Retro Review – Zool: Ninja of the Nth Dimension – Amiga
Publisher: Gremlin Graphics Developer: Gremlin Graphics, Commodore Genre: Platformer
Players: 1 Other console/handheld formats: Sega Mega Drive, Game Gear, SNES
Back in the days when game universes consisted of sugary treats and DIY environments (Mickey’s Castle of Illusion had a level with bouncy jelly, the James Pond games had levels designed around sweet treats and Micro Machines had race tracks created out of enlarged items found around the home), and back during a time when Chupa Chups was associated with everything, came an interesting game called Zool: Ninja of the Nth Dimension.
Intended as a rival for Sonic the Hedgehog, Zool is a ninja gremlin forced to land on Earth in order to work through many challenges and receive his Ninja ranking and make it back to his own world. As the title of the game is ‘Ninja of the Nth Dimension’, assume he succeeds. There is not much to the plot, and a rather odd choice at the end of the game is to include a final closure scene that seems unnecessary as there is no opening scene to show how Zool ends up on Earth. The story is most likely included in the manual, though if you are the type of gamer who skips reading the manual, then you’ll have no idea what is going on and assume that Zool is still on his own planet. However, in the Sega Game Gear manual, there is a cool mini comic which does show how Zool ends up on Earth.
The game plays out the same as any platformer, speeding through levels, running down slopes, jumping from platform to platform, defeating enemies made of sweets, vegetables (who said veg was good for you?) and CD-ROM’s, and all leading up to the typical end-of-level bosses. Zool was known for its incredibly hard difficulty and slippery controls and so it took a lot of skill to complete a level. Slippery controls are frowned upon these days, with players needing that tight gameplay feel, and so these days a game like Zool would possibly fall out of favour.
Zool runs around through brightly designed levels with Chupa Chups advertising all over and shoots what can only be a pellet gun, which is another odd choice as ninja’s don’t usually use guns, preferring melee weapons such as katanas, swords and all other manner of sharp-edged knives that you wouldn’t eat your dinner with. During the gameplay you can also find the ever essential power-ups, enhancing Zool’s abilities.
The levels are colourful and pleasing to the eye, and as mentioned, themed around everyday items such as those sugary treats, DIY, music, vegetables, toys and more. The layout of the levels is very basic, with easy-to-reach platforms and slippy-slidy slopes that, despite the controls, are fun to slide down. Zool isn’t just about platforming either; there are hidden sections that, when accessed, will take you to various mini games, of which includes a side-scrolling space shooter involving the eponymous hero’s space shuttle.
The most danger that you will come across in the game are the enemies and the game truly can be merciless when you are faced with a killer jelly or a liquorice sweet, with multiple enemies strolling or diving towards you and with Zool needing quick reaction times to prevent getting hit; too many hits results in a death, and this is made all the more likely with those super slippery controls which can result in accidentally sliding into an enemy, and so the game does require a lot of skill and good reaction time to complete. Upon defeating an enemy, the most compelling part of the game is collecting the small items that they drop, including cassette tapes, guitars, CD’s, nuts and bolts, rubber ducks and more. This was a trend at the time – another popular game to use this is the James Pond games – and collecting these miniature items would increase your score and for those high-score chasers, or even just casual players, these items are especially addictive to collect.
Zool is also different in that there is no music throughout the entire game, at least in this reviewed version. There are some sound effects and Zool making a harrowing yelping sound when he is killed; you can hear the shots from the pellet gun and the jingle that plays as you collect the items, but aside from the opening and ending sequences, there is no music. This is by no means a terrible thing, as listening to the various sounds can be quite immersive and gives the world a strangely haunting quality, though many gamers these days would probably think that a game without music to bob their heads to would be quite boring.
On its original release, Zool was critically acclaimed, garnering scores of over 95% from many Amiga-related magazines, and thus led to a sequel, Zool 2. Overall Zool: Ninja of the Nth Dimension is both a very challenging and equally rewarding experience, and if you are willing to put in the effort to complete everything you will find that there is much more below the games surface, adding much more value and longevity.