Zool: Ninja of the Nth Dimension (Amiga Game, Gremlin Graphics, 1992)
There is a reason why cat videos are so popular on the internet. Barely a day goes by without someone sharing a video of some kittens falling into a waste paper basket or a blender on my Facebook newsfeed (I may have lied about the blender). It is the same reason in part why Mario and Sonic are so popular. They are cute. You warm to them. You want to protect them. And they are one of life’s underdogs (no pun intended!). Mario, for example, is a bit un-athletic and wears overalls and had a funny accent. Sonic on the other hand has an amusing animation that sees him roll into a ball and tear along at the speed of sound, most un-hedgehog like. Both make you smile and want to look after them. It would be churlish of me to not mention the unparalleled gameplay, fabulous learning curve and exquisite level design in each that adds to the experience, but it is undoubtedly the character of the games and in particular the main participants that makes you chuckle and that, in turn, makes them fun.
‘Zool: Ninja of the Nth Dimension’ was released for the Amiga in 1992 and was intended (as so many 'mig platform releases were) to be a rival to Sonic and Mario. It is a smooth, bright, fast moving platform game, featuring ‘Zool’ who is (can you guess?) a ‘Ninja of the Nth Dimension’. Which means he is a weird alien thing. Who looks quite like an ant. With four legs. And a mask on. Not very cute then. Ah well never mind. The story is that Zool has to navigate seven lands and beat the final boss of each in order to become a Ninja. He can jump, run, climb, crouch and slide into enemies killing them. He can also spin attack if you press fire while jumping. He can fire his weapon to dispatch the many bad guys and along the way he can collect extra power-ups to help him progress, including; a smart bomb, an ability to split into two doubling his firepower, a double height jump, a shield, a time bonus and (of course) the obligatory extra lives.
Gameplay is pretty standard platform fare, though you will encounter a number of mini-games which break things up a bit. It is fast, slick and very colourful. Sound is quite techno, but isn't bad. The difficulty is on the hard side of ‘fair’. At the time of release Commodore threw its weight behind the game, making it the lead title in the Amiga ‘Zool pack’ which was bundled with the (then) new Amiga 1200, the pack also including the excellent 'Pinball Dreams', somewhat less than excellent 'Striker' and useful but probably rarely used 'Transwrite'. The combined Amiga press gave the game excellent scores upon release, with most rating the game in the ninety-something percentage range.
But for me it just doesn’t happen. The end result is simply not the sum of the parts. There are, in my opinion, a number of negative aspects that spoil the game. Firstly it is a bit unfocussed and can at times be quite busy. There is lots of stuff to collect but you don’t really know why. It is seemingly just to accumulate points. I have never been a big fan of point-scoring in platform games. For me a platform game is about progression. If you have to collect something, it should be a requirement to open an exit or another area. Or an item that you can later use to solve a puzzle. Or something that accumulates to give extra lives. When I die in a platform game I rarely look at my score; I judge my progress on how far into the game I made it. So I found all the item collection stuff a bit pointless. The screen can also become quite cluttered with foreground, background, stuff to collect, enemies, bullets and the flying fragments of things you have just shot. I have mentioned this before in other reviews but I will say it again, 8% of the male population of the world are shade blind and I am one of them. If you get overly ambitious with too many objects and colours flying about, all some of us see is a confusing mush. The worlds are quite samey too, while the theme changes the gameplay doesn't. It doesn't take long before you start to feel that there is nothing new to see.
It also suffers from one of the most unpleasant and in-your-face commercial tie-ins ever seen in a game. Without the funds to complete the game, the developer went cap in hand to lollipop manufacturer 'Chupa-Chups', signed a sponsorship deal and this resulted in the final game containing more lollipop references than an episode of Kojak. In completing the first ‘sweet world’ it is hard to progress without a Chupa-Chups logo half the size of your screen staring at you. However, putting unfocussed gameplay, confusing screens and tasteless commercial tie-ins aside, the main killer for me though was that I simply didn’t care. Some games make you want to protect your playable character. Zool doesn’t. I would play, I would die and I would start again. There was nothing that made me want to get further, to see more of the game. Platform games are very much my thing. Over the years I have fallen in love with a number of them, including ‘Superfrog’ and ‘Gods’ on the ‘mig, ‘Crash Bandicoot’ on the PlayStation and I have played more than my fair share of ‘Mario’ games. I have invested many hours to see the very ends of some of those games, but I am afraid that, despite trying many times to progress and be seduced by its colourful ninja-ly antness, Zool still leaves me utterly cold.
I realise of course that opinion makes the world go round. There will be those that hate Crash, or Gods, or even Mario. And they are absolutely entitled to their opinion. They may harbour a burning desire to be an alien-ninja-wannabe-ant-thing, in which case they may well enjoy this. It certainly isn’t a bad game. There is nothing dreadfully wrong with it per-se. It is a well programmed platform game. It is colourful, fast and slick and has a good number of levels and bosses. What it does it does perfectly well, but (and, unfortunately for me this is a huge 'but') there is absolutely nothing there that makes me warm to it or to want to keep playing it.
So there you are. It is some platform game. Well put together, solid enough but ultimately unremarkable. If you want a top-quality and highly enjoyable Amiga platformer with added guns, I suggest you check out 'Ruff and Tumble' which beats Zool into a cocked hat. Now if you will excuse me, I have just been sent a video of a cat being startled by a cucumber…