There’s something to be said for the unassuming charm of a slightly obtuse puzzle platformer, where traversal can be slowed to a crawl and each and every move takes consideration. Perhaps we take progression for granted in the typical platformer, where often a test of reflexes prevails over anything else. When the knowledge of how we traverse forward is removed from the fold and the player is instead forced to define it, you get an experience that compels cerebrally rather than through obligatory bells and whistles.
HackyZack is a puzzle platformer that could be roughly broken down into two cups of the former and one of the latter. Holding true to the titular pun, your character is a mere peripheral to the feats of flight each level relies on. Whatever projectile rests at your feet at the start of the level must be volleyed to the finish line, obstacles be damned. It sounds simple, and at its core, it is. I was immediately reminded of the supplementary snail shell punting in the Fancy Pants Adventure titles and there’s an inherent limit to the game’s scope that aligns it with the ethos of Flash engine puzzlers. Nonetheless, this is hardly to the game’s detriment as it allows puzzle design alone to be the title’s focus, and leaves minimal room for padding to get in the way.
HackyZack’s arrangement is no more impenetrable than a puzzle book, each brain-tweezer stands alone and occupies a single fixed-screen. Nonetheless, it distinguishes itself and poses a persistent challenge to players by orienting gameplay around a constant juggling act. Players must account for both the projectile’s trajectory and their own 24/7. If either darts off-screen the level must be repeated. This is introduced through a few softball levels in the first world but quickly proves uniquely demanding.
Controlling the ball’s kickoff trajectory with the same analog stick as your player’s movement can result in some minor frustration, but nuance between player movement and projectile aim can quickly be understood. Additionally, levels only run about thirty-seconds apiece once you’ve figured them out, making the inevitable need to repeat them an easy pill to swallow. The difficulty curve can be a bit all over the place, but each piece of the puzzle is fully-defined in its purpose, never making a sequence misleading or unfair. The game is also a bit generous with level unlocks rarely restricting players to a single puzzle that requires immediate completion.
Each of the six worlds introduces a new gameplay mechanic and applies it to stages of varying difficulty that nonetheless gradually complicate matters. My favorite was World 3, the “Self-Destruction” level set that positions layers of Arkanoid style bricks ahead of your projectile’s destination. This is a double-edged sword by design, as the same projectile can do you in by knocking platforms out from under you.
The panicked multitasking that ensues level-to-level is subject to minimal diminishing returns. Different types of projectiles and even multiple projectiles at once are introduced additionally and pose unique threats to players. I never quite hit a wall in my playthrough, but levels are always clever and will gladly outpace player reflexes. The subtext present in each world being titled after a personal stressor is fleeting, but it fits the respective challenges that unfold. More than that, it maps an endearingly good-natured spirit to how the game designs its puzzles. Challenge can approach blistering highs, but is never fodder for rage-quitting and is additionally brought down to earth by a pointedly empathetic tone.
HackyZack’s general presentation is restrained but resoundingly warm. A unique piece of soaring downtempo instrumentation underlies each chapter of the game. Its tone is so relentlessly soothing it’d probably accompany Enya’s teatime, but textures are varied and subtly daring enough to make for intriguing relistens as you meet your doom repeatedly. Graphically, backgrounds are static and graphics are content to just be likable rather than revolutionary, but the simple color palette is measured enough to avoid becoming garish.
Rather than overloading the game with flashy spectacle, HackyZack makes sure no element grates and environments are efficient enough for chaos to result from mere mechanics. The frantic movement asked of your character throughout offers very straightforward gratification beneficial to speed-runs and impulse play. Though I was never quite blown away by HackyZack’s core campaign, I was consistently enticed to return to it. For a week’s length, I possessed the sort of casual addiction to it mobile games are said to induce, only now supplemented with inspired gameplay.
Beyond the four-hour affair at the center, an additional “Target Mode” is offered as you pick-up collectibles in-game (a substantially greater challenge than merely getting to the end). These reuse the level designs from the main campaign, but instead reward kicking your “sack” (be it beach ball or fire projectile) across the environment as a means of striking multiple targets. It’s a less cynical redesign than it may appear, and it’s a tough battle to get to it in the first place as scoring the collectables that unlock these levels makes for the most challenging platforming in the game.
HackyZack’s modest content stacks on-top of itself, expanding the game’s length organically without becoming wholly redundant. So long as the intuitive mechanics central to the game have won you over, it’s a smooth, entirely enjoyable playthrough. There’s nothing outright objectionable about the game, excepting how simple its pleasures are. In terms of emotionally attuned puzzle platforming, its puzzles are a range of breezy foothills compared to Celeste Mountain, but this reduced sense of scale provides its own innate charm. HackyZack could perhaps be best described as a masterfully crafted puzzle book, enhanced by an impossibly cozy soundtrack and a sturdy control scheme. HackyZack may fit a bit too comfortably into the same category as puzzle platformers of its ilk, but it offers the tandem joy in spades. Regardless, it offers a much less demeaning way of putting your Hacky Sack skills to the test.
This version of HackyZack was played and reviewed on the PS4. A code was provided to us for review purposes.
HackyZack has little ambition beyond offering a fair few hours of clever puzzle-platforming packaged with a serene soundtrack and likable visuals, in that regard it excels.
Enjoys paying less than 20 dollars for a game, especially when it is one people have forgotten about. Wants to be a character in the next Jet Set Radio and hopes you enjoy the site. Has a pet rabbit he nurtures and takes photos of. Still pushing for a Stuntman Ignition remaster 11 years later. Still hasn’t played Fortnite.