Thursday, 25 July 2013

Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel (SNES)

Today I'm having a brief go at Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel by Turok developers Iguana. This is actually a spin-off of mascot platformer Aero the Acro-Bat, which I don't recall being very fond of. Though I played the game two years ago so all I remember of it now is the clowns... so many clowns.

Alright before any platforming can commence it's important to begin with an inciting event and establish the motivation for our anthropomorphic protagonist. In this case my Kamikaze Squirrel has just received an urgent telegram from someone called Amy telling him that rogue lumberjack Jacque Le Sheets is chopping down Stony Forest to print counterfeit money!

Holy shit... people still used telegrams back in 1994? Apparently someone must have, as the last telegram service in the world was/will be shut down this month.



Zero works as a henchman for the evil lord of the clowns! I can't say I saw that coming. Wow, I suppose our hero must show up as an antagonist in the Aero games then.

But not anymore! Zero has renounced the ways of the evil clown and is now fighting for love and peace and the Land of the Rising Sun apparently.

Hey Zero has his own biplane; not actually an antique Japanese WW2 Zero, but certainly too nice to deserve being shot down by the cameraman. Who the hell uses a binocular scope on their anti-aircraft machine gun anyway? 

It's cool though, he got it down intact. It seems we're lost somewhere in the middle of the deserts of Aladdin though.

Crap, I guess this must actually be the Cool Spot beach then. Bloody crabs, they don't respond favourably to being stomped on. I've got to remember to fight the urge to jump on things.

Fortunately Zero can survive a hit as long as he has some Z shaped hitpoints left.

Genesis/Mega Drive
Meanwhile, on the Sega version, Zero the Competent Squirrel takes out his foes with lightning fast pinpoint accurate application of shurikens. I've only got 35 left, but if I duck down while attacking I can switch to a short range nunchuck move instead.

Back on the SNES, the Kamikaze Squirrel lived up to his name faster than I hoped, charging right into an enemy I didn't really see until it was way too late. But look at his death animation! He didn't get shot with a disintegration beam here, he just walked into something.

This basket seems suspiciously convenient, I bet there's something awesome up in them clouds. A single well aimed ninja star splits the rope effortlessly, then I double jump somersault in and ascend to the sky.

Time to go catch some Zs!

At least that was the plan; I kind of screwed up the landing though and soon the balloon had drifted out of my jumping range. I wouldn't be that bothered but this is the third basket I've missed!


I finally found a way into the clouds! Like in Cool Spot the levels in this seem pretty tall and not just a straightforward run across the ground to the right. Fortunately there's no time limit in this though so I'm free to explore to my heart's content.

My keen instincts told me that this half obscured object was a jump activated switch and I was half-right. It's actually a pump to inflate a secret level door. A few jumps is all it takes to open it up, but then I just had to keep jumping on the pump to see what'd happen and ended up blowing it up. So... don't do that.

Huh, he doesn't want to jump high enough to get up here. I've tried holding down jump, I've tried double jumping, I've been pressing all kinds of buttons, the guy just can't get the necessary height. Wow, I can't believe I have actually gotten hopelessly stuck on the second stage in the game. Sadly not a new record for me though I have to admit.

It took me a while but I eventually stumbled across the correct solution: I had to double-tap the jump button on the ground, which gives him a bit of extra height compared to a regular double jump. Another good reason why I'm an idiot for never reading the manual.

Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel SNES level map
That's a nice looking level map. Also it seems I've crashed right next to an evil factory that's polluting Stony Forest. Seems like that'd be a good place begin my search for Mr LeSheets. Plus even if it doesn't work out, it leads right to the forest level I'm trying to reach anyway.

But no, Zero decides to climb the cliff and head towards Shit Mountain instead! Well I'm sure he has his reasons, as he's presumably been to this place before.

Genesis/Mega Drive
I was a bit stuck here at the start of the next stage for a moment, before I fought my natural instinct NOT to throw myself into a sinister looking plant and discovered that they're basically just springs. Hey, that plant had every chance of being carnivorous! My plant phobia is entirely natural and justified.

Eggs, on the other hand, are my most dangerous and cunning enemy, as I can never see the tiny little hopping bastards. But they can sure as hell take one of my Zs away if I so much as brush against them.

Oh there aren't any eggs in this screenshot by the way so don't bother trying to spot them. OR ARE THERE?

Oh, look who's back!

My stalker chased me around this bit with machine gun fire for what felt like a good ten seconds before getting bored, which ain't much fun when I'm busy trying to inflate a secret door on a ledge surrounded by spikes. Not instant death spikes though, it should be noted.

This isn't even a 'running out of time' punishment event, the game just decided to torment me further.


He just... ate my squirrel. The bouncy spring plant just ate my squirrel.

The plant ate my squirrel and then spat out the bones into a little pile next to him. Instant death.

I... wow. I guess from now on I'll have to make damn sure to only bounce on them as much as I absolutely have to and then move my furry little tail elsewhere before I lose it.

At least the game has infinite continues that restart me at the beginning of the stage I'm actually on. Very reasonable. Plenty of checkpoints around for when I lose a life too.

The game really loves its blind jumps. Sometimes it uses coins to mark a path, but often I'm just left hoping I'm not going to land on spikes. Or one of those bloody eggs. It's a bit awkward how I'm playing as an such an acrobatic character on such a tiny screen and yet I'm not allowed to jump on enemies. A surprise enemy underneath me should be a reward not a punishment, as I crush his nefarious skull under my classy white trainers.

BOSS FIGHT! Actually I feel a bit bad about throwing shurikens at this guy; partly because all he's done to me so far is shuffle up and down the wall I need to jump up to get out of here. But mostly because my shurikens aren't even hurting him! Total waste of ammo. 

Genesis/Mega Drive
Meanwhile on the Sega version, Zero the Competent Squirrel knows that he has to use the swoop move by pressing down and jump while airborne to smash his opponent's protective dome open. He also has 13 lives because that's what happens when you don't fall out of all the baskets on the first stage and are able to stock up on 1ups.

I'd mention the differences between the two versions, but I think you can tell the major changes just by comparing the screenshots. The Super Nintendo version has better sound and music, more colours and overlay effects. The Sega version on the other hand has a much bigger screen and doesn't suffer one bit from having less buttons on the controller.


I'm so sick of having to climb back up this bloody cliff now. There's another cliff on the right hand side of this pit too high to jump up even with my most powerful double jump technique and a sign back up here where I came from that says 'Super Dive Test'. So apparently I'm going nowhere until I master the art of... whatever that is, to get the height I need to get up this other cliff.

I mean I 've figured out how to dive already, I can slam into the ground full speed like a pro, but I'm not seeing how diving downwards helps me jump over this wall.


I've done it, I've finally mastered the art of the dive! It turns out that I can swoop around after I've gathered enough speed and use it to glide around and launch myself upwards! Not something I'd want to try over a pit of instant-death lava, but I pretty sure I can pull it off at least 30% of the time now.

Man this game can be a dick sometimes, like when it sticks another mini-boss right in the path of my hard earned ascent. That's what I get for finally succeeding at something.


Genesis/Mega Drive
Okay, the game is taking the piss now. Fortunately Zero the Competent Squirrel has had a great deal of practice with the dive move by this point, and can swoop across instant-death lava with relative ease! (Possibly because the screen's slightly wider, so I can see what I'm doing easier and get the timing right on my turns.)

SNES Zero on the other hand lost about thirty thousand continues at this point.

My Super Nintendo squirrel finally makes it past the bloody lava diving section, only to lose his last hit point to another tiny enemy hiding behind a pipe. Half the enemies on this stage are actually shuriken-proof as well and even swooping at them doesn't seem worth the effort. They're not bringing me any joy.

Right, back to the last checkpoint then. Immediately before the lava diving.


Oh come on you bastard, do you not know how to land on a giant swinging ball? What's worse is I have to keep doing this, leaping from ball to ball to additional ball and hoping each time that the next leap won't send him sliding through the thing I clearly managed to land on top of. If I screw this up a couple more times I'll be put all the way back at the start of the bloody stage again.

Who even set all this crap up anyway? Was it rogue lumberjack Jacques LeSheets, or was this an early lair used by Zero himself back in his supervillain days?


Oh you piece of shit game. Drops a fucking instant death boulder on me just as I finished leaping across the balls! Was I not moving fast enough? Was I moving too fast? What the fuck did I even do wrong here?

I'm just going to go stick my head in a bucket of water for ten minutes then come back to this. It's too hot for lava levels, man.


Oh man, what the hell is this guy wearing? Purple body armour, utility belt, bug eyes and bat wings. The skulls on his knees are a nice touch too. He can hover in the air for a while and shares my shuriken attack, which is a bit awkward for me as if they connect they have a good chance of knocking me backwards into the instant death lava that covers 50% of the ground. Fortunately there's a small window where my shurikens will hit him too (finally, the mystery of why I've been collecting them throughout the level despite all the enemies being immune is revealed!)

He usually kicks my ass within seconds, but weirdly his health isn't reset when I lose a life so I can beat him in a war of attrition! Except I only have 2 lives left, so I can't. Oh well.

So what did I think about the first few stages of Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel? They made me tired, frustrated and miserable to be honest. Though it's hard for me to pointpoint why exactly, as on paper the game seems pretty well designed. It has infinite continues and checkpoints, it doesn't have a time limit, Zero is a joy to steer around the screen, the graphics and animation are top tier, the music sounds like it's been stolen from some cheesy 80s movie, and it's as slick and fluid as anything you'll find on a fourth gen console. Plus you play as a Japanese ninja squirrel wearing jeans and a headband, this should have been a slam dunk for me!

I suppose what it comes down to is that I found the enemies irritating and no fun to either fight or avoid, and that just sabotaged the whole experience for me, as the bastards are everywhere. Still, I enjoyed it way more than Aero the Acro-Bat.

The Super Nintendo and Genesis/Mega Drive versions of the game seem basically identical in layout and gameplay from what I can tell, with the SNES version having the better presentation and the Sega version giving you about 33% more pixels of screen space. The game is good at panning the screen over when you're moving to show you what you're about to run into though, negating a bit of that advantage, so I'll just call them both winners and then never play either of them ever again.

That's my opinion of Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel anyway, but you've probably got your own interesting thoughts about what you've just read. Or maybe you've played it yourself and want to explain how I'm wrong about everything. Comments are always welcome.

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Semi-Random Game Box