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Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel



Sunsoft 1994

In the first part of the 90's we had would could have been called the "Mascot Wars" between video game companies. Things really heated up when Sonic the Hedgehog brought the idea of a anthropomorphic animal with "attitude," suddenly everybody had to had their own cute furry animal person mascot, except Nintendo who had Mario. Hence Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel, which is actually a spin off from the Aero the Acrobat series (which was itself a Sonic rip-off.)

In reality this game plays closer to Earthworm Jim than it does Sonic the Hedgehog. This is apparent in the complicated level design which gives the illusion of non-linear gameplay but cleverly leads you along the correct path. What I mean is that there isn't that "tiled" look common of earlier 8 and 16 bit games, where everything in the background looks like it was made of the same cookie-cutter pieces. The effect here is more comic book like, which also has it's disadvantages (as in sometimes it's hard to judge if something is a platform you can jump on.) The similarities to Earthworm Jim don't end with background graphics. Zero moves like EJ, jumps like EJ, and the game even plays the same to some extent, even down to the occasional driving level (this case done via speedboat.)

Our main hero is animated extremely well and has a number of different moves at his disposal. First order of attack is to throw ninja stars at all angles (up, diagonally, down, etc.) The shrunkien can bounce off walls and such, although you don't actually use this feature much. When in a crouching position the B button will strike out with nunchucks. Zero can also do this swooping dive maneuver (guess he's a flying squirrel then.) You can also do a "Super dive" variant which must be mastered to get past certain points in the game.

The game is pretty tough, personally I couldn't have gotten through it without cheat codes. Bad guys have the habit of showing up in just the right places to nail you as you come down from jumps, land on platforms, etc. There's a cave type level with these strange drill missile things that tend to pop up right underneath you and knock you into spiked pits... blagh. Most everything goes down in one or two hits and it isn't anything memorization and careful gameplay can't handle. But it gets frustrating in some parts - in particular the lava levels where one screw up means instant death, and all the areas where  you have to super dive in order to proceed.

In the end the game tends to be a bit of a let down. The problem is the game can't decide exactly what it wants to be. Zero is supposed to be this tough hard-ass karate guy but everything done all cutesy and cuddly. There are some good ideas here and there (in particular, a sniper which occasionally takes shots at you, which is done from the sniper's point of view via transforming the screen into the sniper scope,) but in the end it all feels a bit bland. What the game doesn't emulate from Earthworm Jim is the personality of it's settings and characters. Zero looks pretty good but everything else is pretty generic - nameless enemies, well done but somewhat boring backgrounds and levels, throwaway bosses, etc. Worth a play through at least but don't expect too much.

Graphics: Well animated characters, very well done backgrounds. The levels and enemy characters could use some more personality.

Sound: Good digitized sound and voice that doesn't come off too scratchy.

Gameplay: Somewhat slippery controls become apparent in later levels where precise jumping skills are required. There are some areas with blind jumps (in particular in the lava levels) but these are kept to a minimum. Lackluster bosses are easy to beat, final boss is an embarrassment.




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