Played on Windows
Also Available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Linux, and macOS.
I’ve said this a few times in videos, but I found Action Henk because the image caught my eye. I wanted to see what this game was about based off that, and that’s why I’m here reviewing. That’s probably not the best reason for me to choose a game, but it was something that was worth trying once. Let’s talk about what I found.
Well, Action Henk is a runner. The player starts at the starting line and runs on a track from the start to the end and tries to do it in the best time. Action Henk is most similar to a game called Trials, where one rides a bike through a level, but instead of using a bicycle physics we have an action figure, named Henk. The player has far more control over Henk, as the player is able to control Henk’s movements with limited momentum, though the goal remains the same, finish the level as fast as possible.
The idea of a runner feels like it’s the distillation of platformers down to its essence. You start at the beginning of a level, move to the right towards a goal, and the game puts obstacles in your way. In the first level, it’s as simple as small walls and changes in elevation. But eventually, the games always find ways to add in bottomless pits, long jumps over them, and some other peril that will instantly kill the character.
It’s a simple idea, but every game tries to find something interesting with it. Action Henk tries quite a bit and starts with a video showing Action Henk winning the toy of the year prize. However, the character appears to be one of many Action Henk figurines that are sold, and yet he has a trophy for being the toy of the year.
To be honest, the story here is very limited as can be seen above in the First Look . Everything is told in a cutscene but there are only about five cutscenes in the entire game, the “villain” in the game grabs the trophy, flies away. After 20-30 levels you face the villain and kill him in an homage to Terminator, and then another cutscene will play after 20ish more levels pass and you face him again.
This doesn’t make the most compelling story, but the bigger problem for me is the graphics in these cutscenes look rather weak. I’m sure a decent amount of time was spent to make these scenes, but there’s so little polish to them that they look like it was someone’s first attempt or just a quick example that was left in the game.
The main menu is a bit clunky as well, and I’ve actually gone back and looked at videos of other players from back in 2014, potentially prelaunch videos from streamers. What’s odd though is the graphics are cleaner then. Those graphics have an aesthetic of old wood toys that kids used to play with. It’s a great look for the game.
The modern game, is what appears in the title screen above and it looks crowded and ugly, and almost like someone slapped a front end on a tech demo, but the strange thing is, this isn’t a quick addition. The original UI is cleaner and while it likely was prelaunch, I don’t understand the change so it’s confusing as to what happened, and why the convoluted menu system.
Once the player gets in the game, the graphics are somewhat better. The backgrounds are focused on locations that vary from a child’s room to a beach to a volcano to even a disco, but at the same time, there’s no theme to the game. The locations don’t make much sense, as the characters are supposed to be action figures. The game gets even odder as when the characters jump over bottomless pits, the backgrounds quickly switch to lava and back. I’m not even sure why except to show peril, but it’s an odd design decision that takes me out of the game.
Better but messy, the background is noisy, and the foreground gets lost sometimes.
The characters look interesting when on the mission select, every character is an action figure that has articulated joints and more. You can actually see the nuts and bolts holding together the figure. However, when you are playing a level the fidelity is quickly lost. If someone was telling me that I was playing a human instead of an action figured, the only issue would be the track looks like a child’s toy. The characters themselves look weaker in the main game, and part of the reason is they don’t act like a toy. The animations are a bit too human for it to work. They are characterizations but more characterizations of humans, rather than old action figures.
The gameplay itself is what will help you decide if you like the game. Every level starts out the same. You begin on that start line I mention and have to run to the end. The game usually isn’t too difficult but the challenge comes from reaching the end as fast as possible. You’re actually given three ghosts at the beginning of any level (Bronze, silver, and gold) and beating each ghost gives you a better medal. I often would only race the Gold as beating it gives the two lesser medals as well.
The thing is the player’s controls are limited. You’re able to move left and right, as well as Slide and Jump. That’s almost the entire control scheme, and the one you’ll use for most of the levels. If you slide on a downhill slope you start to gain momentum faster, however, there is an upper limit to it, and often you’ll have to land a jump to go into the slide, or jump before the bottom, to get the best time, if not both. It’s simplistic sounding but the fact is the game often requires a lot of precision.
There’s really no reason for the entire world to turn into lava in the middle of big jumps.
The Level design is rather good when looked at from a level perspective, however, the game tends to focus on rote memory than any way to really learn a level. You run a level, don’t die and then eventually improve slowly. Memorizing the levels bit by bit. With most levels taking 30 seconds or so, there’s only so much a player will have to memorize to beat the level.
However, the game gets reasonably hard. The gold times in this game usually take a near perfect run, while the bronze and silver medals give the player a small chance for mistakes. If the player can tackle the gold medal, the game then unlocks the rainbow ghosts which usually requires absolute perfection.
The downside of this though is that the gap between the bronze and gold are often only a second or two, so many mistakes will completely disqualify the player. In addition, the ghosts are only seen, so the player has to guess why their version of the same jump slowed them down when the ghost goes racing past, or why the ghost somehow has gained a few steps on them when they appear to be doing the same thing.
This might not be as big a problem if the game approached their levels similar to Trials. In Trials, there are a few tutorial modes teaching different concepts over the course of the game so players can slowly gather a bag of tricks. Action Henk does have some new tricks as the game goes on but never attempts to tell the player what they are. They either have to experiment and figure them out, such as a small jump to start a downhill can be faster than running down the ramp, or watched on youtube or from other ghosts who in an alternate (non-playable) mode will show every button press.
The problem is there’s not a way to get remarkably better at the game without a lot of studying outside of the actual gameplay. If the ghosts showed more, or the game taunt more, the player might not get as frustrated when they see the gold ghost perform a move they’ve never seen or been told about before.
The game also introduces an interesting hook shot mechanic, which allows the player to swing while attached to a point, similar to the rope from the Worms series, though used as an action game’s mechanic. The player is supposed to do a quick swing and then fling themselves. However often times the rope illustrates one of my personal problems with this series, requiring very precise timing. If a rope is used too early or late, the player can often slam into a block or miss the shot altogether, and end up having to restart.
That precision is throughout the entire game, and it’s the piece that kept me from really enjoying this game. Sliding an extra couple of frames or jumping too early or late can slow you down. Hitting that jump perfectly to begin your slide on a downslope is critical if you want a Gold time. There’s also a high level of precision on a couple of jumps just to make them work properly which changes the game from “fun” to frustrating quickly. Worse you have to do all of this at full speed while running from your last slide and considering your next. If you do even one of these moves wrong, you’ll miss out on the gold medal, and sometimes all the medals.
Two jumps, you can see the Ghost’s jump as well as mine. Precision is the name of the game here.
I don’t know how much more there is to say about Action Henk, you run levels, hit pinpoint accuracy and try to master the level. Almost every level acts the same and gets harder as you beat more and more.
However, there are a few exceptions to all these rules. There are two levels at the end of every set of levels. The first has you race an opponent and try to beat their time. This is similar to the ghosts, only you’re racing against character the unlocks if you beat them, there are no other ghosts. Sadly this is when the game gets the most frustrating because the enemy will always run a near perfect level. Their time is a little slower than what the gold ghosts would run in the rest of the game, however, they will be challenging and there’s again no hints about where they are lacking. Even getting .01 seconds slower means you have to retry. It’s just a place that requires a lot of repetition.
The second bonus level for a set will task the player to collect all the coins on a special course. All the player has to do is run into 20 or 30 coins and try to beat the time. Again, there’s a single time for the level, but at least in these cases, most of the levels are about finding the best route through a multi-route level. Still, the times are tight and the required precision with them hurts. Though the second bonus is only available if the player has gotten golds in all the levels, so perhaps it’s intended for the best of the best.
Really, that’s Action Henk, there’s not much more to talk about with the entire game. There are more pieces to the game, but nothing I was dying to tackle. There’s workshop integration, a level editor, a daily mission (which is currently only played by about 10 people a day) and more.
There is one big highlight to the game, the framerate test works wonderfully, and shows a live representation of your framerate, so when you tweak the settings if you’re concerned it will impact gameplay, you can rest assured. In fact, this one feature looks so good I wonder why no one else has attempted something like it before as it really helps tweak a system.
The FPS system is rather good. Every change is immediately represented, and you can check the FPS right there.
Overall that’s Action Henk. It’s a simple game where the player runs through levels as fast as possible. If it was only that I probably could have liked it a bit more, but the game becomes hard, brutally hard at times, and the final boss has one of the worst levels in the game. This wouldn’t have upset me so much, but the game doesn’t teach the player how to beat that level. If the previous three levels had shown different pieces of the final level so the player can understand the moves required by the final level, it might have been a fair challenge. Instead, the player is shown new tasks that he’s never seen before. One of them I’ve seen beaten on Youtube and I still have no clue about.
For me, that’s kind of the problem of Action Henk. It has interesting challenges in the game, but it doesn’t spend the time to teach a new player how to beat even the simple challenges. I think of Trials quite often as the way that game teaches the player is so well done that I applaud it even as I realize I’m not good enough to tackle it. I think about Bit Trip Runner with a similar simplicity and expected precision, but the fact it breaks down the moves are critical to its accessibility. I also think of Joe Danger, where the player has large challenges, but they’re never insurmountable until the very end.
Action Henk takes the challenge and hits you with it in the first five minutes. It’s not the way I would have gone, but I’ve watched enough speed runners online to realize that they prefer this. So if you want to compete against speed runners, this game might be for you. Otherwise, it’s not a bad game, but it’s definitely not the best this genre has to offer.
I give Action Henk a
Final Thoughts: It’s a level based runner game, where the goal is to beat times. The game offers ghosts but doesn’t exactly teach the maneuvers needed to succeed in the game. Still, it’s fun for a short time.
Stats: 7.5 hours played, 10 out of 21 achievements earned.