Skybolt Zack is the first gaming outing for developer Devs Must Die, published by Green Man Gaming, and a bit difficult for even the developers to put into a genre. Trying their best, Devs Must Die described it as "a platformer where you don’t jump, and a music game where you dictate your own rhythm." Let's try to unpack that crazy description a bit, and see if Skybolt Zack is a game worth trying as we do.
The story of Skybolt Zack is basically non-existent, though this is actually listed as a feature. Skipping long-winded dialogues all together, Devs Must Die did a great job at getting the players straight into the heart of the action. The best I could piece together of a story was that something happened to a planet, which I am assuming is meant to be Earth based on the visuals, robots take over, and Zack has to defeat the robots in question. Immediately after this simple cut scene, I was thrust into a mildly dystopian level, offered a few tutorial-esque suggestions, and was sent on my way to smash up the colorful, robotic inhabitants.
Game play in Skybolt Zack is rather simple, though do not confuse this with difficulty level. In order to progress through the different stages, of which 48 are available, players are meant to press the correct button corresponding to the color of each enemy in order to destroy them and move forward. Granted, I suppose you could technically simply walk through some levels, though your score would be horrible, as would your level of entertainment. Instead, by properly timing button presses to leap from enemy to enemy, and sometimes spring platforms and doors, along with the dash ability and directional bouncing, it is possible to get through every level without ever even touching the ground. By accomplishing this, you will end up with an incredible combo chain, score, and coveted S rating. Tie that in with the leaderboards, and the replayability for challenge sake is immense.
Skybolt Zack's 48 stages exist across five unique worlds, though the game mechanics remain mostly static throughout. Each subsequent stage and world increases the games difficulty through increasing numbers of enemies, more complicated enemies, and environmental hazards to contend with. And while 48 stages may seem daunting to complete in such a twitchy game, only a fraction of said levels will be completed in any given play through.
In order to determine which level will be available at each step of the way, each level has multiple exits, from two to three depending on the location. The A exit, or topmost exit is meant to be the most difficult path, B as mid-range, and C as the least difficult. No information is ever offered as to how to get to each exit other than their location. If you want the hardest exit, keep moving upwards. However, if at any point I thought I was going in the correct direction and accidentally missed the next enemy on the path, there was no choice but to either restart or settle for a lower exit. This, along with the limited number of hit points and somewhat questionable collision detection at times, makes Skybolt Zack a generally unforgiving game at times. This isn't a bad thing necessarily, but still worth noting if this does not appeal to your gaming interests.
I suppose my main complaint about Skybolt Zack surrounds its somewhat shallow nature. Once you understand the concept of button timings and combo chaining, there isn't much more depth to be had. Granted, there is certainly a fair amount of replayability given the leaderboards, differing exit paths, and just challenging yourself. Also, it is a neat inclusion that you are able to go into the settings for the game and change the colors for the enemies however you desire. This was implemented mostly to help players with colorblindness I believe, but it is also an additional way to switch up the challenge and make you think again rather than just falling into a muscle-memory grindfest.