Zero Zero Zero Zero is fundamentally a game of yesteryear. But, ironically enough, that makes it oddly refreshing.
Nostalgia is a funny thing. One could look at Zero Zero Zero Zero and see a minimalist 1-bit cowboy themed platformer. Yet I see childhood. I see the fundamental platformers of Xbox Live and even of the C64. Both of these statements are true to me. I believe I see childhood because I want to see it, I want to feel like I’m playing N+ with my friends back in 2008, and I want to feel like I’m playing Super Meat Boy or VVVVV. Not only does Zero Zero Zero Zero learn from these, it holds those influences on its sleeve. The entirety of the base game was made by developer Alvarop and all music was made by Levi Bond. With a team this small, I almost feel a personal connection to them through a shared nostalgia; a shared love of old school platformers. Although perhaps somewhat pretentious to say, this shared love of N+ in particular was prevalent with my time with Zero Zero Zero Zero.
The gameplay loop is something that is heavily inspired by N+. It uses long jumps, coupled with no fall damage and lots of spikes to force you to think carefully about your next jump. Despite having to think about your next move, Zero is in no way a slow game. It expects you to make mistakes in those jumps and doesn’t even require you to press a button to respawn.
Instead, it implements a fascinating mechanic for it. The entirety of one playthrough is 100 levels back to back. Once one is finished – or you die – it automatically sends you to another level. The key is it doesn’t have a predicted path for you to choose, and so after each death or win, it sends you to one of the 100 levels at random. As you die or win (most likely die) you start to understand how the levels work; what makes them tick. It’s fascinating like this, almost more a test of memory than reactions.
The level design is also great and, again, clearly takes inspiration from N+. The stages feel varied and unique, especially considering the amount in place. This makes your second or third playthrough just as interesting as you slowly become better and better. The main character also has a gun, but for the most part I didn’t feel the need to use it. I found the game was much more fun trying to avoid enemies quickly as opposed to gunning them down. All these gameplay factors come together to make a satisfying yet challenging romp into 2010-styled platformers.
The gameplay isn’t quite as tight (though it does still feel great) as its influences but this is understandable given the team size and price point. It also doesn’t have much content past the 100 level standard mode. You can finish it on your first try with fairly minimal platformer experience, with everything taking no more than an hour and a half to be done with. Personally, I would’ve loved to see some multiplayer additions (perhaps utilising the gun) and maybe even a level builder to challenge your friends. One such thing that is great with friends though is the hardcore mode. In this, you get one life and that’s it. A great hour or so could be spent passing the controller back and forth after each death to see who can get the highest levels in a row.
The atmosphere in Zero Zero Zero Zero is something I love. It features a great electronic soundtrack featuring some nice melodies and some blast beat styled electronic drums where needed. The entire soundtrack is just over 5 minutes long yet those five minutes are used to great effect, switching from one song to another often seamlessly. With hours of play time in this title, I’ve still yet to get bored of it and I’m currently listening to it as I write. This builds up to the atmosphere in question. It’s dark, both through colour and sound, yet fascinating. The monochrome visuals feel like a design choice rather than out of necessity and it works in Zero Zero Zero Zero’s favour. The lack of story and flashy visuals tell the player upfront what it is. It’s not deep and it’s not trying to tell a story; it’s there to have fun with and the price point reflects as such.
I have not played the original release but I enjoyed this one a lot, so it’s reasonable to suggest that Ratalaika Games have done a good job with the port to Xbox One, PS4, Vita and Switch. My time with Zero Zero Zero Zero on Xbox One has been short but sweet. I had a great time making my way through 100 levels and although there is some replayability to be had by improving skills and trying the hardcore mode with friends, it is ultimately a very short game. One can complete the entirety of the standard mode in around an hour and should be able to grab every achievement in about 30 minutes. Despite this, I hope it doesn’t become a game for achievement hunters to rinse and leave, I hope people play it for the reason I enjoyed it. It feels like a game created for the love of 2000s platformers and it deserves that same love in return. So much so that I’m looking forward to seeing where this is taken in the future.