Toy story meets Sonic the Hedgehog in this high-octane 3D speed-running platformer dedicated to 90s nostalgia. From a basic prototype in 2013 to a highly praised Steam Early Access game, Action Henk has now finally been released upon the world in all his glory.
The protagonist of the story is the titular Henk, he’s an out-of-shape beer-bellied action figure who’s past his prime but trying hard to hold on to the glory of days gone by. Unfortunately, a nefarious doctor has stolen his “Toy of the Year” award and so Henk must return to action to reclaim his title.
Before I delve into the in’s and out’s of the game itself I first want to make one simple statement, this game is ridiculously fun. Built on the very simple control structure of running, jumping, butt-sliding, this game is impressively immersive, interesting and adrenalin-fuelled.
The main story campaign contains more than 70 tracks, all with varying degrees of difficulty and each with their own target times. The mode plays out in a very standard way for the genre, there are three target times per level, one for bronze, one for silver, one for gold, collect medals based on your performance and these medals and then used to unlock further levels are you progress through the campaign. All in all a bulk standard approach given the type of game. Where the game excels with this genre template though is in it’s overall design, it’s clear that the game has been thought out in advance and the limitations of progression are nailed. What I mean by this is, you don’t have to gold every race in order to progress,
Where the game excels with this genre template though is in it’s overall design, it’s clear that the game has been thought out in advance and the limitations of progression are nailed. What I mean by this is, you don’t have to gold every race in order to progress, Action Henk doesn’t intentionally try and hold you back, it’s new areas open up quickly and it’s fairly easy to progress through the entire campaign in hours not weeks.
This may not sound like the highest priority with the game design, but it does compliment Action Henk considerably given that the game’s primary focus is speed. This approach also removes the need to grind and instead leaves you wanting to return to levels for fun rather than necessity.
Once you’re done with the campaign, you don’t have to return to past levels to continue enjoying the game thanks to a level creator. Why not create your own work of insane art and share it with the world through the Steam workshop? If you’re feeling less than creative or you need a bit of inspiration then you also have the option to download track which the Steam community has created.
Moving on to the gameplay itself, it’s exactly as you would expect, an interesting mix of fun and frustration. Action Henk is far from forgiving if you make even the slightest mistake and rookie players may find themselves spending hours on the first set of levels. This may be an issue for those with less than sharp reflexes, it can be incredibly painful, but master this game and you get a genuine sense of accomplishment out of it.
The level designs themselves are superb, if a little nauseating at times, the fact that this game can actually inflict motion sickness is both terrifying and impressive in equal measures. Unfortunately, this does mean that Action Henk can quickly become one of those game that you only play in small chunks. This isn’t a game to dedicate hours to in one go but one that having played short term increasingly calls you back for more once you’ve freshened up somewhat.
There is so much going on in each level and given the amount of levels on offer, two tracks rarely feel alike. That said many of the tracks are over in less than a minute and so gameplay comes thick and fast. As you progress though, you will begin to discover that a number of levels have multiple routes and so there is definitely a degree of replayability outside of simply wanting to beat your own score.
Every inch of every track has some toy reference associated, these levels are almost entirely constructed from toys. Making up the majority of the track action are the kind of orange ramps you’d expect to get with Hot Wheels sets, throw in the wooden train tracks and blocks kids use for tower construction and you’ve got a complete track filled with many obstacles, the attention to detail is impressive.
For those at the higher end of the gaming age bracket (if there is such a thing in this day and age), this game oozes nostalgia. The video game and pop culture references are abundant throughout, everything from Pokemon to Jaws gets a nod as well as a smorgasbord of the random childhood games we enjoyed in the 1990’s, there’s definitely a lot of love for the past in Action Henk, which I’m assuming also refers back to Henk’s heyday.
The characters really seal the deal with this game, they each have their own unique look, personality, issues and strengths. It’s very easy in a game of this nature to provide the user with throwaway characters, at the end of the day you don’t need an in-depth storyline and a cast of unique characters to make a speed-runner but Henk proves that when you do it adds a lot value and enjoyment to an otherwise standard setup.
The attention to detail, the nostalgia trip, the likeable characters, these all make up a brilliant package that is only fully realised by the stunning artwork this game has to offer. If you take a look at the video that developer RageSquid released on YouTube showing how the game has evolved over the last 18 months, you can see how much time and effort has gone into the look of the game.
While the majority of the early game action takes places in the bedroom (hehe), it isn’t long before our overweight action figure is butt-sliding his way through a beach resort and later on swinging through a jungle environment. There is a great deal of differences between these environments yet each is beautifully rendered, colourful and full to the brim with life.
It’s actually extremely difficult to take in everything going on in the background due to the speed at which the game play moves but every so often it’s very easy for your line of sight to wander and you will get a glimpse of something brilliant, especially on the disco levels.
Complementing the visuals is the soundtrack, it’s that perfect mixture of fun, happy, yet fast-paced music, the kind of that made Sonic such an enjoyable experience (enough with the hedgehog already). It’s very easy to zone out of what’s coming out of the speakers when playing a game of this nature but playing Action Henk, I never did, it helped motivate me.
Overall, Action Henk is one of the best speed-runners that has been released in a number of years. The gameplay is fun, exciting and rewarding, the visuals are easy on the eye and impressive and the audio complements the whole package, but you need to be a fan of this genre to fully appreciate the game
It’s one downside is the balance between fun and frustration but with a little practice this game quickly turns in favor of enjoyment. This isn’t a game to play at length over many hours in one go but one to jump in and out of in small bursts for the most enjoyable results, especially if you suffer from motion sickness. If speed-runners are your thing then you will be hard-pressed not to find a reason to invest in this title.
Action Henk is available right now from the Steam Store for Windows PC, Mac OSX and Linux machines.