With all the ant
/not ant debate
surrounding Zool, it is easy to forget that it was also a platform game
of rare quality. Converted from an Amiga
game to PC
by Cygnus Software in 1992/1993, Gremlin
released the PC version of Zool to great critical acclaim. Different from the stop-think-shoot from distance Jill of the Jungle
-style common of games of this genre for the PC at the time, Zool was great as it allowed you to jump around with the fire button held down and autofire
Unlike many games of the era, Zool is free of the contrived plots that many platformers suffer from. In fact, the only way of finding it is to read the manual - apparently Zool ("the interstellar cosmos dweller from the Nth dimension" and a Ninja to boot) is stuck somewhere (players are never told how he got there) and that you need to guide him home. There is also a brief animated ending - a picture of a spaceship, then Zool going to a house where a female Zool (but not Zoolz from Zool 2)is waiting with hearts above her head. It lasts about 10 seconds. Apart from this there are no cut-scenes - just action, action, action all the way.
Zool isn't confined to the one attack most lead characters are lumbered with. He can jump on baddies heads, "slide" them (imagine a Stuart Pearce tackle), punch them, shoot them with bullets and do a strange spin-in-the-air thing. Zool also has the ability to stick to walls Spider-man style, a skill often as irritating as useful. His health is indicated by bars at the top of the screen - 3 max with Zool dying after being injured with none left. Health can be nudged up a bar by collecting hearts that occasionally flutter out of killed baddies.
The game itself consists of 6 "worlds", each with three levels. Each world has different baddies and a unique "end of level beastie" at the end of the third level. Levels are completed by collecting a coin at the end after collecting a certain percentage of bonuses - 25% on easy, 50% on medium and 75% on hard. Here is a summary of the worlds (in order):-
- Sweet World - an easy beginning and my favourite world. The main enemies are jellies (small oscillating blobs, some homing), bumble bees and sweet beasties (pink things which vomit projectiles). The end of level beastie is Hum-Bugger, a giant bee (easy to kill if you keep jumping and firing from the back of the screen). The 10000 point bonus is a huge Polo mint.
- Music World - A lot harder. The main enemies are walking drums (impervious to bullets), violins (fire bows and always kill me) and flying cymbals. The end of level beastie is Jimmie's Killer Guitar (spin attack always worked for me when facing him) and 10000 point bonus is a ghetto-blaster. Music World also contains keyboards for which tunes must be found on the level and then played correctly - these unlock secret areas and use of one is required to complete the fiendishly hard 2:2.
- Fruit World - Colourful but irritating, with progress and loss of life both rapid. Main baddies are jumping bananas, missile-carrying carrots and bombing pea-pods. At certain points in the level, oranges and apples drop from off-screen, which cannot be killed and are almost impossible to avoid, with survival more luck than skill. End of level beastie is Banana and Alarm Clock (can never work out successful stratagy for these) and 10000 points is gained by collecting pineapple rings.
- Tool World - Possibly the hardest world. Levels are vast and the correct direction to go is never obvious. Baddies include drills, saws, green things that might be woodworm and a thing that splits in two the first time it's shot. Fortunately for frustrated players the end of level beastie is the easy Giant Driller Killer that gradually digs away the ground Zool stands on (just don't fall down and keep shooting when it's at ground level). The 10000 point bonus is some sort of winch-thing.
- Toy World - Pretty and too easy world - levels are short, simple and enemies easy to kill, although this has to balanced with a nasty end of level beastie. Major enemies are tanks, bouncing balls, high jumping baby teddies and bombing paper planes. The end of level beastie is Maxie the Robot (jump, shoot and hope you're lucky) and the 10000 bonus is a big panda teddy.
- Fairground World - would be easy if it wasn't for the fact that most enemies fire projectiles. These include toffee apples, candyfloss and popcorn bags. End of level beastie is the pathetically easy Two Eyed Thing (stand back, keep firing and jump if necessary to avoid missiles). 10000 point bonus is a goldfish bowl.
As well as this there are 4 bonus levels where you fly a spaceship - I have found them on 2:1 and 5:1 - and nice extras (such as a giant arcade Zool game on 6:3) to be found.
Zool is by no means a perfect game though - basic graphics and appalling sound (only one of music or sound effects could be chosen, and both quickly annoyed) left much to be desired. The lack of save function also was frustrating - lose your last life on 5:3 and you had to go back to the start, replaying all 15 levels again. End of level beasties require as much luck as skill to defeat. Enemies regenerate once you leave the screen - this leads to many occasions where you have to kill the same damn carrot 5 or 6 times. However, it was still great and had an equally popular sequel.