SNES Quick Look: Remembering Zoop!
Though Tetris was a creation of the 1980s, it didn’t really reach wide acclaim in the United States until late 1989, when the iconic Game Boy version was released as the packed-in game with the console. If you had a Game Boy, you had Tetris. Plain and simple. You also probably had Super Mario Land and Alleyway, but that’s for another time.
In the early-to-mid 1990s, everyone wanted a piece of the Tetris pie. Puzzle games exploded in popularity, with varying degrees of success. For every awesome game like Yoshi’s Cookie or Minesweeper, there were a dozen games that desperately wanted to be one of those awesome games.
Puzzle games are supposed to be simple to learn, and difficult to master. That’s what makes Tetris so addicting. Getting started with a game should be almost too easy. You should be able to pop in a puzzle game to test your console, and then conclude that it works properly four hours later.
Zoop is a very interesting effort that was published by Viacom New Media, which is probably the most dated name for a software publisher that I have ever had to type out.
The graphics look a little bit like Claymation. In fact, the game’s art style is very reminiscent of something you’d see at an art exhibit. The colors are bright, with a distinct focus on non-primary colors and contrasting visuals.
How does it play, you ask? Well, you control a cursor in the middle of a small grid. On the outside is a larger grid, and every few seconds, colored pieces come forward and continually push forward closer to your movement space. You have to make them go away.
You accomplish this by pressing one of many various action buttons (depending on the console, since this game was released on almost every console circa 1995), which makes your cursor absorb the like-colored pieces that are pushing towards you. If you try to absorb a piece that doesn’t match, you’ll swap pieces with it. You can then absorb same-colored pieces of that type. The higher the stack of like-colored pieces you absorb, the bigger the payoff. You have a very well-defined risk-reward structure with this mechanic, and it makes the game pretty hectic, as after a while you need to start swapping pieces around to make bigger combos.
After getting a certain score on a board, you advance to the next level.
If you don’t thin down the number of incoming pieces quickly enough, your backlog finally pushes into the center, and then…
End of game. The MCP will now have you derezzed.
What puzzle game is complete without a high score board? Challenge your friends! Be the best Zooper who has ever Zooped!
Blockbuster gave Zoop out as a free rental upon release, and pretty much every console or computer that was still having games made for it in 1995 had a port of the game. I own almost every version, with the Atari Jaguar version being particularly annoying to get a hold of. It’s not high on my list of desired games for the system, anyway.
Zoop tried to be the next Tetris (which wouldn’t come out until 1999), but all it really came to be was just another puzzle game in the aether. It wasn’t anything truly special, but was it bad? Not at all. It’s just different.
Most importantly, does it pass the puzzle game test?
Eh. Sort of.
The game does take a little bit of getting used to, and sometimes the controls can be a little obtuse, especially in hectic parts when stacks of pieces are coming towards you. One thing that the developers absolutely nailed is the art style. It’s not for everyone, but the bright colors help to keep your brain on the right track when sorting through stacks of pieces quickly. After a while of understanding how the game works and putting a few high scores on the board, you can definitely kill an hour or two without knowing it, and that’s more or less what puzzle games are supposed to help you do.
Plus, you know that you’ve seen a box or cartridge of Zoop on the shelf somewhere, be it in a Blockbuster Video, a friend’s house, or a modern retro game store. Haven’t you always wanted to Zoop? It says on the box that it’s America’s Largest Killer of Time…