Zoom!: Sega Mega Drive / Sega Genesis / Commodore Amiga / Commodore 64

Zoom!: Sega Mega Drive / Sega Genesis / Commodore Amiga / Commodore 64
Zoom!: Sega Mega Drive / Sega Genesis / Commodore Amiga / Commodore 64

Insert Disk collects Zoom for the Sega Mega Drive / Sega Genesis / Commodore Amiga / Commodore 64.

Today’s retro game review is Zoom for the Sega Mega Drive / Sega Genesis / Commodore Amiga / Commodore 64. This retro gaming classic is a rather simple but fun game from the late 80’s. Most gamers will be familiar with the Sega 16-bit editions but it is unlikely that everyone will be familiar with the long standing Internet debate over the European Black edition vs the US Blue edition of the game on the Commodore Amiga. This week Insert-Disk took a look this long-standing gaming mystery to get to the truth of the various editions of Zoom.

Greetings collectors and welcome to today’s retro game review. I wanted to take us back to the very early years of the Sega Mega Drive and Genesis today to take a look at a game that became available in the initial wave of releases. Get ready for some classic arcade style puzzle action in Zoom! Now this was intended to be a short 5 minute episode for a very simple and self-explanatory game. However, when I came to research this one I stumbled upon a long running internet argument between fans of the game. How many versions of Zoom! are there and were they really all that different? Join me today as I attempt to shed some light on this old school mystery.

1988 had already seen releases of Zoom! On both the Commodore 64, Commodore Amiga with a conversion to DOS PC to follow. However, Zoom! Also managed to eek it’s way on to Sega’s black box of blast processing the following year in 1989. Strictly speaking the only version of the game released on a dedicated gaming console. For this episode it’s perhaps best if we start at the end with the Sega-16 release and work our way backwards. Zoom! is a very simple game in principle. You control Mr Smart with the aims of outlining square tiles on the game board to complete the level. Simply run over the outline from all sides and the square will flash to show that you’ve done your job. It’s not quite that simple though as there will be a range of other enemies patrolling the board, all with slightly different behaviours. The hand will follow you whilst others will have a much more fixed path. Similar to the ghosts in Pac-Man. Now if this all seems somewhat familiar its perhaps because it will put you in mind of the 1981 game Amidar that has very similar mechanics, although the graphics are radically better in Zoom! There are some updates on the formula too, you do have the ability to jump and also fire a ball from behind to delay your chasers. Throw in to this the pickups such as speed up, freeze and invincibility there’s a decent enough game in here. If you’re lucky enough to pick up the feather you can end the level instantly.

The game very much is what it is. I have a few minor gripes that some levels become near impossible to finish as certain enemies will camp on the final remaining squares making it near impossible to complete the level. Overall though the graphics are decent enough for this style of game, the music is rather charming and the in game depiction of Mr Smart is very friendly. The box artwork though, well he looks slightly more evil and devious if anything. The big chunky outlines illustrations though serve as a really nice throwback to the early days of the Sega Mega Drive so there’s nothing too much to complain about here. As a physical piece the box, cartridge and manual all serve the game well. Zoom! On the Sega 16-bit consoles is a tight little puzzle/maze game that accomplishes everything it sets out to do. There are elements that will not to everyone’s tastes are the audio samples as you complete a square. There are only so many times you can hear the phrase “Come on boy” and not wish you could disable it.

Overall though Zoom! On the Sega 16-bit format is a decent little title for some arcade run around action. As alluded to earlier though Zoom! Is in fact a conversion game from the Commodore Amiga on licence from Discovery software and it’s this Amiga game that fans still love to argue over. It’s important that I establish that the Sega 16-bit edition is a complete rework in graphics and sound. The game elements remain similar. However, all previous versions share more in common with each other from a coding and execution perspective. The big question that the citizens of the internet argue over is, how many versions of Zoom! Are there? Hopefully I can shed some light on this.

First I will quickly get the Commodore 64 version out of the way especially as it does give us some clues as to the lineage of the Amiga version or versions. You will notice instantly that going from the Sega 16-bit edition to the Commodore 64 microcomputer that there’s a large step down in graphical quality which is to be expected. Mr Smart is now much more like Pac-Man in appearance but generally all of the same elements are in here. The game is a little tricky to play. Zoom! Is the type of game that requires fast turns and a certain responsiveness to feel fair. The C64 version can feel a little spongy but not bad for a simple maze runner. The C64 version of Zoom! Is certainly getting rarer these days but not impossible to find. Overall though Zoom! Feels at least playable on the Commodore 64 and still worth playing if you enjoy this style of game. The reason I’m including it in here is that it can tell us a lot about the Commodore Amiga releases.

So, here’s where things get a little bit heated for fans. For most the Commodore Amiga is considered the main release of the game. The c64 being a downgrade from the Amiga and the Sega edition being a later edition of the game. This sets the precedent that the Amiga version is perhaps the way the game was intended to be played at least when first launched in 1988. However, circulating around the internet are at least 2 versions of the Amiga game and this has led to widespread confusion. Generally speaking forum users refer to a UK/European version and a US/North American version. However, for this discussion I will be referring to them as the black edition and the blue edition in reference to the main game screen colour. You can find several sites promoting the idea of a generic and specific US edition of the game. You’ll also find various posts arguing over the true nature of the 2 versions. Take this post from the Lemon Amiga site www.lemonamiga.com

Deist – 2011-01-17
“This “European vs. US version” thing is a load of crap!
Anyone paying just a little wee bit of attention and actually using one’s brain can understand right away that the supposed “euro” version (as labelled here on Lemon) is actually a pre-release (lacking intro and with a more primitive-looking status bar and less colours on screen), while the “US” is really the final (worldwide) release…”
But was this poster right?

Others come forward with a familiar story in reference to the US/Blue screen edition.
yaztromo – 2015-03-29
“Looking for a crack of this version. As of 2015 none have surfaced”.
Leading us to believe that the black edition is the version released out in the wild.
There is a third camp of gamers that dispute this premise altogether and believe in only one official retail release for the Commodore Amiga.

I believe I’ve got to the bottom of this argument with some code hunting and the truth is out there. First let me show you what we will call the black release (a release some believe to be a European localisation). On first glance it looks, sounds and plays very much as the Commodore 64 edition which we know to be the definitive version on that system. I can tell you straight off that if you have ever emulated the Zoom! game for the Amiga I’m 99% sure that this is the version that you’ve most likely seen whether you live in Europe of North America. This also supports poster 2’s idea that no crack of the blue edition exists. Now let’s have a quick look at the blue release. The release some believe to be a North American localisation.

So, what we have here are two slightly different versions of the game. I can confirm that code certainly exists for both versions. So, pretty open and closed you would think in terms of releases? Well, not really. Let’s just dig in to some of the detail though to better understand the differences. First the opening theme tune. First of all, the opening sequence. The black edition… no opening animations at all.
The blue edition…
Well, you can’t touch this. This certainly looks to be further on in the games development cycle compared to the black edition. Secondly the opening screen and music.
The tunes are different. However, look at the side bar. In the blue release the design is very much that of the Commodore 64 design (a version we know made it to market in a retail form).
Now compare that to the black edition. Although still functional the appearance is much simpler in design.
On to the game play. It’s fair to say that the black and blue editions play in a very similar way. The most noticeable in game difference is that the black edition has a black background whilst the blue edition has the blue background. You will notice though that certain game mechanics such as the countdown timer are missing from the black edition. If you don’t complete squares quickly enough then an alien that scrubs out your incomplete lines will appear making the game even harder to complete. Just for reference this feature is in the Commodore 64 release.
The evidence is stacking up here that the edition many know as the black or European edition is the prototype to the retail release or just simply one of the earlier revisions of the game.
What we do know is that we have physical evidence to support this black edition being a prototype. As far as I’m aware I’ve never seen a boxed Amiga version of the game in the UK that didn’t reference a US distributer. This was reasonably common for the Amiga. Games that had a single print were manufactured in one country and then distributed onwards worldwide. We know that Discovery Software who also produced games such as Hybris in the US had this arrangement.

The second give away are the screen shots on the Commodore 64 edition packaging. Now we know that the game is relatively rare and almost certainly didn’t have more than one 1988 release. Look on the box though and you can clearly see that the Amiga version is sporting the blue background. The version that has the same sidebar as the C64 edition and also the opening animations leading us to conclude that the blue edition is the final retail edition. This almost certainly concludes that the C64 and final Amiga release were released somewhat simultaneously. At least enough for the final colourings to be ready on the Amiga release before going to print on the C64 box.

Throw in to this that the blue version also has loading screens whilst the black version doesn’t we can only conclude that the black screen game is either a prototype, earlier revision or simply a testing edition of the game. After all, it wasn’t uncommon for Amiga games to be converted to the Atari ST and vica versa at this time. This black screen edition may simply have been a stable release that developers could port to DOS and the C64 as we know these versions did have black backgrounds in their final revisions. I can also tell you that the blue edition of the game is not easily crackable due to the software protection and for me this is the real nub of the issue. As a result you will see a lot of online game play from the emulated black version as it was far easier to make backups in an .adf format. If you do go searching you’re unlikely to easily find the blue retail edition in a playable format. Perhaps more on this another time but worth mentioning as it builds to the case of copy protection being present something that would usually only be reserved for a public retail release. If you need any more proof that the black edition is simply a prototype then it’s also worth checking the credits. The blue retail edition lists more contributors which should be a clear indicator of a later stage in the development cycle.

Personally though there’s one thing that tells me above all that the black edition wasn’t initially meant for public viewing. Look what happens in the blue retail edition when you lose a life.
Sad but altogether normal. Now listen carefully to what happen when Mr Smart is caught in the black edition. Did he just say… I’m not so sure he could be saying buck you but it’s certainly a sample that didn’t make it in to the final game.

So with all that said I’m very much in the camp that the black edition is no more than a well progressed prototype and not as some would refer to it as a UK/European edition. This UK/European version myth is likely to have arrived via miscommunication along the way and gamers simply downloading the unfinished version of the game. After all the games designer Frank Neuhaus is from West Germany and a host of other Europeans such as Torben Larsen of Denmark helped to work on the sound and visuals. Discovery Software International were very much a US publisher though. The one true retail edition is the game with the full intro, blue background, green box and milder language. So, it looks like our irate collector on the forums was correct. With the back up files for the black edition in wide circulation on the internet it is by far the most emulated and distributed.

Since the copy protection on the retail release generally proved too much of an issue it was left behind and almost totally left out of the game emulation world. This is what really led to the rise of the black edition being widely distributed by pirates. Hopefully this brings us to a place where the emphasis is on those who believe in a localised European retail edition to produce a hard copy of the box. Until then I’m going to call this mystery closed. However, if I’ve learnt anything about versions of retro games it’s that there’s almost always another explanation that someone can offer up. So, if I’m wrong, please let me know. My conclusions on this one are all based on the evidence I’ve been able to dig up.

As I mentioned at the top of the episode when I picked this game off the shelf I had wanted to make a 5 minute episode. It turns out that Zoom! has come a long way since its initial releases on the Commodore 64, Commodore Amiga and its last revival on the Sega 16-bit consoles. From his initial Pac-Man like appearance to his updated form the character of Mr Smart and the execution of the Zoom! game changed quite a bit all in the time frame of 1988 to 1989. At its roots Zoom! is a fun arcade style maze runner with a lot of charm. I can highly recommend giving it a go if you enjoy the genre.

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