Ah, the 1990s. A wild, heady time when video game mascots of all shapes and sizes fought to the death to secure their place in the hearts and minds of gamers everywhere. And it all started with one little Italian plumber in a flat cap, and a blue hedgehog in trainers.
The two biggest players in this branding brawl were definitely Nintendo and Sega, with their respective mascots Mario Mario (Why yes, that IS a Super Mario Bros. movie reference) and Sonic The Hedgehog. Sony had a stab at getting involved with Crash Bandicoot and Spyro, but there are so, so many others. Glover, Titus the Fox, Cool Spot, Gex, Bubsy… but it wasn’t just consoles that were fighting this particular battle, oh no. Home computer manufacturers wanted a chunk of that brand recognition, thank you very much. Enter the Commodore Amiga and their erstwhile mascot – Zool.
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Zool (not to be confused with Zuul) is a little ninja from the Nth Dimension and absolutely NOT AN ANT, even if he really does look like one. He is also, sadly, not from the Eighth Dimension, or even Planet Ten. He’s got green legs, green arms and a red bandana covering his yellow eyes. He starred in two games released by Gremlin Graphics – Zool (1992) and the creatively titled Zool 2 (1993). The first game was well received back in the day (albeit with criticism levelled at it for being a little TOO hard and the less said about that whole Chupa-Chups tie-in the better), though the second didn’t fare so well in comparison.
Now, almost thirty years after he first graced computer screens, Sumo Digital Academy and publisher Secret Mode bring us a remake of the first game – Zool Redimensioned. This new release brings a nice graphical upgrade along with some quality of life improvements, which does a good job of remaining true to the original while adding in some new modern features such as Steam achievements.
You are able to play in two different modes – “Redimensioned” is the slightly more forgiving experience, with a double jump added to make some obstacles easier, and there’s no need to collect the requisite number of collectibles to complete the level. “Ultimate Ninja”, on the other hand, removes the double jump and you WILL collect every bobbing, random piece of tat in the level or you won’t be finishing! There’s even an emulator tucked away in the game extras menu to allow you to go back to play Zool as it looked and felt back on the original Amiga release if you want a true blast from the past.
Zool was and is fairly standard platform fare, with the player navigating the titular character through a series of differently themed worlds with such inspiring names as “Sweet”, “Fruit” and “Tool” (which is sadly not a world based on album covers by the band of the same name), dispatching enemies with a crisp smack on the head by jumping on them, sliding into them feet first, or shooting them with little glowing balls rather than shurikens. Maybe they’re Nth dimension versions of shurikens.
It handles well enough, even if Zool is one of those very “slippy” characters who has a habit of remaining in motion for a moment when you release the controller, which can lead to some very cheap feeling deaths. I’m also not entirely convinced by the collision detection of some of the environmental dangers, getting stabbed by spikes when I’m sure I was well clear of them.
The environment is where Zool really struggles. It’s LOUD. Every level leans heavily into its theme, with the music world being one of the worst offenders for making it really difficult to tell what’s what. Bright primary colours and complicated patterns abound in every level, but here it’s particularly egregious with the things you need to collect and the things that damage you looking distressingly similar. In this level you must collect giant boomboxes, and jump on speakers. But there are also other speaker stacks that rise out of the ground and you might be forgiven for thinking they’re platforms for you to jump onto if you time it right, but no. Oh no. They hurt you instead. Why? Because fuck you, that’s why.
Minor niggles about graphics aside, the biggest problem with Zool Redimensioned is the same problem the original Zool had: why play it when there are so many other superlatively good platformers already out there? It’s a graphically rather ugly game, just as the original was, and despite the character being billed as a ninja, it doesn’t really have any connection to the gameplay, which is about collecting parts for a crashed spaceship. It’s by no means a bad game (issues with cheap deaths/traps aside), but nor is it a particularly memorable one except perhaps as also-ran in the heady days of the mascot wars.
Zool Redimensioned is out now on Steam.