Developer: Spaceboy Games
Release Date: 23 August 2018
Price: $9.99 / £8.99
Reviewed by Josh Brant
Hacky Zack, from developer Spaceboy Games, is a new type of single-screen puzzle platformer that's all about controlling yourself and also trying to kick a hacky sack into a goal. This unique premise makes for an interesting mind-bending puzzler that, while interesting in execution, isn’t without its faults.
Not Your Average Hacky Sack
The premise of Hacky Zack is simple, you need to hack a sack, or ball, into each stage's objectives so you can move on to the next one. In keeping with that simplicity, the controls are minimalistic yet responsive - comprised of moving, jumping, and kicking.
This supposedly simple control scheme though, is not quite as pleasant as it sounds. The reason for this being the direction you kick the ball being tied to the direction you’re moving. Hacky Zack unfortunately doesn’t offer an alternate means of aiming the ball, such as using the second analogue stick for example. It would have been nice to have a button that keeps your character still while you aim sideways, but sadly that’s missing.
The control scheme is difficult and unintuitive elsewhere too. When trying to make Zack perform diagonal jumps up a wall, it's a hell of a task to juggle the ball straight up so it doesn’t ricochet. While it was a hassle to perform weird combinations of movement and ball aiming, especially when I wanted the ball to be moving in a different direction than I was, I still found some satisfaction from pulling off a sequence of moves I thought weren’t possible in order to solve the puzzles.
Puzzling Control Design
In Hacky Zack there are two main modes, though one is entirely reliant upon the other to access. The main mode is Goal Mode, in which you are tasked with punching the ball into a golden exit portal in order to proceed to the next stage.
Whilst it sounds like a simple enough objective, this is complicated by the aforementioned movement and aiming mechanisms, as well as a myriad of obstacles and mechanics that are unveiled as you progress.
Some of these obstacles include lines that you can pass through, but the ball can’t, spiky red lines which destroy whatever they touch, and your usual switches and portals.
Some stages even require you to handle different types of balls with different characteristics. For example, one type of ball may move in slow motion trajectories or possess excessive bounciness. All these factors in tandem can make the stages extremely challenging to complete, and that's without factoring each level's bonus objective.
This optional task comes in the form of managing to kick your ball through the various icons present before punting it through the exit goal. If you want to try for 100% completion, this is a task which requires you to make your way through some exceptionally tricky areas of platforming and across the exact opposite end of the stage away from the exit.
Your reward for doing so is twofold however. Each one successfully completed unlocks a Target Mode stage related to that level, and completing a certain number of these objectives also unlocks alternate characters (though these are essentially just new skins).
Target Mode requires you to punt the ball through a number of floating yellow diamonds scattered across the stages as quickly as possible. There is a ranking system once completed that scores you between one and three stars. This mode is basically very similar to Goal Mode and only requires a little more strategy to successfully complete.
Come For The Concept, Stay For The Music
Graphically, Hacky Zack's 2D retro aesthetic, with simple yet appealing backgrounds featuring relaxing environmental art, is nice to look at and the colourful walls make it fairly clear where boundaries and obstacles are located. The art style also does a good job of highlighting new mechanics given that spikes, teleporters, and different ball types are all apparent as soon as they're introduced.
Lastly, I have to mention how much I enjoyed the sound and audio design. It actually managed to reduce much of the frustration and stress created by the gameplay. The calming ambient tone was perfect for a game like this, and probably the game's main highlight. I also appreciated how subtle changes in sound effects made kicking the ball with different characters feel unique. There’s also a multiplayer co-op mode, where another player can control a girl named Mym to try and solve the puzzles with a friend.
Overall, Hacky Zack has an interesting premise and features puzzles and physics that will challenge you in ways that can be fun, but more than likely will frustrate due to the control scheme. While it has one of the better soundtracks I’ve heard, Hacky Zack ended up feeling more like an endurance and perseverance task rather than a nice way to unwind, thanks to the largely unintuitve control scheme.
Pros & Cons
+ Nice retro aesthetic
+ Interesting gameplay concept
+ Great soundtrack
- Frustrating control scheme
- Lack of content
- Repetitive gameplay structure