Level 9 continues the trend of being awful. Most of the ledges are so small that there's almost no time to get Scooter to react to jump or build again. Not pictured in this screenshot is a bonus to collect, a rather odd one.
I don't know what this has to do with guinea pigs, but here's some trivia about England's history.
Magna Carta facts!!!!!!
Because so many of the game's puzzles don't have a way to die within them, it's easy to find yourself constantly trying to fix a botched set of stairs by tunneling or digging through it. Sometimes it's worth it to just know when to quit, like here for instance. Except I didn't choose to quit here, I just panic mashed some keys as Scooter moved in a way I didn't anticipate and accidentally hit the self-destruct sequence. It was probably for the best.
I can't even begin to tell you what path I took through this level, but eventually I finally made it to the top.
The level design between this and the previous level is interesting to me. I would assume the game is trying to make itself more difficult by having fewer platforms, but the real challenge comes from all the congestion of the previous level. This one is way more straightforward and significantly easier to get through, even detouring for some bonus points.
Scooter likes broccoli!!!!!
Look at that very straightforward path. It's just so much cleaner than the last few levels.
There's a sparse narrative going on throughout the game of Scooter climbing her way up a mountain. Here things get icy, but fortunately the physics don't change. What does change however, is that this level disables tunneling and digging through ice.
As expected, the pointy bits of ice are deadly to poor Scooter.
Again I fall back on climbing over jumping whenever possible. It just feels safer, and actually looking more closely, is required to get onto the floating chunk of ice and safely off it. Scooter's trajectory when jumping is completely fixed so she won't travel any more horizontally whether she jumps from a large height or not.
Oddly, once the top portion is complete, the bottom half of the level is pretty much automatic. There's just two small jumps at the end, and without any danger. Having a moment to rest is definitely welcome at least.
I'm not sure how I feel about this level honestly. The trick is that you can dig freely in it once more, making the solution to just dig and scoot across the bottom. All the spiky parts are thankfully a red herring, and looking at them I don't think it'd even be possible to take the high road safely. The clearance is too low to jump or build without blocking tiles above spikes, and since the game can't tell if a spike is blocked by dirt or Scooter, it's an instant death regardless.
Scooter needs a friend!!!!!
The next level starts with a sign giving a terrifying warning.
Stepping onto many of the ice tiles that aren't using solid/normal characters will cause it to crack and break, sending Scooter to her demise in the depths below.
The good news is that there is a moment where you can tell Scooter to jump before she falls, letting you quickly hop across the ice, but once more there's a challenge of positioning her correctly so that she can make the final gap and reach the exit.
In reality, it's not quite as difficult as it seems because the thin ice isn't consistent. The large section at the end is mostly stable, despite appearing identical to all the thin ice from the start of the level. It's easy to think the solution involves making multiple jumps in a row which requires some very strict timing.
It's not nearly as nasty as those massive stair building contraptions from earlier, so the relief isn't as strong as gerbil would like it to be here.
Oh hey, a rehash. Now this same maze seen in level 7 is made more difficult by... adding a total of 4 more unbreakable tiles.
Ironically, despite having that much more experience with the game by this point, I manage to mistime way more of my commands and struggle a bit to get through.
For comparison, these are the only changes the level makes:
Next up are some Mayan ruins. This level is more a test of your eyesight, attempting to find out which areas of the level can actually be broken through to proceed to a lower area.
It features dynamic terrain and in a way not designed to kill Scooter! Crossing a certain point will cause a bit of loose dirt to dislodge and fall below.
There are a few invisible walls for some reason as well, which I don't know how or why they'd be there, but it prevents Scooter from moving west of her current position here.
There's a tiny pocket of dirt to tunnel into before digging towards the right which leads to the lowest area and then a "simple" set of stairs will get Scooter over the final wall and to the exit.
This level tries to do a bit more with the artwork by including some background elements with those statues, and is meant to sort of be the culmination of Scooter's journey up this mountain and into its icy caves. And just what's up with the not very human shaped statue on the bottom...
Ah yes, it was aliens all along! This final level puts Scooter inside an alien fortress where gravity is reversed! She'll fall up towards the ceiling and instead have to work her way downward to a small alien craft hidden in the mountain.
hehe. I don't think anybody's ever said the Mayans themselves were aliens? Or at least I really hope not and it's just supposed to be one of those annoying ancient alien things that likes to dismiss the capabilities of "primitive" people.
The reversed gravity does make things far more confusing than you might think, but for the most part the level isn't all that difficult. Except for the invisible wall just below the portal preventing Scooter from just dropping up to it.
It takes a tiny bit more effort than that, but with one last leap Scooter is through the final portal.
Seeing Scooter steering an alien spacecraft is 100% the reason you'd want to play this game.
Brought to you by...
This is honestly the best ending sequence I've seen in a ZZT game in some time. The artwork is gorgeous.
Scooter tries its hand at setting itself apart from other ZZT Lemmings games, and for the most part it accomplishes this. The puzzles feel more varied (if still a bit too reliant on building big sets of stairs), and the polish by adding in details like the squish when Scooter hits the ground make it feel like a game with a lot of heart to it. It's a love letter to a former pet and the general cuteness of the game goes a long way in selling it as such. Zem was fun, but there was nothing to the character to make you connect with them. Scooter is a cute guinea pig who has lost her way and gets to go on a big adventure, exploring gopher holes, climbing mountains, spelunking caves, and culminating with an over the top departure from this planet!
But just, the flaws. There are many. That same squish that makes the game so charming is also its worst enemy. This game is 16 levels long, and in probably half of them you're going to be fighting the controls more than anything else. They are just so unresponsive that you're going to constantly either hitting buttons early, hoping it'll get parsed on the next step, or hitting them too late, leading either to Scooter's demise or a lot of frustration in trying to get back to where you were. Scooter's climbing mechanics and when gravity applies don't feel all that natural. If you have a mess of dirt from failed attempts of climbing, Scooter becomes very unpredictable. There were definitely moments where I missed my input and had Scooter climb up a mess on her own. I'd be thankful for it, but it's not good design to hope the game solves itself.
The game should be rather short, but the struggle in finishing some of these levels is enough to really pad things out. I've certainly played longer games and done longer sittings where I'd capture screenshots, but with Scooter, I quit a few times just to give myself a break from fighting it. Little inconsistencies like which ice is thin or what exact tile you need to start building from to reach a far off ledge quickly add up to making the game almost a chore at times.
Scooter the guinea pig steering a UFO is great. Scooter the ZZT game that controls like a guinea pig steering a UFO, not so much. I honestly want to suggest any readers try it for themselves just to see how much of a struggle you're in for with these controls. The game is bookended by cute art, but the middle is nothing you'll be missing out on if you give this game a pass.
The Worlds of ZZT project is committed to the preservation of ZZT and its history.
This article was produced thanks to supporters on Patreon.Support Worlds of ZZT on Patreon!