Have You Played… Zool?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

I earnestly, honestly loved Zool. That feels like a humiliating confession now, but in the 90s it was the wave of imagination and strangeness that convinced me I had it so much better with my PC than my classmates did with their SEGA and Nintendo machines. Jazz Jackrabbit hadn’t sparked my synapses despite seeming to be the PC’s best counter-attack against Mario and Sonic, but then I finally played Zool. I came to it late, because I didn’t have the money for it until it started hitting the discount racks, plus I believe the PC version was a little later than the original Amiga release (though don’t quote me on that). And I loved it.

Of course, half the stuff I thought was incredibly imaginative was simply ‘let’s build levels made of sweets, because for some reason we’re sponsored by Chupa Chups.’ Eat more sweets, kids! And pay £30 to see an advertising screen before you get to do anything else!

Also, ninjas still seemed impossibly cool and mysterious back then – especially ninjas who fired laser blasts from their hands. But Zool felt like my game; it was meaningful to reach a new area, getting to the stages with the drums and pianos felt like reaching some impossible, infinitely dangerous new world, and the secret side-on shmup levels seemed like the most miraculous bonus feature imaginable.

But it always felt slow, and fiddly. I’ve just revisited it for the first time in at least 15 years, and it’s disorientatingly familiar, but feels leaden. The character has no actual charisma beyond ‘ninja with funny eyes.’ Yet I felt tickled pink to see it again. The wrong game at the right time, that was Zool.

You can play Zool in your browser via Archive.org here, although no-one seems entirely sure of the legality of it.

46 Comments

  1. KDR_11k says:

    I think I tried to make the shareware version run but had difficulty doing so. Probably to do with conventional memory and IRQs.

  2. aoanla says:

    I had Zool, on the Amiga. (In fact, I think I had the “special” AGA version, which made use of the fancier graphics chips in later Amigas to have more colour etc.)

    Like most Amiga games of the era, the music was awesome. Also like most platformers of the era, it was really a bit hard (and seemed to miss some of the “flow” of Sonic, which it really wanted to be like). I think I liberally used level select cheats mostly to see what the later levels were about, and hear their background music…

  3. Horg says:

    I had Zool on an old Acorn when I was still single digit age. I can’t be certain due to human memory limitations, but there are good odds Zool was the first game I ever played. The shameless marketing went completely over my head back then, it was all just bright colours and fun.

    • chris1479 says:

      I played it on an Acorn A5000… pretty bloody powerful machine at the time, even had a CD drive and a proper mouse interface and OS.

  4. Creeping Death says:

    Zool! Not only did I play Zool, but I read Zool too!

    Now THAT is a humiliating Zool related confession.

  5. JimmyG says:

    NOT ALEC — ONLY ZOOL.

  6. Fenix says:

    What you wrote sounds exactly like my experience with Zool, Alec, except I was even smaller (and terrible at videogames) so the idea of ever beating the game was insane. I think I got to the drum level twice at best.

    And I ate way more Chupa-Chups than I would normally have -didnt even really like the taste- just because of Zool. Effective marketing at its best.

  7. LieutLaww says:

    Played it to death on my Amiga back in the day.

  8. Hypocee says:

    Pushover. Cracking little puzzle action game from about the same era/platforms, about arranging and rearranging a string of toppling dominoes with magic properties. For some reason, sponsored by Quavers. Retrieving a packet for your friend is the objective of each level. As a kid in the USA I initially thought this was just a standard fictional contrivance but I was eventually able to infer solely from their presentation that these ‘quavers’ must be a real thing that people were actually trying to sell. A mysterious processed snack food from an exotic land!

    • marmite says:

      I loved Pushover. I would love to play it again on my phone.

      I also loved Zool. I have a beer pump badge of a Tiny Rebel brewery beer called Zool that I acquired one night whilst drunk.

      I would love to know the story of how that particular brand crossover came about.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Pushover was a great little game. Neat theme tune, too.

      Lost-to-time game things I miss: doing clever things with the menus, like ants assembling titles out of dominos here. (And 3D Lemmings’ password entry screen, where a cluster of the critters will form circus-style acrobatic chains to spell out what you’re typing.)

  9. Turkey says:

    It’s no Cyril Cyberpunk.

  10. Text_Fish says:

    My best friend got an Amiga with Zool. He was even more my best friend then.

    I don’t know if I want to replay it today, because contrary to the article I remember it being really fast and smooth. :s

    • PostieDoc says:

      I still have an Amiga with Zool and Zool 2 on it and for me they are very smooth and fast games.
      Maybe the PC version was a bit wonky?

      • ZXDunny says:

        I had the PC and Amiga versions too. The PC version felt wrong. The controls were too “sharp” for want of a better word, and the beeper music was just awful compared to the Amiga (No sound card back then!). My favourite was Zool2 on the Amiga. Bloody wonderful, that was.

  11. fuggles says:

    funny eyes? He was a ninja ant from the nth dimension! Reasonably sure he was after sugar for his kids. Certainly had kids at the end.

    Next zool 2 with zooz and her whip! Or alfred chicken

  12. RuySan says:

    I don’t think Zool is as bad as videogame history revision makes us want to believe, and neither as good as the magazines of the day said.

    I played it the other day and it’s still a fun and slick experience. Definitely not among the best of the amiga, but probably among the best of second tiers.

  13. Coming Second says:

    That Killer Driller boss, though.

  14. ansionnach says:

    As others have said, the Amiga version had much better music than the PC one. Didn’t matter much as the game wasn’t that great. Still, I did love it, played it a lot and finished it so I certainly got my money’s worth. There were worthy platform games that were on computer. Another World, Prince of Persia 2 (and the original) and The Lost Vikings immediately spring to mind. Later the Earthworm Jims and some of the Sonics came along. Quite a few Apogee platformers were fun. Some very old games I haven’t played but have heard good things about are Below the Root and Starquake. There are a few surprising Konami ports (Castlevania, Contra, Rush ‘n Attack), although they may not be that great. Not a platform game, but there was even a port of Metal Gear (the MSX game from 1987) but I think it was of the NES version rather than the superior original. Night Shift always looked interesting to me but I never played it. Not platformers, but Contraption Zack could be worth a go… and I’m absolutely certain that D/Generation is about the best computer game I’ve played that scratches the same itch. Flashback was okay as well.

    • ansionnach says:

      One forgotten platform game that wasn’t very good, but I completed anyway, was Ninja Rabbit. It was infuriatingly difficult.

  15. iambecomex says:

    Forget Zool, it was okay but nothing more. The Amiga platformer you’re looking for is Harlequin. But no-one remembers it, probably because no-one actually played it at the time. Amiga Power loved it more than Mario and so did I.

    • Sin Vega says:

      Ruff (“and” – Ed) Tumble is still the greatest platformer ever.

    • fuggles says:

      Sorry, played the harlequin demo and hated it. New Zealand story?

    • aoanla says:

      I played Harlequin, or at least the demo. Loved it, could never find the game in shops!

      (Also, you’re forgetting about Odyssey, the other great forgotten Amiga platformer, with the “turning into different animals to solve problems” gimmick, which absolutely no-one played as it came out in 1995 or something when the Amiga was utterly dead as a platform ;) )

      • Sin Vega says:

        Odyssey was pretty neat. I always got stuck a few islands in though. Shame it didn’t come out earlier, a bit sad that they went for an Amiga exclusive or it might have found the audience it deserved.

    • Shazbut says:

      If by Harlequin you mean Robocod then you are, of course, correct.

      Disclaimer: I haven’t played Harlequin

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      platypusfool says:

      Thank you for reminding me of Harlequin. I somehow ended up with the full game and loved it – it was fiddly, confusing and way too hard (like most games of the time, I guess) but the world was delightfully strange and trying to navigate it was just the right kind of mysterious to worm its way into young mind.

      Another favourite was Benefactor, a puzzle platformer where a tiny man (brilliantly named Ben E. Factor) helped even tinier men reach exits by throwing them across gaps and fixing machinery and the like. It had lovely schlurping monsters and a fierce logic to the puzzles. I’d be willing to bet that it holds up better than most of these games today.

  16. Jakkar says:

    Zool intrigued me as a child but never held my attention. No, for an alternative platformer I think I spent the most of my time with James Pond II: Robocod. It had that spark combining movement/combat/imagination and catchy, if at-times-infuriating music. Zool never quite managed it – a worthy attempt that fell short of being a coherent whole, a living game.

    • Shazbut says:

      Yes, I agree with basically everything you said. Was Robocod on PC though? I guess Zool might have been the best PC platformer at the time.

      • ansionnach says:

        I have Robocod on PC. Probably have played many of the DOS platform games. Robocod had caught my eye on the Amiga and ST but when I got it I realised it wasn’t up to much. The port was quite faithful.

    • rabbit says:

      I had the first James Pond … boy was that game hard

  17. buzzmong says:

    Ah, the ninja from the Nth dimension!
    Still have a copy and it gets played every now and again when I dig the CD32 out.
    Good little platformer, gets really hard though (or I’m just rubbish at platformers).

  18. Anti-Skub says:

    I mean the platformer that you should be talking about here that made you feel like you’d made the right choice is Flood.

  19. bill says:

    I remember this era… trying and trying to find a PC platformer that was half as good and smooth as any of the console flagship franchises…. and failing.

    I guess Zool got as close as any to being the PC’s sonic/mario… but at some point we just had to accept that PC didn’t do platformers very well.

  20. Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

    in the 90s it was the wave of imagination and strangeness that convinced me I had it so much better with my PC than my classmates did with their SEGA and Nintendo machines.

    Zool was on SEGA and SNES.

  21. Meehrrible says:

    Random tidbits I stumbled upon… I understand Zool was originally intended as a sequel to Switchblade 2… and that they was going to be Zool 3… that ended up being Ninjabread Man. ( link to youtube.com )

  22. Kirasath says:

    Fun thing about this game, it had a crazy kind of DRM that consisted of a spinning plate thing where you matched figures after colours that made different poses of zool. that gave a kind of login code

  23. Shigawire says:

    Yes. I loved this game! Commander Keen, Zool, and many other games, are examples of why PC gamers weren’t missing out on anything from Sega or Nintendo.

  24. James says:

    I worked at Gremlin in the late 90s/early 2000s (PS1/PS2 era) and some people still had a load of Chupa Chups lollies in their desks that they’d got free when working on Zool. I imagine they weren’t really edible at that point.

    • James says:

      Oh, and I just remembered: I worked on a PS1 sequel to Zool for a bit too, called Zorbs. It was a full 3D game, where Zool jumped between and ran around on little spherical planetoids (Zorbs) with local gravity. Basically Mario Galaxy, but about 10 years earlier.

      Didn’t come out in the end, but it was a fun project.

  25. machstem says:

    “…plus I believe the PC version was a little later than the original Amiga release (though don’t quote me on that). And I loved it.”

    I just quoted you saying that. What do you think about that?