Yes, we take the mickey out of Adrian a bit (OK, a lot) for preferring Zool to other platformer mascots and it appears we’ve finally broken him. Here is Adrian’s rebuttal, a tribute to the ninja ant (sorry, alien) along with this lovely Zool picture done specially for this article by our Chris which we’ll soon be turning into a wallpaper for you to download.
Growing up as young kid in the early 90s I had my Amiga blinkered glasses firmly in place and it would still be a good few years until I got my grubby little mitts on a Mega Drive. I was adamant the Amiga was the best games machine bar none! I was guilty of looking down on ST owners with a smug grin and chortled every time I looked at the SNES and Mega Drive games lined up in the games shops in Croydon. Sure, the games looked good, I thought, but look at those ridiculous prices. I was such an Amiga fanboy that I truly believed that every genre of games was simply better on my lovely A600 compared to its console counterparts, apart from one; Platformers!
The Amiga had a few good games in this area, and some I put many many hours into, namely The New Zealand Story and Magic Pockets. But alas, a moustached plumber and blue hedgehog was rightfully the kings of the hill, but not for much longer! I first spotted Zool in an Amiga magazine. It was love at first sight! This badass ant like ninja with an attitude level cranked up to 11 really drew me in! He seemed to ooze coolness from every pore. With his iconic red bandana (only ever worn better by Raphael), his sarcastic eyes and his utility belt slung casually over his shoulder, this was one rad dude. I had found my Amiga’s platforming saviour at long last. All hail Gremlin.
The magazines were hyped too, the game would showcase speed rivalled by Sonic, with jumping abilities only Mario could muster. For me, Zool was the best of both worlds. In my eyes; Zool = Mario + Sonic. Oh, and don’t forget he could throw fireballs and hang on walls. That’s the hattrick for my ant ambassador. When Zool was finally released (initially as an Amiga exclusive I believe) I knew my best bet at playing this game would be at my uncle Victors house. I didn’t have long to wait. I had now read the positive reviews, seen the infamous ‘Bad News for Hedgehogs’ poster and was chomping at the bit to finally get my Zool fix. When I arrived at my uncle’s door there was little time for pleasantries; “Do you have Zool” I spurted out as soon as he welcomed us in. “Yes, its upstairs, go and have a go!” I was in dreamland (or should that be candy land?) The game was just as good as I imagined. The graphics truly were a piece of art. The colours were so vibrant and in your face. I also loved the Chupa Chup lollies – which 9-year-old wouldn’t!? I must have spent all day (taking it in turns with my brothers truthfully) playing that game. I was in heaven, and for me, at least, the hype lived up to the reality. Before we left home I had *ahem* gotten my own copy of said game.
I have no idea how many hours I put into Zool. Your guess is a good as mine. But I can tell you for free, no other games in my Amiga collection got a look in for several weeks! I am not naturally very good at platformers, but I was determined to complete this game. The music level was a challenge, but I eventually made it soundly through, the workshop level threw me a few spanners, but again I eventually hammered it and I finally had to get all my ducks in a row to complete the last level set in a fun fair. Oh boy, it was tough going. The last level was hard as nails and the final boss was a nuisance, but oh boy, once I jumped into my special Zool token I was happy as Larry. My ant-like hero zoomed off into his spaceship, returned to his home planet, nonchalantly kicking a blue hedgehog out of the way until finally landing a giant kiss on his lovely partner. I had a great time playing and completing this challenging game it was the first video game character I really felt connected with.
I felt so connected with him in fact that I wanted to create a cartoon of the ninja from the nth dimension. If Mario, Sonic, Zelda and even Bubsy could get their own cartoon show, then why couldn’t Zool get the same treatment? One of my ambitions growing up was to be a cartoonist or animator, so I got to work. My dad was happy for me to make my own home movies and lent me his chunky 1980s video camera. My plan was simple; draw a static picture of Zool (fully coloured using pencils) lay the sheet down on a white piece of wood, click record for half a second and then replace the original picture with a slightly altered picture, press record for another mini second. I would aim to repeat this process into I had a fully animated scene. Oh boy, it was tough work. I still have my original drawings and after creating about 20 or so frames I was burnt out! This equated to roughly a 15 second clip of Zool jumping in the air and showing off his ninja skills. It was clunky, amateurish and the frames didn’t all match up, but I was proud of my hard work. Who else in this crazy world can say that they have made a Zool animation?! Not many I can tell you. Sadly, this clip is most probably lost to the ether, most likely recorded over with Ghostbusters 2 or something of that ilk. There is a small chance it may still be hiding in my mum’s loft, so hopefully one day I can showcase my Oscar worthy anime for you all to see!
I also think I was the only person on my street (possibly town (maybe even county)) that owned a Zool t-shirt! I never felt cooler than donning my Zool tee and strutting my stuff around Croydon. I felt invincible. Sadly, like most apparel, it got faded and holey and eventually didn’t fit and was later consigned to the bin. Sad times. Luckily, I now own a whole host of video game-based attire, and last Christmas during our infamous not so secret Santa, my good buddy Rob bought me a fresh new (albeit slightly tight) Zool t-shirt! I felt 9 years old all over again! Don’t believe me, check out the pic below:
Zool, for me at least, was Amiga’s first true mascot and Commodore’s answer to SEGA’s Sonic and Nintendo’s Mario. I now know this was a foolish ideology, especially since he was hardly exclusive to that platform. In fact, he was ported across more consoles and computers that you could shake a stick at – thankfully not the stick from Bubba and Stix! And replaying Zool now I must admit (very grudgingly) it’s not as good as I remember. The controls are too slidey, the jumping mechanics are original but frustrating and it is just too fast for my slow reflexes to contend with. I still feel the Amiga version is the best and it is well worth a go if you haven’t played it before. Zool isn’t perfect, but this little guy will always be close to my heart. So, in my mind at least; Zool rules!