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. …