While I’m not entirely sure about action figures sporting exposed beer bellies, I am quite positive that RageSquid’s Action Henk is shaping up to be a rather fun time. Having entered Early Access just under a week ago, Action Henk actually made its initial debut as a two-month experiment for an event back in 2012. Its gestation has been well spent, as it is a game to keep your eye on.
Action Henk actually gins up a fair amount of nostalgic gaming sensations, mostly because of its simplicity, though its aesthetic certainly helps. You play as an action figure named Henk and you are to traverse obstacle courses comprised of toy car tracks, wooden blocks, and an imaginary lava floor turned all too real in what appears to be a kid’s room. And for all the challenges to overcome, you are only equipped with the ability to run, jump, and slide on your butt. (You gain gadgets, too, but we’ll get to that later.)
The game’s framework is structured very similarly to something like a Trials game. You pick your figure (variations of the standard Henk or Betsy, the only other playable character in this version), pick your course, and set out to get a bronze, silver, or gold medal. As you earn medals, you unlock more levels as well as the ability to challenge the aforementioned Betsy to unlock her.
Along the way, there are checkpoints, though they’re really only useful when you’re learning a particular level. When you actually get going, the game is wholly about momentum. If you can, you’re better off jumping entirely over small inclines. Sliding down hills on your tush is the best way to build up speed, but sliding otherwise will slow you to a stop.
In the beginning, it’s all about maximizing technique. Instead of holding the jump button, you just tap it so you can catch the top of the decline for even more sliding surface. It’s a mostly addictive exercise, restarting eventually becoming easier than quitting, settling you down for just a few (dozen) more attempts.
The fun (and frustration) really builds when you start racing medal ghosts, learning tricks for shaving off fractions of a second and trying them out yourself. It’s incredibly satisfying when you cognitively understand a somewhat advanced move and then finally pull it off somehow better than the ghost, pushing you to try one more and really tinker with the mechanics of the game.
It all really opens up, however, in the second block of levels when the hookshot gets introduced. It always points forward and towards the ceiling at a 45-degree angle, and with the press of a button, it fires off and sticks until you let go or you hit another surface. It’s quite the interesting tool because instead of you min-maxing the surfaces laid out for you, you now control a device that effectively generates momentum for you.
It really trades height for speed if you use it right, slinging straight with rapid hook releases instead of taking a single, massive swing over an unjumpable chasm. It turns the lax portions of the early stages where you simply run into exciting segments of interaction and engagement. Combining the technical precision offered by its initial simplicity with the freedom of the hookshot is a brilliant move.
But the really crazy thing happens towards the end of the second block of courses (and the completely incomplete WIP chunk where medals and the like haven’t even been implemented): the game gets tricky. Difficult, even. Instead of just figuring out how to get the most speed out of an obstacle, you are figuring out how to just get past it. It’s nice to see a game not afraid to be frank with its deviousness.
In fact, at the end of the WIP levels, there’s an Ultimate Test that is supremely punishing. The first jump, for instance, took me well over a dozen attempts to clear, and that was after the previous few dozen trying to figure out how to even do it. It not only requires incredible precision but a deep understanding of how the game works (and what feels like the teensiest bit of imagination). Someday.
Action Henk, however, is very much an Early Access game. It might even better be called an Earliest Access game. In addition to the entirely experimental block of levels, it also only features those other two tiers. In all, it probably takes about half an hour to run through all of them. Perhaps not master or even do well on all (or any) of them, but you can see everything the game has to offer in under an hour.
For $9.99, that may seem a bit of an absurd offer. And it totally is, but the potential here is significant. After I spent an afternoon running train on its diminutive offerings, I woke up the next day and played it again. It’s a setup that hard to resist, putting the opportunity to master something so close but forcing you to work for it.
Action Henk is set to be in Early Access for six or so months, during which it’ll add more levels, characters, and gadgets. If that intrigues you, then go for it. Personally, I’m interested in seeing where this ends up.