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.