Action Henk Review

By Mark Delaney, 9 months ago
Toy Story was my first ever favorite movie. I saw it twice in theaters back in the mid-nineties. Granted, the second time was because Jumanji had sold out that day, but I could've gone home instead. It was the first ever fully computer-generated feature-length film and it birthed the Pixar dynasty. It's a technical milestone and I believe it's a creative milestone as well. To this day I regard it as an all-time classic and the greatest children's film franchise that there has ever been. I mention this because my time with Action Henk reminded me of that series more than a few times. Initially, it was the bedroom in which the game takes place. It looks a lot like Andy's room from the movies, littered with playsets featuring a mash-up of most everything in the toy box. The colors pop off screen much in the way for which Pixar is known, as well. By the end, Henk's closest relation to Toy Story wasn't either of these things, however. It was that Action Henk, much like Pixar's inaugural effort, is undeniably fun.

AH logo

Action Henk is a side-scrolling speedrunner starring the titular character, Henk ("not Hank!"), a once massively popular toy in the eighties and nineties. In recent years, Henk has let his action figure physique get away from him and now he looks not directly into the eyes of danger but down at his rotund midsection. The game pits you against other toys from the children's room and this acts as the setting. Henk sets out to prove himself formidable still among the bedroom's other toys. Your goal is to make it to the end of each level as quickly as possible and beat the competition along the way. The primary means of doing this is sprinting, jumping, and the game's unique feature, buttsliding.

The dozens of levels in Henk provide for a big portion of why the game works well. It carries with it that classic easy to pick up, hard to master gameplay progression. It's a steady climb from simple and introductory courses to brutally difficult tracks that demand your absolute perfection. With dozens of levels, each larger world features a boss battle at the end where your skills are really put to the test. One recurring antagonist, Betsy, is a fitness nut who appears as the anti-Henk in his current form. Another is a handsome skateboarder who probably reminds Henk of his days spent in better shape. When you aren't racing against these bosses, you'll be racing time trial ghosts. Bronze, silver, and gold medal ghosts challenge you to finish ahead of them to unlock corresponding medals, or you can race against your own best times or those of your friends. To open up further worlds of levels, you'll need to meet their medal requirements. It's very satisfying to have struggled early on with simpler levels but return to them when the medal count needs a boost and you find that your skills have improved drastically.

The buttslide is the future of transportation - <i>Unknown</i>"The buttslide is the future of transportation" - Unknown

Though Henk's face graces the cover art, it's really his rear-end that is the star of the game. The buttsliding technique is an excellent feature at the heart of every course. Not only is it goofy and charming in a way that is representative of the game's overall tone, it works really well. Hitting ramps at the right time on your butt can mean the difference of a few seconds or even milliseconds. On average, races last about 30 seconds and most of them will come down to narrow finishes. It's crucial that you master not only how to properly buttslide but when to get back on your feet too, as well as precisely when and for how long to jump. The game's momentum and physics are fair and trustworthy, so it's up to the player to find the exact moments to change up their mode of traversal. It helps to watch the time trial ghosts as you move through the level, to see when and how they're performing certain moves. Early on that might be difficult as they outpace you to where you can't see them on screen. However, with practice you'll eventually do the same to them.

In later levels, more complex tools are added too, like a grappling hook and launcher pads, and the courses are moved out of the children's bedroom and into several other areas. These additions keep the gameplay from growing stale. The most difficult levels, including all bosses and the entire second half of the game, will often times demand that every step be the right ones. This sort of demand can be seen as a positive to those who seek such a Dark Souls-ian challenge in an arcade speedrunner, but a bit more wiggle room would have been appreciated. As fun as the game can be, some levels made me thankful that my hair is too short to pull out. One level in particular had me beaten for countless tries before I finally had what looked like a winning run, only to fall 0.01 seconds shy of the medal time. Still, with the checkpoints and quick reset buttons, Henk is a poster child for the phrase "just one more try".

Henk's room is littered with pop culture references spanning games, movies, and more.Henk's room is littered with pop culture references spanning games, movies, and more.

Both the visuals and music serve to create that youthful, energized spirit for which the developers at RageSquid were very obviously aiming. Characters grin from ear to ear, a rainbow of colors explodes off every level, and the music keeps things feeling "dramatic" in a way that those with siblings will recall from the days of racing for the front seat of the car. Its childish and lighthearted tone belies the game's technically complex mechanics -- it's a juxtaposition that works well. Short cutscenes after every dozen or so levels try telling a story; although it was charming in that same nostalgic way as much of the game is, they looked poorly put together and weren't really needed anyway. Some textures in the background of each track lack a certain polish too, but the characters and tracks themselves are infused with an excellent color palette.

Four-player local multiplayer and online leaderboards help to keep the game very competitive. Just like in the individual races where your deficit may come down to shavings of a second, the same goes for the leaderboards. Some scores that are already recorded seemed impressive and occasionally impossible, while others were within my grasp to motivate me to try again and leapfrog up the charts. Different characters and skins are available too, so if you max out the couch competitive play, you won't have to settle for a foursome of Henks.

 One achievement will require you to sit atop a level's leaderboard. I got lucky with this one, to be honest. One achievement will require you to sit atop a level's leaderboard. I got lucky with this one, to be honest.

The achievement list will require that you really excel at the game. If you've struggled with this type of game before and care about your completion percentage, tread lightly with Henk. You'll need to earn gold medals on every level and, at least once, finish atop a level's leaderboard. There are several other hard ones that won't be available until you earn those gold medals too. It's a short list with just 15 achievements, but it's full of several tough unlocks.

Summary

Action Henk isn't a new and unseen type of game. Its total package exhibits shades of similar titles, like the precision of http://www.trueachievements.com/Trials-HD/achievements.htm, the colorful and fun imagery of Joe Danger, and the speed of http://www.trueachievements.com/Sonic-The-Hedgehog/achi....htm. The fact that it does all of these things so well, in one go, is what makes the game a must-play for genre fans. Thanks to great original mechanics like buttsliding and the grappling hook, it won't feel entirely familiar either. Some moments will frustrate players to the point of rage quitting, but they'll return soon to try again because when success in Action Henk eludes you, it often seems only slightly out of reach. It's without doubt a toy story worth experiencing.
4.5 / 5
Positives
  • Addictive, challenging gameplay
  • Energetic soundtrack
  • Great in short or long gaming sessions
  • Four-player local multiplayer
Negatives
  • Often demands perfection
  • Cutscenes and some textures are lackluster
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent approximately 6-7 hours sprinting, jumping, and almost definitely tearing through several pairs of pants en route to 7 of 15 achievements for 250 gamerscore. A digital copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a lifelong gamer and current Assistant (to the) News Manager on TA. When not playing games, he can be found cheering for a bad football team, playing Batman action figures with his son, or going to concerts with his lover. Days where he does all of those things are his favorite.