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Skybolt Zack

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC
Genre: Platformer
Publisher: Green Man Gaming
Developer: Devs Must Die
Release Date: Nov. 7, 2019


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PC Review - 'Skybolt Zack'

by Cody Medellin on March 9, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Skybolt Zack is a high speed, reflex testing, beat matching action/platformer.

For the most part, 2D platformers are predictable. Many of them try to follow the formula created by the classics like Super Mario Bros. A few try to emulate other older games, like Kirby's Adventure or Sonic the Hedgehog, and there are quite a number that go the masochistic route, as seen in titles like Super Meat Boy or Hopiko. Skybolt Zack tries to go for something different in platformers, and the result is rather exciting.

As the story goes, Earth has been invaded by a robotic alien force that has shattered the planet into several lands and enslaved all of the humans. You play as Zack, a human who was experimented on by the alien forces but thrown away when it turned out that you had failed the conversion process. Waking up on the remnants of Earth with robotic limbs, you make it your personal mission to get revenge on the robot forces, starting from the grunts all the way up to their supreme leader.

At first glance, the game looks like a typical platformer, but it doesn't take long before you notice the game's big selling point: enemies are color-coded, and those colors correspond to the buttons on the standard Xbox 360/Xbox One controller. Tap on the corresponding face button, and you'll see Zack launch forward to hit the enemy, usually downing them in one punch. As you do this, you'll notice that there's an aura around Zack that helps him target other enemies, and holding down the right face buttons increase the radius of the aura and give Zack a more powerful punch. While most enemies come in three colors, some will just be white, indicating that they can be taken out via a simple jump.

Interestingly, despite enemies being color-coded, this isn't a rhythm platformer. Your actions aren't being governed by the music, and you aren't creating beats with every attack. You may have to time your attacks depending on the enemy you're facing, but there's nothing here to hold you back if you are rhythmically challenged.

As you go through levels, you'll notice that the enemies are all laid out in a way where you can't help but constantly dart to punch them in chained succession. Often, you'll rarely touch the ground because you're dashing through lines of enemies at a breakneck pace; this is a big reward for those who are adept at hitting the correct buttons without mismatching colors. In a way, this is like a 2D Sonic the Hedgehog game, where you'll zoom through levels, and before you know it, you'll find yourself at the door you need to break down to finish the stage and move forward. Just like Sonic, the levels in Skybolt Zack may be linear, but they offer multiple pathways, so there's more than one way to get through. The pathways serve a purpose, as they lead to different stages, with those in the upper half of the world map being more difficult than the ones in the lower path. With so many different pathways leading to so many different stage combinations, it will take several playthroughs to see everything on offer.

The concept is easy to understand after the first tutorial level, and it doesn't take long before you come to grips with the rhythm and pacing. The game is no cakewalk, though, even on the easy levels. Button-mashing may get you past some of the early levels, but the game throws in a few tricks to get you to break that habit and learn the level. This includes spring-like enemies that bounce you in the wrong direction or toward spikes, enemies that are covered in spikes except for one small area, or enemies that reveal a different color once their first layer is destroyed. There are also times when blindly hitting buttons will lead you into a loop or into a spike trap. There are no pits to worry about, but there's certainly enough of a challenge.

The balance between the thrill of cutting through enemies quickly and the caution needed to advance makes for an exciting experience. That balance also extends to players of all skill types, as most people can get through the easier levels without too much trouble, but dedicated and skilled players will see the more difficult levels. The rush of getting high combo numbers is supplemented by leaderboards for every stage, further pushing you to have good placement. In addition, there are time attack modes and speed modes that cater to the competitive types, who the developers would love to see speed-running this title.

Perhaps the one knock against Skybolt Zack will come from those who don't want to rush through the game. For those who love exploring every nook and cranny of a level, this title doesn't provide that opportunity. You can walk around some parts of a level, but rarely is there a line of enemies that lead you off the beaten path. It makes some sense, considering how focused the game is on big combos and going fast, but it is something to consider for genre fans who like finding hidden stuff.

As far as presentation goes, the game gets high marks all around. The graphics sport a cel-shaded look that feels like a Western twist on the anime style, and it looks good in motion. The game holds up well with these high speeds, and while the camera is pulled back to make the characters look small, it does a great job of giving you a full view of the field while also making everything clear to see. There's not much as far as voices go, and the effects are fine. The music does a great job of getting you pumped to go through each level; it gets louder as your combo counter increases, which is a nice touch that retains the exciting vibe of the gameplay.

Skybolt Zack is a gem of a game. The focus on speed and execution is well done, but the variety in levels and enemy designs ensures that the act doesn't get old. The various pathways do a great job of adding in some replay value, and the challenge modes give hardcore players something else to work with. Combined with a solid presentation, Skybolt Zack is one of those games that may be a pleasant surprise when compared to some of the bigger indie games in the field.

Score: 8.0/10

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