If we had a dollar for every platformer that's passed through the venerable doors of the Push Square Towers in the last few years, we probably wouldn't be writing about games on the Internet anymore. Instead, we'd be sitting on a private island somewhere, sipping on a liquid gold martini served to us in a solid gold martini goblet. Yes, the genre is utterly ubiquitous – but that doesn't mean that there isn't room for new and interesting ideas. And in Action Henk, those new and interesting ideas come in the form of a renewed focus on momentum.
Looking at the screenshots in this review, you'd be forgiven for thinking developer RageSquid's debut title is the sort of banal runner that you might play on your smartphone. However, this plucky platformer more closely resembles Sonic the Hedgehog than Temple Run. Indeed, you're allowed a full range of movement, and are required to do much more than simply dodge incoming enemies.
At its core, this is a game about momentum. You run, jump, wall-jump, and butt-slide your way through levels which have been specifically designed to test your ability to string together movement-based combos; short bursts of perfectly executed platforming. As you move through the levels, you'll be ranked on your performance, earning you either a gold, silver, or bronze medal.
Often times the difference between a gold and a silver medal will be minuscule. You might jump off a ramp slightly earlier, allowing you to begin butt-sliding slightly earlier, which allows you to build up more momentum, and make it to a secret short cut. These sorts of opportunities exist throughout every level, and experimenting with them is incredibly fun. Thankfully, the game allows you to restart levels with ease, and there's also a multitude of different ghost options to help you slowly pick away at your best times.
Later levels are blocked off, requiring the collection of more medals to unlock. This means that unless you're a platforming prodigy, you'll likely have to go back and replay the early stages to gain more medals. Thankfully, this isn't a frustrating process, and serves as a great demonstration of how your skills have developed. What's more, boss and secret levels are littered throughout the experience, allowing you to unlock new characters and outfits.
Unfortunately, some of the levels – particularly the first few sets – tend to blend into each other, which becomes particularly apparent upon replaying them. Similarly, the addition of a hook-shot power-up in a few later levels is a nice change of pace, but ultimately feels frustrating, and slows things down in a way which isn't consistent with the spirit of the rest of the game.
Despite these problems, though, the magical moments that occur when you just manage to shave a few milliseconds off of your best time are about as satisfying an experience as you could hope to have with a platformer.
All of this mechanical elegance is unfortunately let down by the game's presentation, which is surprisingly inconsistent. The central conceit of the title is that you play as an action figure bent on stopping the dastardly plans of another, more evil action figure. It's a novel concept, and the early levels make clever use of it, taking place in a teenager's bedroom stuffed full of fun pop culture references. However, the later stages begin to branch out, and the visual style becomes confused.
This isn't helped by occasionally muddy textures, and a visual busyness which can sometimes intrude on the gameplay itself. There are also occasional frame rate issues, which would usually be forgivable, but are simply unacceptable in a game which requires this much precision. Thankfully, the music is consistently excellent, pulsing with an energy that is both frantic and fun.
Action Henk is a slick and addictive platformer. Its mechanics and controls are perfectly tuned, and its momentum-based gameplay is somewhat original and fun, but a couple of visual hiccups, some slightly bland level design, and a few wonky power-ups mean that it never reaches its full potential. However, as an exercise in running and jumping, few titles match its physics-based prowess.
I have to admit the thing that stop me voting for this over anything else was the incredibly unappealing art direction with regard to the character models. Call me superficial, but if I'm going to be spending hours staring at a character on a screen, I don't want to have some leering deathmasked figures burned into my brain and invading my dreams.
@RawShark Agreed. Awful character design, but the "tracks" and locations seem appealing.
Nice review! I knew the game would turn out to be good. Was hoping it'd win, but then again, it stood no chance against Broforce. May get it when I beat a few games from my backlog.
I love this game wholeheartedly, easily one of the best games I've played this year.
I'm looking forward to this game but I hope it has a fair price point.
I'll wait for the Vita version
So it's Joe Danger then?
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