Back in 2021, students at the Sumo Digital Academy were given the chance to remaster and modernise the 1992 platformer Zool, which was then published on PC by Sumo’s Secret Mode division. It’s easy to imagine it being a valuable learning tool for the team, being far beyond a straightforward re-release. Two years on a (presumably different) team has been tasked with bringing it to PS4, while throwing in a new multiplayer party mode for good measure.
For the uninformed, Zool was originally envisioned to be the Commodore Amiga’s answer to Sonic and Super Mario, launching during the peak of the Amiga’s popularity and at a time when mascot platformers were in vogue. After becoming a commercial and critical success, the ninja ant found his way onto a bunch of other formats, ranging from the SNES to the SEGA Game Gear. It even went on to spawn an arguably superior sequel. But while the 8-bit versions were mostly praised, the SNES and Mega Drive versions didn’t fare too well critically, unable to compare with the platforming masterclasses originating from Japan.
Redimensioned is, incidentally, based on the Mega Drive iteration – with the source code for the Amiga original sadly lost to time.
Zool, as a character, has more appeal than similar mascots. He didn’t spew corny catchphrases like Bubsy the Bobcat and wasn’t full of unabashed ‘90s attitude – and because of this, he doesn’t necessarily feel like a product of that era today, irritating with annoying speech samples. His skill set was quite well rounded too; he’s fast and agile, able to jump high, fire a string of projectiles, slide along the ground while destroying anything in his path, and perform a spinning attack. He can also climb here – a skill not found in every version originally.
The stage settings were a little contrived, however, including one world formed from toys, and another from tools. There was a fruit and veg world, too, featuring a giant banana as a boss. Even in 1992, most gamers were becoming tired of ‘zany’ world settings. I do however have a soft spot for the music world, with its giant CDs and boomboxes.
A few modes are on offer. Redimensioned mode is the highlight, taking the original and stretching the screen while shrinking the sprites. This gives a far wider view of the action and makes sliding even more entertaining by providing a clearer view of Zool’s surroundings. It also means you’re less likely to run headfirst into an enemy or obstacle while hurtling at full speed. The presentation has been improved across the board, with new speed-running elements introduced, and it’s also possible to return to individual stages to mop up collectables.
The first few worlds are, predictably, relatively easy. The original game forced players to find a certain number of collectables before finding the level exit – some of which require climbing or jumping to higher or lower areas to find – but now you can simply head straight there. The first few bosses are even quite fun to defeat, calling for attack patterns memorisation. The game’s second half is a tad sloppier, unfortunately, with some dull backdrops and cheap bosses. The toy world’s robot boss leaps around chaotically, fires lasers, summons enemies and sets the floor ablaze. I have no qualms in admitting to using some of the new accessibility features to progress.
Yes, Zool Redimensioned leaves no gamer behind. From the pause menu, a bunch of cheats can be activated, including invisibility. The downside of using these is that some Trophies can no longer be obtained. On the subject of Trophies, most are quite amusing to obtain – it’s easy to tell the team had fun thinking of requirements and names.
The Mega Drive version is here too, now dubbed Ninja Mode. I had forgotten how rocking the main theme tune was. It moves at a fair old whip too, while sporting pleasingly bright colours. This leaves us with the new party mode – which entails three single-screen multiplayer games and a shuffle option. Here, Zool wears daft headgear to help tell players apart.
‘Zool’s Gold’ entails collecting items the fastest; the first to reach 10,000 points wins. Projectile throwing is omitted, and bosses show up to cause trouble, with some targeting certain individuals. ‘Ball Brawl’ plays like a side-scrolling game of basketball, only with a bunch of platforms in the way. Handily, the ball changes colour to show who touched it last. Then there’s ‘Rool of Zool’ where players compete to grab and hold onto a crown. ‘Ball Brawl’ is the fairest of the trio; the other modes can suffer from some cluttered backdrops. Becoming snagged on spikes in ‘Zool’s Gold’ can cost dearly too. Overall, though, party mode helps the package feel whole. If you play local MP games, you’ll find some enjoyment.
I would even say that the package feels curiously wholesome. The presentation is bright and inviting, embracing the sheer ‘90s-ness of it all. It doesn’t try to hide the fact that the original had flaws either, which gives it a pleasingly humble feel. The Redimensioned mode is the best way to experience Zool, whether you’re a newcomer or a lifelong fan, with the modernisations making for a far easier going experience than Amiga gamers had back in 1992.
We’d love to see more of Gremlin’s back catalogue given the Redimensioned treatment. Fingers crossed that Zool 2 source code is knocking around.
Developed by Sumo Digital Academy with the assistance of Steel Minions, Zool Redimensioned is out May 16th on PS4.