|Developer:||Gremlin|||||Release Date:||1992|||||Systems:||Amiga, plus everything else besides the NES|
This time I'm playing Zool: Ninja of the "Nth" Dimension, which was originally developed for the Commodore Amiga in 1992, but soon spread out across the systems. The guy was actually kind of considered to be the machine's very own mascot platformer hero, a rival to Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog and Nintendo's Mario, and Zool or Zool 2 were often bundled in with new Amigas. Not bad really for a character who wasn't even slightly exclusive to the computer. Though he did end up going down the ship, failing to make the leap to the PlayStation or N64 when the 16-bit era ended and Commodore fell. Still, better that than going out the way Bubsy did I suppose.
You know I'm sure there's something else about the game that I should be mentioning here, but I can't quite remember...
I think I've been staring at this thing loop too long, I've started trying to imagine what it'd look like backwards. Well the title screen commanded me to 'Push Fire to Start' earlier, but it also suggested I could 'Press Space for Options' so I think I'll give that a try first.
Next option is 'Inertia', but I'll leave that be for now. It seems like the kind of thing you'd want to experiment with while you're in game, but there's no way this is going to let me bring up the menu again later so I'll stick with the default there.
Then there's 'Conts', which is likely short for 'continues', but probably isn't something that certain folks with certain accents would want to say out loud in polite conversation. That defaults to 0, but I'm not a self-hating masochist lunatic, so I've dialled it up to 5. I'll leave the difficulty and the speed alone though.
With all this extra power to draw upon, the developers were able to add this introductory scene, where a still image of Zool slides from the right side of the screen, to the left side.
It looks fairly crap, but to be fair it did come out over a year before Donkey Kong Country. Oh, speaking of Super Nintendo games, here's what you get at the start of the SNES and Genesis/Mega Drive versions:
"This must be the work of Krool!" thinks Zool, and I'm with him on this one. He stole Donkey Kong's banana hoard after all; there's nothing that crocodile won't stoop to.
It's probably fair to say that Sega and Nintendo machine wins this round, but the Amiga game has some nice artwork to show off of its own:
By the way he's not really meant to be a ninja ant, that's just what magazines were calling him at the time because... I have no idea.
I put a quick sketch of a ninja ant next to it so I can compare the two, and honestly I don't really see the resemblance myself. For one thing ants don't wear bandanas across their eyes, that's more of a turtle thing. They also have six limbs compared to Zool's four, and antennae where Zool has pointy green ears. Plus have you ever seen an ant with huge yellow eyes and slit pupils?
Of course you could use the same logic to explain why Sonic the Hedgehog isn't a hedgehog, so I'll just shut up now and go find a platform to jump on.
It seems that I need to kill these rogue jelly monsters and consume their fleeing hearts before they can ascend to cardiovascular heaven. Well I don't have to, but I recover a hit point for every one I catch, so I might as well. It's an Amiga game, so I use the joystick to move, up is jump, hitting 'fire' fires off the one-handed hadoukens, and that's all the buttons I got.
Converting the video to a gif hasn't helped the frame rate any, but it definitely looks slick enough as I'm playing it. The music's pretty decent too (youtube link), but man I'm really missing those sound effects. Zool really does look a bit 'Sonic the Hedgehog' in action doesn't he? Then again what 90s mascot platformer character wasn't inspired by the guy?
Not that I'm saying Zool is ripping off Sonic's design, he's actually very distinctive in his own way. I'm sure if you actually coloured that sprite on the right in Sonic's colours he'd just end up looking like Zool wearing body paint.
Sadly the spinning blade attack doesn't let him helicopter hover for a bit or corkscrew into the air, which is a shame because I could really do with a little extra height so I could get up onto this ledge and kill this liquorice allsort that keeps spitting balls at me!
I can't help but feel for the guy though, as fate has cursed him to wear boots when he has no arms to tie his shoelaces. I just need to find a way to put him out of his misery...
Sonic the Hedgehog, checkpoints are designed to be ran past. Zool on the other hand makes me stop and hit them, because it apparently wants me tapping that fire button constantly.
The screen doesn't scroll across when I'm moving to give me space to see where I'm running into, so I find it safer to send out a few fireballs ahead of me to scout out the land and destroy anything they find. It helps keeps the pace up at least, so I'm not stuck shuffling forward cautiously.
I jump into the emblem and... immediate cut to black. I didn't even get two seconds of victory music for my trouble! This sure wants to be a console game, but it hasn't quite nailed the presentation.
This is the Atari ST version of the game by the way, and it's basically the same thing as the Amiga game except with everything turned right down to 'slow and ugly'. I've seen worse scrolling on the system though; it's pretty impressive for an Atari game.
The DOS game is pretty much the same as the Amiga version except without the gradient in the background, though I've just noticed an issue that both the Atari and DOS ports share: there's much less space below the character to see where he's falling. Whenever there's vertical movement going on I have very little chance to react to enemies, and Zool jumps so high that the floating platforms disappear right off the bottom of the screen whenever I'm trying to leap from one to the other.
There's a couple of other big changes in this version I noticed, like how Zool can climb walls now, and how it can play music and sound simultaneously. Oh, also it's a different game, with brand new levels. Seriously, there's nothing like this... uh, lemonade aqueduct in the original Amiga game, and that's probably for the best as it's fucking terrible to get around on. Falling in the liquid slows me down to a crawl and takes away my ability to jump, and these chocolate log rafts are so rare that I barely get to use them.
Plus the game made me do blind jumps onto disappearing blocks straight after this!
The Genesis/Mega Drive version of the game is similar to the SNES game, but there's still plenty of changes between the two. My poor brain can't even mentally map out even one of these stages, so trying to comparing several places in my head at once is a struggle for me, but I'm 90% sure these levels are different yet again. Fortunately one of the differences is that these rivers don't slow me down anywhere near as much, and are less awkward to get around.
This version is incredibly slick and looks about as good as the Super Nintendo game, but it's still got a mini-Zool sprite and a real shortage of vertical screen space.
THE END OF AREA 1.3.
Hang on, why isn't it letting me out of the level? Also why did they put a bloody enemy right after the area boss? But more importantly, what's the deal with my original question?
Oh, get it. I've only got '48' of whatever needs getting (likely those sweets that are scattered all over the place) and I need to have... more. I guess I'll go backtrack through the level and get it to a nice round number like 60 or 70 before trying again. I really have to wonder why so many developers at the time thought it was a good idea to punish players for not scouring the level for pointless collectables, when the Sonic and Mario games that everyone wanted to emulate were rewarding players instead. Instead of jumping straight to the loading screen, the game should be counting up all the objects I found and giving me lots of positive feedback!
And then there's the Game Boy, Acorn Archimedes, CD32, Amiga AGA and Arcade versions... sorry, I'll stop now. More Amiga game, less comparisons.
(It didn't take me far).
AREA 2.1 AGAIN.
But what's really disturbing is when I try to jump up a series of collapsing platforms, and end up smacking my head on the one above and falling back down! I only get a certain number of tries at this, because the platforms are disintegrating and as far as I can tell they don't come back until I sacrifice Zool to the infinite enemies below and respawn. It doesn't help that the bloody drum bounces me automatically unless I'm balancing right on the edge.
And when I finally made it up to the top and heroically leapt for that cable at the top... I learned that the bloody thing has electricity running across it at regular intervals and got shocked! I didn't manage to capture that though because of
You might have noticed the other big difference yourself.
Yeah, they've decided to take away the eye-scorching magenta gradient and fill the background with random floating instruments instead! This was a problem with early AGA titles, as developers had to put something in there to show off the power of the expensive new machines, but weren't quite up to adding full console-style multi-layered parallax scrolling for whatever reason (maybe coding it was a pain in the ass). So you ended up with games that didn't look better than the original, they just looked more cluttered and busy. I mean how is someone supposed to see enemies against this chaotic background of tiny guitars and records (never mind the tiny guitar and record pick-ups I need to find).
Why I need these things is a mystery, but my best guess is that Zool's going to take them back to his ship and sell them on the "Nth" dimensional equivalent of eBay. He needs the cash for repairs I imagine; a certain amount each world because every time he gets his vessel fixed up, he ends up wrecking it again on the next bonus stage.
This gif actually illustrates a number of things that have been bothering me, like the way these drum enemies like to walk over and sit behind the Zool sprite while he's wounded and flickering, ready to hit him again when the temporary invulnerability wears off. It's my own dumb fault for not moving out of the way of course, but that's because I forgot that I can't turn around while he's crouching.
I didn't actually need to duck at all here really, I've just gotten into the habit because I like sliding to a stop when I'm killing things on the run. These asshole drums can be hit with a close range punch or kick (in fact only be hit with a close range punch or kick), so I don't know what happened here. You can see my ninja fireballs deflecting upwards off the drum skin, so I AM hitting him, it's just not counting for some reason.
Now that thing is closer to what a ninja ant would look like, if it was made of quavers. I tried dropping down onto it, but it turns out that it's immune to all attacks, so whoops I took damage instead.
Game design tip #115: If you're making an enemy that breaks the rules and hurts the player if they jump on them, stick a spike on their head or something.
Hang on, I think I just figured this out: I've ran out of time! I knew I shouldn't have wasted 12 high-speed Zool-seconds staring at that quaver monster. Fortunately I only have to go back as far as the last checkpoint... but less fortunately THERE ARE NO CHECKPOINTS. I haven't come across a single one since Chupa Chups Lollipop Land, unless I've been running right past them without noticing.
Fortunately the hidden bonus area I found near the entrance counts as a checkpoint, so there's that at least.
SEVERAL ATTEMPTS LATER.
On this bit the ledge on the left leads to another cable that I can climb along, with a deadly speaker cabinet sliding up and down to push me off if I time it wrong. The screen's not tall enough here to reveal the deadly spikes and trumpets of safety below, but that's fine... right up to the point where I reach the end and run out of cable. At that point the player has to take it on faith that the designer hadn't stuck a huge pit of spikes beneath them to drop into, but guess what!
To be fair spikes aren't an instant kill or an inescapable death trap, so landing in them is more of a slap on the wrist than a punch to the face (plus if you hang around long enough you might see some notes coming up from the horn indicating a safe landing zone), but if the spikes aren't there to test a player's skill or add a bit of risk, then what's the point of them?
Still, at least I know that these things are safe to jump on now. I've got this aversion to throwing myself onto pointy objects for some reason.
18 seconds left.
And now that I've got sound effects on, I get to hear him quack like a duck every time he loses a hit point. Seriously, Zool quacks, enemies shatter like glass, without the music I can hear his alien heartbeat in the background constantly, beating more franticly when he's low on health. That ain't normal for a happy cartoony platformer.
Who the fuck thought it was a good idea to construct and sell all these deadly guitar amps anyway?
Also you can see here how bad the enemy respawning is. I slipped down a little further than I'd intended to after killing the first one, so when I got back to the top a second one had teleported in to replace him.
By the way, continues start me off in exactly the same place as the lives do, so there's no real difference as far as I can tell. They might as well have just started me with 36 lives or whatever. Or even infinite lives! Worked for Super Meat Boy, and no one ever said that game was too easy.
FOUR LIVES LATER.
Now I'm back at the title screen again. There's no saves or password, so you've got to make it through the entire game in one sitting. I was ready to call it a day here, but then I accidentally learned something while doing some research that I had to test out for myself.
And it turned out to be true!
But at least now I know that there are checkpoints, so I should be able to fly through the Music World next time around, now that I don't have to do entire stages in one go within the time limit.
THE END OF AREA 4.3.
I've got plenty of continues so I could keep throwing myself against this bullet-sponge boss over and over all afternoon until I eventually figure out the trick to it, but do I really want to?
I've been trying to decide if I like Zool or not, and I'm still not sure. I'm absolutely certain I never want to put myself through one of those boss fights again, but the rest of the gameplay was pretty good at times I thought. Between all the bits where it was bad.
Zool was intended to give computer gamers their own Super Mario World or Sonic the Hedgehog, but it's just not on that level when it comes to presentation. Having to choose between music or sound effects leaves levels sounding empty whatever you pick (constant eerie heartbeat aside), there's no 'level complete' jingle or anything like it to reward you for completing a level, and the collision detection seems off. Also techniques like the mid-air spin attack and jumping up a wall are more awkward to pull off than they need to be, which is probably why they were changed for the console ports.
Speaking of consoles, it seems that whatever you play this on you're going to get a different experience. The computer versions are pretty similar, but the console ports have new levels, extra graphics, reworked gameplay, and no two of them are exactly the same. My favourite of the ports was probably the Genesis/Mega Drive one, as it was like a slightly less crap version of the SNES game, but my interest in that started to wane when I found that the boss fights were even tougher than the Amiga game. The Sega incarnation of the sweet bee really took every ounce of interest I had in the game to beat, and left me without a single shit left to give.
Yeah, the more I think about this, the less I like it. Sorry Zool, you're probably in the top 10% as far as Amiga platformers go, but according to my highly scientific rating system you're still kind of crap.
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