Ported to the Acorn platform in a hail of critical acclaim, Zool
never quite lived up to its high expectations. Unashamedly a Sonic clone,
it unfortunately fell far below the high quality of Sega's flagship
As Zool, the Ninja from the Nth Dimension, you battle through several
different levels, fighting manic toys, rioting sweets, lethal tools and all
manner of fairly imaginative nasties, each level culminating in a boss of
some description. You can jump about, climb walls, fire and spin
about in a way particularly lethal to the indigenous denizens of the various
The most strikingly obvious things missing from Zool are backgrounds - there
are none! Instead you are subjected to a mind-numbingly tedious single colour
backdrop throughout all three stages of a level. The original Amiga version
took advantage of that computer's built-in Copper bar hardware to produce
boring but at least colourful graduated backgrounds. The Acorn version lacked
this. And why!? A Public Domain patch for the game provided this option, and
it doesn't even make the game slow down or flicker, so in my opinion the
admission of this from the original port is sheer laziness. Whether this is
the fault of Cygnus Software, who wrote the Acorn code for Gremlin, or of
Gremlin themselves I do not know. I appreciate that Gremlin wanted the
cheapest port possible in order to "test the Acorn water", but I personally
find that the addition of the coloured backgrounds makes the game far more
fun! It also effects a pseudo-parallax since the positions of the colour
changes stay constant as the foreground scrolls.
A later 'enhanced' 32-bit version for the Amiga introduced tiled parallax
backgrounds. It would have been nice to have this on the Acorn version. I
realise that Amigas have blitters but, again, it would have been nice to
have, even if only on non-ARM 2 machines.
All that said, the game sprites are large and well drawn, and reasonably
colourful considering the game is limited to only 16 colours.
The main other problem with Zool is the unbelievably dire music, which doesn't
even change from level to level. Not since the days of 8-bit computing have I
come across games where one tune drones on incessantly throughout the entire
game; variety is the spice
of life. You do get the choice from a few different styles of music at the
start of the game, but they're all equally awful, and you can't change your
choice once you've started the game.
So the game doesn't look or sound perfect. But, most importantly, is it
playable? Well... it's not bad, but it doesn't really have that "one last go"
attraction. Perhaps one reason for this is that "a game" simply lasts too
long. The game is crying out for passwords but instead we are given only
continues. To sit down and play the game requires you to set aside a
considerable amount of time once you get reasonably good at it. There are
various options which let you configure (within limits) the amount of lives,
continues and energy units you have, but these do not effect the way the game
plays - only how careful you have to be.
A nice inclusion are three hidden sideways-scrolling shoot-em-up bonus games,
which add a little variety to the game - if you can find them (which is
complete luck). Still, once you've found one it does encourage you to keep
playing in order to find more. The bonus games are a little lacklustre,
unfortunately (not to mention very difficult!).
There are also a multitude of concealed areas in the game, including the odd
level warp, to discover (by punching various sections of wall), and there are
a few different power-ups which can be collected. All this adds to the
playability of the game, but unfortunately it doesn't overcome the ultimately
repetitive nature of the game - fundamentally there is very little difference
between levels. The game does have some very nice features - I love
the pianos which play as you walk over them, and there are loads of things
to discover - but somehow it just doesn't work overall.
It's difficult to pinpoint exactly what makes one game fun and another not-so-much
fun, but I would definitely place Zool firmly in the latter category.
Zool seeks to be the home computer Sonic, but never quite makes it.
There is a Zool 2, but this hasn't been released on the Acorn platform, and
you could safely bet money that it never will be.
Review by Gareth Moore, ©1995
Review originally written: 28/1/95
...this page last updated: 26/8/96...
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