Hacky Zack expecting a tough but fair experience.
The premise behind Hacky Zack is simple, you control a protagonist who has to direct a Hacky Sack to an area in a single screen level. You do this by jumping and kicking / heading the ball. Even by the end of World one, the game is demanding you master double jumps, wall jumps, headers and perfect angles shots. It starts hard with no tutorial and just gets harder with the addition of timed areas, breakout style blocks you have to smash through, one touch death zones , moving platforms, you get the idea. There is no story although there are additional challenges you can do by passing your ball though fruit in difficult to reach areas and that’s about it. The game has 5 worlds of which I made it to the 3rdbefore calling it a day.
Adding even more complexity are dotted white lines acting as extra platforms or walls on the stage screens. Your ball reacts to them as though they actually exist but your controllable character doesn’t. This seriously messes with your mind as you have to consider both your characters physical interactions and the ball at the same time – cue many, many restarts every 5 seconds or so. If it gets too much each world has 10 levels and you can choose these in any order but the next level will not unlock until you have completed them all. So if you are finding one level particularly tough progress will be stalled. A 3 star unlock system would have helped progress but no such mechanic here.
It is actually a miracle my Switch survived the review process. I created new swear words and countless times had to walk away from the console in sheer frustration. I quickly learnt not to play it in public due to how often I would find myself dropping a F bomb under my breath. Imagine super meat boy with the added stress of managing a ball at the same time- arghhhh!
It is a charming game with a delightful art style and background music. It looks delightful on the portable screen of the switch but I quickly learnt that the Joycons were no replacement for a proper pad especially in the 3rd world where I would be looking for anything to blame for my continual failure other than my gaming prowess.
With its short single screen levels, it really is perfect for a quick pick up and play session. Many times I would be close to admitting defeat on a stage and only after hundreds of attempts complete the level mostly by sheer luck. I have no desire to ever replay levels though as by the 3rdworld every cleared stage felt like a fluke from trying over and over rather than mastering acquired skills as you find with Celeste. This to me is the main issue with Hacky Zack, it never made me feel like I was improving as a player, it just punished me continuously. I also learnt to despise the odd double jump which just feels a bit off.
If really hard, very technically demanding puzzle / platformers are your bag you will find Hacky Zack a great download. I recommend watching a few youtube videos to get a sense for the high skill barrier it demands before purchase. If you fancy a more casual experience nothing is offered here and you will hit a difficulty spike very early into the game. There are better tough platformers on the Switch. If it enters a sale and falls below a fiver it may be worth a purchase.
Overall Score – 6/10
Format reviewed: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: Out now
Spaceboy Games 2018