VIDEO GAMES / It takes allsorts: Two new releases boast looney graphics. Rupert Goodwins heads for the Nth dimension and gets covered in custard

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The Independent Culture
Zool - Ninja of the Nth Dimension (Sega Megadrive)

It's a common enough problem. There you are, piloting your egg- shaped spacecraft through the Nth Dimension, thinking Ninja thoughts about the price of swords and how bloodstains are hell to shift from ceremonial fighting tunics even with new Daz Ultra, when a giant iridescent wormhole opens up in the space-time continuum and whap . . . you're dumped in a sea of custard. You or I would scramble clear and wonder how this is all going to look on the insurance claim form: not so Zool. 'This must be the work of Krool,' he reasons (correctly, as it turns out) and heads off to do battle.

In the first level fruit pastilles, lollipops and giant translucent jellies cascade across the screen in a dentist's worst nightmare. Across this sucrose surge, Zool has to fight psychotic bees, dash across crumbling chocolate bridges and dodge sugar-coated dum-dum bullets fired by walking licorice allsorts. Willy Wonka was never like this. Frantic sprinting and indiscriminate use of weapons will get our cakewalker through the first couple of screens, but much beyond that and memory, planning and dexterity get exercised just as ruthlessly as pin-sharp reaction times.

The other levels are just as well drawn. In a comprehensive wander through the mental impedimenta of the game's designers, worlds full of fruit, tools, toys, music and fairgrounds are presented. There are a few nice touches, such as special bonuses that put two Zools on screen and the return of Defender's smart bomb. These combine with the speed of the action to make Zool a worthy if considerably more calorific competitor to Sonic The Hedgehog. Zool lacks some of the tiny twists of humour that distinguish Sonic, but remains mercilessly playable nonetheless.

Desert Speedtrap, starring Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote (Game Gear)

The portable Game Gear is a tricky machine to write for; its screen can look washed-out and imprecise and there's a limit to how much you can pack onto the few square inches available. The tiny cartridges can't hold as much programming as the bigger consoles, so graphical subtlety and complex strategy are out. Which means that Warner Brothers' Looney Tunes are right at home on the portable pastel pixels, as Desert Speedtrap demonstrates.

The game looks the part - there's no mistaking the Linford Christie of the bird world as it dashes about, legs a circular blur, across the plains and valleys of Nevada in microcosm. The Game Gear's synthesiser, only one step up the evolutionary ladder from a musical wristwatch, is stretched to its meagre limits with a not-bad rendition of the Looney Tune itself and a perfectly plausible meep-meep.

Given that the pictures have been brought across so well, it's a shame that more of the original daftness wasn't captured. It's quite fun when a speed-up bonus propels the Road Runner across the screen at twice normal velocity to the synthesised bleeps of the William Tell overture, but it's got little to do with the characteristic slapstick of the cartoons. Now and again escapees from the movies make it onto the small screen; buses rush past flattening all in their path, and if you run the gormless bird off the edge of a mesa it looks at you sadly for a moment as it hangs in mid-air, waiting for gravity to catch up with the plot. Most of the rest of the tricks and puzzles are standard platform game fare, nicely dressed up and competently executed but missing the perverse logic that made the originals so much fun. Still, it's fast enough to be pleasantly taxing.

It won't take up months of anyone's life, but as a way to pass a few minutes in the playground or at lunchtime it's worth more than its weight in birdseed.

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