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Zool Redimensioned

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: Platformer
Publisher: Secret Mode
Developer: Sumo Digital Academy
Release Date: Aug. 18, 2021


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PC Review - 'Zool Redimensioned'

by Cody Medellin on Dec. 23, 2021 @ 2:00 a.m. PST

Zool Redimensioned is a brand-new reimagining of the classic action platforming adventure has been rebuilt from the ground up for modern audiences.

There's a fascinating story behind the creation of Zool Redimensioned. While not exactly a large development house, Sumo Digital runs an academy where students can learn how to create games and hopefully find a pathway into the industry. As a test of their skills and a way to fund the academy, the students produced a modern remake of the first Zool game with the help of the original developers from Gremlin — who happen to be the forces behind Sumo Digital. For the students, having a fully published game in their portfolio already gives them a leg up on their peers. For Sumo Digital, it gives them a chance to resurrect a character that had a bit of fame in the early 1990s. For players, this is either a welcome shot of nostalgia or an oddity, depending on where you lived when it originally released.

If you're expecting a premise to the game, you would have to dig up some old instruction manuals or box art, as even the Steam page lacks this. For the most part, you are Zool, an intergalactic ninja that is trying to stop the evil Krool from taking over the universe. In the process, you've crashed your ship and must travel through the multiverse to chase down Krool. It's a simple plot that explains the different environments you'll go through, but none of it is important since the only other time the story is brought up is at the final cut scene.

If you're unfamiliar with the original game, you'll find the gameplay to be a mashup of the popular platformers of the time. Zool can jump on enemies like Mario, but he can also shoot like Mega Man. He can jump off walls like a ninja, but he can also vertically climb them. He can perform a sliding tackle and a spin while airborne that'll remind you of Mario's raccoon tail or cape. He also runs with a speed similar to Sonic but without the precision. You'll slide a bit when you run, and the game is filled with enough hills that speed control is tough.

Speaking of Sonic, you get the sense that Sega's classic was a big influence on the level design on most UK platformers at the time. Your main goal is to find the special medal at the end that lets you exit, and a few of those moments are interrupted by boss fights. The levels are maze-like and vertical rather than a straightforward horizontal path, as you'll go all over the place and jump on small platforms and break through walls to uncover passageways to reach the end. Some of the paths lead to collectibles, and others lead to secrets, such as bonus levels where you board a fixed-up ship and the game transforms into a side-scrolling shooter.

It's fine level design, but if you aren't experienced enough with platformers of the era, you'll be confused with the big tonal shifts in each world. The first world starts off in a candy wonderland, but you'll soon reach what looks like a music shop before dealing with a construction area, a children's toy room, a garden and an amusement park,  just to name a few. Even with the narrative from the instruction books, it feels like a fever dream of sorts, especially when your bosses consist of sentient bananas and a disembodied head that has a retractable boxing glove for a tongue and throws its own eyeballs as projectiles.

This isn't quite as basic as a platformer could get, but it doesn't fall into the trap of mandatory backtracking or managing XP leveling and skill trees. In other words, expect a classic platformer if you're playing on Ultimate Ninja mode, and be sure to tweak the display options beforehand. There are a few changes in this mode that make it different from the original release. For starters, you can take on five hits instead of three. Timers are also gone, so you can explore to your heart's content without worrying about dying for taking too long. Also, checkpoints don't require you to stop to activate them, and losing all of your lives just means restarting the level instead of restarting the entire game.

Play the game on the default Redimensioned mode, and the differences between it and the original are much more drastic. Even though his speed can make him feel like he's out of control, Zool's jumping is more accurate now that he has a double-jump that can be controlled mid-air. While having to meet an item collection quota was necessary to beat levels in the original game, that has been done away with in Redimensioned, which is a boon for speedrunners.

The real game-changer is the new default camera angle. The zoom in the original game was great for showing off large character sprites with details, but the speed at which Zool moved and the lack of on-screen real estate meant that enemies could hurt you because you never saw them in time. Coupled with the widescreen presentation, the camera angle in Redimensioned is zoomed out far enough that you can see where everyone is way before expected, so no one can get the drop on you. As mentioned earlier, this is also available for Ultimate Ninja mode, and you have the option to change to the classic camera angle or get a point in the middle, but few modern players may ever choose those options over the default.

All of these changes result in a game with a vastly different difficulty level from the original. The new moves and zoomed-out camera are great, but the game was still designed with those old limitations in mind. Scoring 1-ups is much easier, so you'll get a few without even realizing it. You can skip over large swaths of levels with the double-jump, and enemies won't surprise you. Except for a few boss encounters, it is very difficult to lose lives, and what would normally be a game you could spend a whole day trying to conquer becomes an experience that lasts two hours if you're trying to get every possible secret. It has the knock-on effect of becoming a perfect game for younger players or those just starting off with classic platforming, but it is also a poor example for those trying to show off the difficulty level of older games.

There is one thing that will highly annoy players in either game mode, and that's the knockback when Zool gets hurt. No matter which hazard or enemy you touch, Zool jumps back a great distance when harmed. Thankfully, there are no bottomless pits in the game or hazards that produce instant kills, and the invincibility frames when you do get hurt mitigate things a bit, but it is tiresome to see one little thing bounce you around like a pinball.

Aside from playing in either Redimensioned or Ultimate Ninja mode, Zool Redimensioned offers up a bonus in the form of a playable Mega Drive/Genesis version of Zool using the BlastEm emulator. Initially, it makes sense since the Mega Drive was a more popular system compared to the SNES in the UK, so there's a good chance that the target audience might be more familiar with that iteration. However, that is still a lower-grade port of the Amiga title, and since the Amiga emulation is quite good, it's a mystery why that version wasn't used instead. The only possible answer may be that the Genesis version had the licensing ripped out, and the lack of a Northern America Amiga release meant that it would be more difficult to remove the Chupa Chups logos from the first world, but it is still a shame that the Amiga build can't show off the original.

Graphically, the game looks fine much of the time. The pixel art is excellent, as if you were looking at a more detailed version of the Amiga through rose-tinted glasses. There's a vast color palette and lots of cleaned-up stuff in the background. The only issue is that some of the scenes have so much activity or color that it does a good job of hiding hazards from you. There are countless times when some spikes have such a faint shimmer that you can miss them or be so small that you wonder if those are supposed to hurt you. Other times, enemy projectiles are invisible against the background, so you'll get hurt and wonder why. Using the filters for emulating scanlines makes things worse, so some things here could've used some work.

As for the sound, what you're getting here is completely different from other iterations of the game. It may be inspired by the original soundtrack, but every song has been amplified to sound like something that would've come out of the shareware era when people were making full-bodied MIDI material. It can feel repetitive since you'll hear the same track play for four levels before moving on to something new, but they still rock. Unlike the original game, there are no voice clips except for a very garbled "get ready" happening before levels. Sound effects range are muted, and the sound of gunfire is absent when you gain invincibility, which makes some of the game feel unfinished in this department.

Nostalgia is going to play a heavy part in whether you'll like Zool Redimensioned. If you grew up with the Amiga as your main platform, you might be tickled to see Zool make a comeback even if the changes make it much easier than before. For those who didn't care too much about it back then, the improvements make it a better, shorter experience. For newcomers, the game is fun as a retro snack and worth checking out.

Score: 7.0/10

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