‘Zool Redimensioned’ review: ‘Sonic’ rival falls short of a clear run

Not-stalgia

I never owned an Amiga. I wasn’t even close to being born in 1992, let alone cognisant enough to have played Zool: Ninja of the Nth Dimension. So then, I’m coming into Zool Redimensioned as a completely blank slate, judging it on its merits without the benefit of nostalgia.

Apparently, Zool was initially supposed to be a rival for Sonic the Hedgehog, and I do see where they’re coming from. Zool, a weird ant-like gremlin fella, is a bit of a speedster with a solid reliance on momentum. He also has cute, impatient idle animations where he does clap press-ups while looking at the player as if to say, “get on with it mate, I don’t have all day”. You have the ability to run, jump, do a ground pound-type move while airborne, and even shoot a few pellets at your enemies.

Zool Redimensioned is a remaster of the original game, and was developed by Sumo Digital Academy. It added a fair few features to update it for the modern day, including some graphical improvements and the option to choose between standard and ‘Ultimate Ninja’ mode, which strips you of your double jump and forces you to grab collectibles before the level can be completed.

The way Zool controls felt a bit odd to me at first – kind of like playing as Luigi in a Mario game. He slides around all over the shop and it can get a bit annoying, but once you’re used to it, there’s a nice level of flow you can get into while traversing the various levels and world types in Zool Redimensioned.

Zool Redimensioned. Image Credit: Sumo Digital Academy
Zool Redimensioned. Image Credit: Sumo Digital Academy

My first real stumbling block in Zool Redimensioned is the extremely messy visual design. Sure, it looks like a really fancy version of a 2D platformer from the ’90s, and the fact that the visual direction the game goes in is quite frenetic might appeal to some – I really liked Wario Land 4 for this reason. Unfortunately, the charm waned quickly as the game struggled to communicate how the environment interacts with the playable character.

I struggled to identify dangers within the level until after I took damage from them. This isn’t a problem in itself, but because Zool Redimensioned is split into seven worlds with wildly different looks and themes to them, the player needs to figure out how each gameplay element translates from one biome to the next. Take spikes for example. In some worlds (Tool is one that springs to mind), it’s blatantly obvious where the spikes are. They’re clearly identified and look like big pointy nails. Now take the Toy world, where the spikes in pits instead look like tiny little, non-threatening, short nubs. They both deal damage in the exact same way.

Couple that with the fact that the foreground and background blend in with each other a little too well, and I found it to be a frustrating hurdle to re-jig my brain into every single time the world changes. There are only 4 levels per world too, so as soon as your mind is on track with what the enemies look like, what spikes to look out for, and what a collectible looks like compared to a hazard, you’re back to square one.

Zool Redimensioned. Image Credit: Sumo Digital Academy
Zool Redimensioned. Image Credit: Sumo Digital Academy

You aren’t just dealing with this problem between worlds either. There’s so much visual inconsistency to the point of utter frustration in many of the stages, and you have to trial and error everything.

As an example, I’ll take a look at the Music world. Obviously, everything has a musical flavour. There are little pianos you can run on to play notes, instruments tooting, and sentient violins trying to kill you. Within this world though, there’s just no way of telling bad from good without testing it first.

The Music world has a big collectible, like every other world. They look different each time, but once you identify it – a large boom box-looking speaker – you can easily find them for the rest of the world.

It’s nice! Stands out, looks cool, and you can easily spot it.

Zool Redimensioned. Image Credit: Sumo Digital Academy
Zool Redimensioned. Image Credit: Sumo Digital Academy

There’s also a different big speaker which blends into the background doing absolutely nothing, which I kept aiming for, ruining my momentum and leaving me confused. Ah well, not too much of a problem. But wait, there’s also a big ol’ amplifier/speaker that acts as an enemy to Zool and damages you when you touch it. And yes, I did bonk into it multiple times. It even shows up right next to the collectible at one point.

I’m not saying they’re completely unrecognisable from each other, it’s actually extremely obvious as I look back on my screenshots, but with design similarities like this in a game that’s supposed to be fast-paced and high-octane, there needs to be far clearer visual messaging. This is even more true when the game is this visually noisy anyway.

All this subtracts further from the already-mediocre gameplay, with boss fights flitting between extremely cheese-able to infuriatingly finicky, and levels that seem expansive and maze-like at first but upon further inspection just need to be trundled on through unless you’re collecting every single trinket.

Zool Redimensioned. Image Credit: Sumo Digital Academy
Zool Redimensioned. Image Credit: Sumo Digital Academy

I personally won’t be super excited to return to Zool Redimensioned for a while. This isn’t even to say the folks at Sumo Digital Academy didn’t do the best job they could – I’m sure Zool superfans from back in the day will have an absolute whale of a time with this one, reliving a classic they used to love. To me though, with the aesthetic inconsistency, slippery controls, and general lack of any real hook to keep you playing aside from seeing what hilarious twists the backgrounds offer, I struggled to get invested. The Zool Redimensioned experience was a short one for me, but I do see a strong market for this game in superfans of older platformers.

At the very least, Zool Redimensioned will probably have some absolutely ridiculous speedruns to watch once it’s been out for a little while. Congratulations for bringing Zool to 2021, but this ninja will be staying in the Nth dimension for me.

Zool Redimensioned is available on PC. The review is for the Windows version. 

The Verdict

Zool Redimensioned is a valiant attempt to remaster a cult, old-school platformer in the 21st century, but the source material left the devs at Sumo Digital Academy very little to work with. Baffling design choices, a lack of any hook to keep you interested, and controls that never feel quite as satisfying as other platformers I’ve played mean I can’t see this version of the game gaining a cult following like it did in the ’90s.

Pros

  • A fun, energetic soundtrack
  • Interesting to see how each new world looks the first time around

Cons

  • Inconsistency between each world means you have to get used to them for only a short period of time
  • Confusing and overly noisy visuals
  • Slippery controls
  • Underwhelming boss fights
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