The original Zool was a bit of a ground breaker. This may have had something to do with the lead-lined packaging and, as I attempted to explain to the shop manager at the time, the poor quality of modern shop floors. However, it was more to do with the great leap forward it represented for pc platform games. Prior to Zool's release, it was virtually a truism to say that pc platform games were crap. The scrolling tended to be abysmal and the gameplay, jerky. If you wanted a platform game you bought a snes. But, then came Zool - the first platform game to be fast, smooth and exciting. A veritable Nigel Mansell among PC games, except it was fast, smooth and exciting, so it wasn't really like Nigel Mansell at all. Damn.
That's the last time I buy a cheap Dictionary of Metaphors. Anyway, to sum up: Zool was the first decent pc platform game. (Yes, I think we'd gathered that. Ed.) It was also only the second time this century that a masked ant had tried to become famous.
Now the ant is back to wage battle once more with the evil and far from polite, Krool. The forces of boredom are on the march. They've conquered Saturday night tv and now they're after the Nth dimension. Krool, the victim of highly unimaginative parents, has dispatched Mental Block - a creature with the morphing abilities of a toon and the table manners of a hyena - to destroy the mind lines and bring victory to boredom. Don't look at me like that. I don't write these scenarios you know.
Think of it like a nightclub. Someone's got in and is playing their unrivalled collection of Chris Rea albums. You're the bouncer. You've got to plough through the six floors of the club, sort out all the bovver, find Mental Block and chuck him out. I'm afraid you don't get to call all the women darlin' or refuse entrance to corduroy-clad men called Derek, but then you can't have everything.
The first difference the Zool veteran will realise when confronted with the sequel is the large "2" that follows after Zool's name. Having recovered from the shock of Gremlin's fiendish marketing strategy, the player will then look for what's new in the game. And what will he/she find?
Well it's all a lot slicker, of course. The game's even more garishly colourful than before. And the graphics are superior - I know that because it says so on the press release. However, Zool and Zoolz are very well drawn and extremely well animated. There's a pretty wide range of monsters (if you can call a chicken with a chocolate egg on its head a monster) and some of them are quite imaginatively thought of. There are a few nice touches as well (and when you get to my age, a few nice touches is all you can hope for). For instance, on the ice level, leaping on top of ice cubes produces beautiful ice sculptors. Zool's not just a ninja, he's an artist too.
More impressive than the way Zool looks though is the way he moves. Very smooth and very, very fast. In fact, if, like me, your central nervous system has been shattered by years of sustained alcohol abuse, you may find it rather too fast. Everything rushes past at an alarming rate and you can easily lose control of the game. The programmer has clearly received a degree in Super-Bloody-Speedy Animations from the University of Platform Games, which makes platform hopping something of a nightmare. However, speed is of the essence and Zool is the fastest platform game I've ever played. In a rather cheeky nod at Sonic, the game includes a high-speed tube, which Zool can jump or fall into and then hurtle along at a rare old rate of knots. Rather a case of cocking a snook at the blue hedgehog - as my Great Uncle Ernie would have said.
Zool or Zoolz are pretty manoeuvarable and all that. However, one hangover from the original that's a real downer is the irritating dimb/jump feature. Trying to get Zool to let go of the rock or cable and jump is rather like trying to persuade John Major to resign. Except when you don't want him to of course, when suddenly he loosens his grip and drops to his doom. The sound is also an improvement on the original game, though 1 wasn't completely bowled over by it (good, not brilliant). The music track is a sort of muted piece of rave, while the sound effects have a strange whooshing to them.
The gameplay itself is fairly standard. Each of the six worlds is divided into levels (three in all the ones I got to) To complete a section you have to amass 99 points and then find the exit (not too difficult since there's an arrow at the bottom of the screen pointing you in the right direction). At the end of each world, you have to do battle with Mental Block. There's a bonus puzzle screen for you to complete with the aid of Zoon, your trusty ant-dog (provided you've collected three Zoon bonuses). In general the game is standard. Full of bonuses, power ups and hidden rooms.
Oh yes, there's also a two-player option which allows one of you to play Zool and one Zoolz, or for you to play two of the same character. Unfortunately, I haven't got any friends so I can't tell you what that's like.
If you've ever played Zool then just try to imagine what you'd expect Zool 2 to be like. You've got it. Zool 2 is a very good sequel to an excellent game. However, it's not really that different from the original. The graphics do seem a bit more impressive, but maybe I'm falling victim to the power of suggestion and hence, am just believing what I'm told (I haven't got a copy of Zool here to compare them with). To be honest, I reckon most people would have trouble distinguishing Zool 2 from Zool - except for the inclusion of Zool 2, of course. Maybe that's no bad thing. Zool 2 is an extremely good platform game, it's just not an extremely different one.
If The Hat Fits -A Beginners G-uide To Corporate Identity
Not as violent as Gods, not as blood-curdlingly sweet as James Pond - Zool inhabits a sort of middle ground in the world of platform games (or should that be the middle platform). The Ninja of the Nth dimension emerged about the time when software companies - casting jealous eyes over the success of characters like Sonic The Hedgehog and Mario - were all desperately trying to create their own corporate character. We had James Pond - the aquatic secret agent; Bubsy- the psychotic Bobcat; we had Dingo -the baby-loving canine (Are you sure about that one? Ed.) and, of course, we had Zool. Each character came with his own endearing characteristic; how we smiled as James Pond concertinad his stomach, how we chuckled when an impatient Bubsy rapped the TV screen, how we howled with laughter as Dingo bit... (I think that's enough. Ed). They also came complete with a range of baseball hats, T-shirt and other high mark-up marketing toys. It may seem strange that a company would attempt to increase its profile by developing a character which is basically just a large, wicked-looking ant -but look at television. Mr Blobby's career has sky rocketed since he invented that turd with a beard as his sidekick. Zool really isn't so weird when you remember that someone invented Noel Edmonds.
There are two reasons for the "2" in Zool 2. There are so too! Firstly, of course, this is the second installment of the game. Secondly, there are two characters for you to choose from. Zooh The hero himself. The most famous ant since Adam. A quick- moving Zool can reek destruction either by jumping on things or shooting them. By pressing fire when he's jumping you can cause the insectoid one to spin around like a dervish, shattering everything in sight. He's also nobody's fool when it comes to bashing through false ceilings.
Zooh: Since she's a female ant she should of course have been called Anette (Ant-ette?...oh please yourself). Anyway, she's easily as tough as Zoo/ and tooled up with what could be a whip or she could just be using her hair. (Rather like the girl in Naked, he said in a noncey, film critic kind of way.)