Each Vintage Vault review looks at the games of our past and decides whether they stand the test of time. If they do they become Vaulted and gain eternal protection from The Great Eye – Loganius. If they fail they get thrown in The Pixel Pit and receive eternal damnation. Let the trials begin.
Everyone reading this will have heard of iconic platform games like Super Mario Bros., Sonic the Hedgehog and even Rayman. These are classic, big-hitting titles that reached most homes that had a console of some description. But Zool: Ninja of the Nth Dimension is one of those games that is rarely mentioned, played or even given credit for what it did in the gaming world.
“Move over Sonic”
Zool was developed and published by Gramlin Graphics for the Amiga in 1992. George Allen had designed the game after his previous title Switchblade II was criticised for the lack of enemies on-screen. Development took some twists and turns, with the game originally being titled Pootz and the titular character originally having magical abilities. Soon these abilities were changed to having collectible power-ups, but one mechanic remained – the ability to clone yourself to double your on-screen attack power.
Zool is a platform game by nature which was released in the period where Mario and Sonic were dominating the industry. The game was designed as a direct competitor to Sonic the Hedgehog and kept a nice balance between the speed of the two Japanese game heroes. The gameplay is fast, but not as fast as Sonic but it has more of a complexity to it, with punches, kicks and more. It follows the story of Zool, who is a Ninja from the Nth Dimension that has landed on Earth. To gain a better Ninja rank the player must control Zool through seven whacky lands, full of really vibrant colours and bizarre enemies.
The game has more layer than a standard platformer of the time, bringing in elements that I have only perceived in some Rayman games since. There are a numbered of mini-games within the title, included arcade games, space shooters and musical levels similar to Rayman Legends. You can even use an in-game piano to play a certain tune that will open up warp points to travel through.
The music itself is fast-paced and incredibly fitting to the scene. The soundtrack itself was written by Patrick Phelan and actually overlaps the soundtrack he composed for Lotus 3. When the game was finally ported to the Amiga CD32 the soundtrack was further improved by Neil Biggin. Interestingly, other than the Amiga CD32, every port of this game had a slightly remixed variant of the original music to harness the unique sounds that played on each console at the time. These console ports spanned Game Boy, Mega Drive, Super Nintendo, Master System, Game Gear and more.
Take it like a boss
The game, like most, is not with it’s fair share of issues. One issue is that there is not much of a collect and reward system in the game. This can make it appear like a very bland game with no true purpose to the gamer. However there are many games like this from the era so it is not a devastatingly negative issue.
However, there is the problem with the boss fights. Unique in every way and dynamic for the age of the game they are still incredibly difficult. When I played this game as a child I only ever managed to get as far as the second world, mostly because the first boss fight absolutely destroyed me and it also took several attempts to get through. Whilst the game is a colourful, radiant game with amazing gameplay and music, the boss fights can prove too frustrating for people – especially the current generation of gamers who tend ot have it easy on modern games (yeah I went there…).
A legend lost to time
Zool is a comprehensive title which brought a lot of change to the platform genre. It never gets enough praise, regardless that is was listed as the 22nd best game on the Amiga after it’s launch for the Amiga 1200. The intricacies and speed matched the music in brilliant harmony, whilst the gameplay balanced nicely between run-and-gun and incredibly difficult boss-fight patterns.
Whilst Zool appears to be a game lost to time, it still hits a hard fist into the genre and opened up designs and possibilities that console of the time could not fully handle – the Master System for example had to have a dumbed-down version. Given that it is such a hidden pioneer of the genre it deserves a place within The Vintage Vault.