Zool has finally sold out. No longer can it be claimed that he is to the Amiga what Mario and Sonic are to the Toys'R'Us consoles. That is right, he is appearing at a Sega and Nintendo console near you know. I do not know about you, but quite frankly I do not care what Zool chooses do. He never once said that his relationship with the Amiga was a monogamous one.
Good luck to the lad - you have got to take work where you can get it these days. Right kids? Get your name about a bit. Rub shoulders (mandibles, thoraxes) with influential people capable of furthering your career. And once you have managed that, do not think that it is all plain sailing.
It had been rumoured that Zool wanted to create his own version of Dante's Inferno (That better not have been an 'ant' gag, Steve. - Ed) for one of the levels in the new game. Inevitably though, when the hot air of art meets the cold steel of business, illusions of grandeur are oxidised in a vaporous whiff of condensed ozone (or something like that).
In other words, it is the old story of the star of the show being a powerless puppet whose strings are pulled by dodgy characters in the background (or whose movements are controlled by a joystick-wielding gamer more like).
Also bear in mind that you have got to make numerous mind-numbing public releations appearances at shows and the like; get your photo taken with people who smell, children who are sick over you, sycophants who embarrass you, journos who sneer at you and parents who laugh at you. There is just no end to the rigmarole the stars of today must endure in the name of their art.
He was controlled by unseen hands
If that lot has not dampened your aspirations of becoming a computer game cartoon character, consider this. You are constantly in the public eye. They push you around, waggle their joysticks at you in a provocative manner and expect you to fill a gaping void in their otherwise sad lives.
And if that still is not degrading enough, you are relentlessly compared to other rival game characters in a none-too-flattering manner. People tell you thin gs hat would make your great great aunty turn in her grave to switch off her hearing aid in disgust.
Think for a minute of the pressure that fame and unmitigated success bring (AP's Les Ellis awarded the original Zool a slightly over-enthusiastic 90%). It is a not-too-well-known fact that Zool's hard shelled chitin nearly cracked. He could not take the adulation, the praise. He felt alone, as if his life was being scrutinised from behind a screen. As if he was being controlled and manipulated by unseen hands. He threatened to pack it all in.
Back to the merry old nth dimension ant-hill for him. Gremlin, seeing that they were in grave danger of losing a potential goldmine in revenue, arranged for a mate for Zool. After all, ants, even Ninja Ants from the Nth dimension, are basically sociable creatures who prefer their own kind to solitary confinement. And so Zooz was born (Zool is not an ant, Steve. - Ed).
Get your photo taken with people who smell
Hatched from a genetically tampered-with egg, Gremlin nurtured her in the wiles of ant chemistry and psychology. She is a smooth silky sultry sex siren, an alluring ant angel, a tantalising tease temptress, an electric embryo of enhanced enchantment, a filibuster of fabulous feminity... well, you get the idea. I met Zooz at the Future Entertainment Show. She is lovely. You can see why she has such a calming therapeutic effect on Zool.
I asked her what her secret was, who her influences were and what sort of antics she would be getting up to with Zool in the future. (Steve, they're not ants. - Ed). She gave me a 'knowing' kind of a smile and said the last question "showed too much anti-ipathy toward her kind". (She's NOT AN ANT, Steve. - Ed.
A LONG STORY
As for influences, she cited Doris Day from Calamity Jane "I loved the way she Whip Crack Awayed, whip crack awayed, whip crack awaayyeedd. I just to have one for myself". Ah yes, that is right. Zooz either shoots or flays her enemies to a submissive death. The whip makes a lovely crackly kind of a sound. It brings you out in goose bumps of anticipation.
So, secrets. Is she or is she not? You know, 'With' Zool - together, the two of them. She laughed at this one. She said anybody who buys the game will find out straight away whether she is or whether she is not.
Well, here at AP, being the top notch investigative journalist types that we are, we probed further, and we can let you in on a little secret. She is not. That is right, Zooz does not actually play with Zool on the same level.
The two player option is one of those 'your turn, my turn' kind of two player options. "Two together is so much more fun, but you know, the papers would get hold of it and tongues would wag. The next thing you know, they would be saying that the game corrupted young children and attacked good old fashioned Victorian values. Zool and myself have no intention of getting married".
I interrupted and asked her what sort of impression Gremlin were trying to give by describing her and Zool as 'easy' on the option screen. She laughed for a long time at this question before answering. "That is the difficulty level of the game you silly thing".
I must confess to being relieved about that, because I thought it very risqué to describe Zool as 'Hard'. When you put it in the context of game difficulty, it takes on a whole new meaning.
A good mix of control, playability and variety
NO MEANS NO
Despite the denials, I still sensed that there must be more than just a professional counselling relationship between the two characters. I probed Zooz and asked if she and Zool made music together. She laughed again, her voice containing the cool intrigue of a true rom-ant-ic. (STEVE! WATCH MY LIPS! NOT... AN... ANT! - Ed.) "Of course we make music together. It is in the options screen again, silly. You can also opt for sound FX only". I am not sure she understood me properly.
Sensing that the interview would be over if I tried to uncover any more non-existent facts about their relationship, I asked her about Zool's latest game; Zool 2. "Well, obviously I star in it as well. We have got to battle through six completely different worlds. Each world has numerous stages where we have got to do the same sort of thing as Zool did by himself in the original Zool.
You know what I mean. Collect bonuses; sweets, snakes, etc until you have scored over 99 per cent. Keep following the direction the little white arrow on the bottom left hand corner of the screen points to. If you manage to do that without getting killed by the various denizens of the surreal environment, you will eventually reach the end of a stage.
Completing enough stages will lead to an End of Level boss. If you manage to kill him, that is the level completed and you go onto the next level"
It all sounds a bit simple from that description, I told Zooz. "Not at all. Each level presents plenty of challenge, secret areas can be detected. These are full of goodies. There are obstacles to be traversed and puzzles to be worked out. There are even some groovy power-ups to be utlised. Each one has a different effect.
My personal favourite is the Yin Yang power up. With this one, I effectively have a shadow of myself. I can collect more bonuses and absorb more damage. Besides that, it highlights my pony tail in a particularly alluring manner".
Well, despite the excellent PR-ing from Zooz, Zool 2 is not significantly different from the original Zool. It still contains a good wholewheat-balanced breakfast mix of control, playability and variety. Original Zool fans will love it, as will those new to the Amiga fold after getting lucky this Christmas.
If you are looking for one stonking platformer, with all the trimmings, then look no further than Zool 2. Oh, and there was one last question I had to ask Zooz: "Will you marry me?"