Mmm, Chupa Chups
It's funny how things come full circle. We all roll our eyes in exasperated anguish every time a shoddy licensed film tie-in gets rushed out to deadline or a major corporation sallies forth with a tatty Facebook game/iOS app; cursing the newfangled craze with bitter venom. But back in the heady days when the Amiga reined supreme (sorry Atari fans, but it did), this was the rule rather than the exception. The Amiga's open-source nature allowed any company with a couple of quid to rub together to commission a team of bedroom coders on an ill-conceived crusade of broken gameplay, half-assed ideas and massive flagrant adverts.
This week, we're going to take a look at one ridiculous cash-in that carries the dubious distinction of actually being pretty good, so much so that it hit a number of platforms including the PC. Or, if I was feeling vindictive, it didn't stink as badly as conventional wisdom dictates. That's right: it's time to give some love to the Ninja from the Nth Dimension.
Zool had a very simple objective when it released back in 1992: selling a shedload of Chupa Chups. The sugary lolly company wanted to create a game that displayed their delicious confections front and centre, but instead of outsourcing to the the lowest bidder, they shelled out on none other than Gremlin Graphics. This veteran software house was responsible for hits like Premier Manager, and they set to creating the best game they could. Zool was intended to be a fast and technical platformer in the vein of Sonic The Hedgehog featuring loads of different themed worlds, slick graphics and a cool ninja mascot - and they succeeded in surprising style.
The titular Ninja proved to be an immensely capable protagonist. Over the course of eighteen enormous levels (seriously, Zool was an incredibly lengthy proposition compared to most platformers of the time), he could jump, shoot, punch and shadow clone through all opposition, facing off against a fantastic variety of enemies and hazards. Gremlin's George Allen took criticism of his earlier work to heart and made sure that the foes were as imaginative and varied as possible, including evil drums and the terrifyingly delicious Humbugger. Who was, of course, a bee made of sweets. In our opinion, modern games simply don't have enough bees made of sweets. Or reckless imagination, for that matter. Each of the six worlds had a colourful and exciting theme, from a hilariously corporate sugary sweet theme to a funky music zone that was decked out with speakers and instruments.
Admittedly the core gameplay was derivative and repetitive to the Nth degree, but Zool also contained a fair few nifty features that elevated it above the norm. Bonus levels challenged us to engage in side-scrolling shooter segments, and loads of secrets were available for intrepid adventures to find. Many of these lay behind destructible walls (and tended to consist of caverns liberally stuffed with Chupa Chups, mmm), but others required a little lateral thinking. In the music world, for example, you could play out a tune by jumping on enormous piano keys... and the right melody would reward you down the line. Coupled with a fantastic soundtrack, the journalists at the time went absolutely mad for it... though it's worth noting that the official Amiga mags were the driving force behind the ripe old scores. Again, nothing changes.
Zool wasn't an Amiga exclusive. Though they did their best to secure him as a mascot of sorts for the A1200 and CD32, he found his way onto practically everything including the Sega Mega Drive, Acorn, Game Boy and PC. Unfortunately, again, things come full circle - and hopeless ports were also a defining part of the early nineties. Tiny levels and hilariously bad optimisation led to a shoddy experience that didn't really do the original game justice.
So, in summary, Zool proves that flagrant corporate adverts don't have to be absolutely terrible. Its solid gameplay and neat ideas came together into an eminently playable package, which... oh bugger. I should have talked about Cool Spot or Mick & Mack: Global Gladiators instead. They're much better.
So, in summary, Zool sucked. Anyone fancy a Chupa Chup?