With big successes in the gaming industry (or really any industry) comes imitators and companies trying to be the next big game or simply cashing in on a popular trend. While calling this game an imitator is harsh as it certainly tried to be different from Tetris and its many clones, Zoop REALLY tried to be the next Tetris. On paper, Zoop should’ve become the huge success Viacom New Media and Hookstone Productions wanted, being released on any relevant gaming console or computer in 1995 (except for the Virtual Boy, 32X, CDi, and 3DO). On top of that, the game had rad 90s advertising in magazines and commercials, was being published by a big company like Viacom, and even had the help of the once giant movie and game rental chain: Blockbuster to garner interest. However, even with all of that going for Zoop, the game still fell into obscurity while Tetris continued to live on. In retro game stores, in the bin of $3 SNES games, mixed in with the Madden ‘95s and Wordtris’, you’ll be bound to find a few copies of Zoop. A pity since, while the game won’t blow players away, it’s certainly not a stinker; after all, it was once Europe and America’s largest killer of time…or at least it was according to Zoop’s advertising.
I discovered Zoop at a local thrift store earlier this year, seeing it with a handful of other Game Boy games of varying quality that happened to be half-off. After doing a quick google search about it to see what Zoop was and learning that it was a puzzle game, I decided to purchase it. At first I was confused on how to play the game and put it down, but after giving it a second try, the gameplay clicked with me and I started to enjoy playing it.
Zoop is one of those games that are easy to play but difficult to master. The goal is to clear colorful abstract shapes coming towards your playing field in the center of the screen. These shapes can only be cleared if they’re the same color as your arrow. Hitting a shape with a different color will have you swap colors with said shape; i.e. hitting an orange abstract shape with your green arrow will turn your arrow orange and the shape green. The bigger the row of same colored shapes cleared, the bigger your score is. To get the highest scores, you’ll want to plan out what shapes need to be what color, by changing them rather than clearing them immediately. Thankfully, you don’t need forethought or strategy to play Zoop; you can simply clear single, double, or however many shapes at a time as they come towards the center. In fact doing this, I find, can make the game more fun and frantic, especially in later levels as shapes appear more and more frequently. You move onto the next level (of which there are 99) after clearing a required amount of abstract shapes displayed in the upper left corner of the screen. Zoop features power-ups that can clear a row of shapes regardless of color and clear the screen of shapes to name a few. It won’t be clear as to what these power-ups do on your first play session but unlike the abstract shapes; they’re actual things like a spring or blotch of rainbow paint.
Besides it’s easy to understand and addicting gameplay, one of Zoop’s other shinning points to me, is its visuals and soundtrack. While simplistic, the game is very distinct looking and not in a negative sort of way. If I were to have a screenshot of every puzzle game released on the SNES/Super Famicom and asked you to find the screenshot of Zoop, I guarantee it wouldn’t take very long for you to spot it. Unique graphical styles seemed to be a specialty of the developer since one of the next puzzle games they were working on before it got cancelled called Ferox, also had a unique look with a title screen that showed off the fancy visuals the Sega Saturn could pull off. Moving onto the soundtrack, Zoops got some catchy chill music. All versions except for the PlayStation one have the same music just moved around and remixed to work with whatever the sound capabilities were for the system it was on; the PlayStation version ops for an electronic soundtrack with the music changing after every two or three levels.
While I can praise Zoop’s addicting gameplay and soundtrack, its features I cannot and are by far the game’s weakest area. Don't expect a story or any type of campaign mode here. Zoop only has two game modes: continual and level; with both modes being nearly identical to one another. The only other notable thing in terms of features is being able to choose what level you start at (1-9) and the difficulty before playing. Also while the end goal of the game is to get a high score, most versions of Zoop lack a save feature, so in the end like with many games after the Atari era, getting the high score is basically pointless. On top of that the game has no two player mode unless you’re playing the Game Boy port, which in that case, good luck finding another person who owns Game Boy Zoop to play with.
So with the positives and negatives about Zoop as a game out of the way, I’m going to briefly discuss five of the nine versions of the game that were released, starting with the 8-bit versions and working my way to the PlayStation version:
- Game Boy: Due to the smaller resolution and lack of color, the abstract shapes have been replaced with rectangles with different patterns on them. Even with this change the game is still easy to pick up and play. As mentioned earlier, this is the only version of Zoop that has a multiplayer mode. I’m not sure how it works though since like with Mole Mania, there is no footage of the mode online. Also even though this game was released after the Super Game Boy, it has no SGB enhancements.
- Game Gear: Ported by Influence, this version is a colorized version of the Game Boy Zoop. However multiplayer mode seems to be missing, unless the option only shows up when the Game Gear recognizes a link cable in the EXT. port. Music wise, this is my least favorite of the five versions I’ve played since I’m not a huge fan of the Game Gear/Master System sound chip.
- Genesis/Mega Drive: Ported by PanelComp, the Genesis version benefits from the improved hardware by having more “fancy” visuals than the 8-bit counterparts; the abstract shapes I mentioned earlier are now shapes rather than rectangles. For some reason this and the SNES versions have a black boarder around the game. Strangely although the Genesis’ sound chip isn’t known to be the greatest, this version’s Zoop soundtrack is my favorite.
- SNES: Also ported by PanelComp, the title screen music sounds very upbeat and Super Nintendo-ie. This version is more or less identical to the Genesis version with the only changes I noticed being that the shapes seem slightly smaller and the pause screen changes color with each level. This was the version of Zoop that Blockbuster hyped up by offering free rentals.
- PlayStation: Of all the versions of Zoop, this is the best looking graphically; using pre-rendered abstract shapes and font for its menus. Score numbers stretch and move around the screen while the shapes flip into existence. Compared to the other versions, these updated visuals can get a little distracting. The Sega Saturn version of Zoop is identical to this version.
The three other versions of Zoop I have yet to mention: the Atari Jaguar, MS-DOS, and Mac versions have a higher resolution that the other versions of the game but lack the pre-rendered graphics of the PlayStation version. These versions of Zoop are also the only ones that can save your score too. I can understand the 8 and 16-bit versions not having a battery back-up save for budget reasons, but it seems strange the PlayStation version can’t use a memory card to save your high score.
Back when the game was released, Zoop got rather average reviews with most complaints coming from the visuals, overly complex gameplay, and it just being another game in the overdone puzzle genre; falling behind Tetris and Bust-A-Move in terms of enjoyment. While I can see the argument about the boring visuals as fancy 3D games were starting to become mainstream, the gameplay never seemed complex to me. Sure it wasn’t an immediate understanding like Tetris, but Zoop was far less complicated to understand than other puzzle games like Picross or Wario’s Woods.
Hookstone Productions didn’t do much after Zoop, with their only other projects being Sentinel Returns (a sequel to a 1987 puzzle game that was released on various 8-bit computers) for the PlayStation and PC along with the cancelled Ferox game on the Saturn; the company would go under in 1998. Viacom New Media is still around today somewhat with their most recent published games being mobile games based off of various Nick Jr. shows like Shimmer and Shine: Genie Games.
While simple and lacking in content, Zoop in a short time has become one of my favorite puzzle games, behind Picross. Its fast paced action hooked me in more than the slower pace of Tetris or Dr. Mario and the combo planning ahead games like Puyo-Puyo and Tetris Attack. As for what version is my favorite, I think I’d have to go with the Genesis version because of the music and low price, but the Jaguar version looks pretty good too. I recommend this game for people looking for new puzzle games, hidden gems for the consoles Zoop was released on, or gaming on a budget considering most versions of the game go for $3-$8; a complete copy doesn’t even go for that much. Considering the game was probably around $40+ back in 1995, I can see why most people passed on Zoop for newer, more interesting games that were coming out on both 16 and 32-bit consoles. However now with the low price Zoop goes for, it’s easy to recommend.