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Closer Look: Zem! and Zem! 2

Newt's Lemmings inspired "ZZT games to pass time"

Authored By: Dr. Dos
Published: Aug 24, 2016

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Zem! 2, came out barely a month after the original, and offers considerable improvements. For one, the game's title is much more readable than its predecessor's.

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The game foregoes the plotter system for a much more traditional Lemmings style system. Though, still in the confines of ZZT this means levels with a single Lemming.


Within a month, Newt's website has been replaced entirely. This time significantly more preserved on The Internet Archive. You can even read the guestbook! Alas, none of the art images seem to be there.

Interactive Entertainment

If you check that page out, you'll find Newt is quite the creative type. There are sections for games, music, writing, and art. He kept himself busy.


The first level begins and things are clearly very different. Zem will still walk back and forth on his own, but this time the player issues commands to him in order to progress through the levels.


Pressing "Dig!" will make Zem begin burrowing down until he reaches an open space or strikes an impenetrable yellow wall.


Similarly, "Bash" will clear a path horizontally.


"Make" creates a set of stairs reaching as high as Zem can climb, unless interrupted with another command.


It can be a bit difficult to gauge placement of large staircases however!


The fourth level is the final tutorial-esque level, requiring you to use every action. (Well, except Nuke which just causes the game to end.)

Though it didn't get a level of its own, you need to use the "Walk" command as well here as Zem will climb right up onto the spikes if the player doesn't intervene and turn him around.

Four levels in and there's already noticeably more thought being put into these levels than anything in the original Zem! game. It's still very basic stuff, but there's definitely more of an understanding that these actions can be combined together to solve more complex levels.


Level five requires the player to tunnel their way under the exit portal before climbing back up.


The sixth level demonstrates some more open ended design as Zem has to mix building, bashing, and digging in one of many possible ways to make it to the exit portal. One of the portals reveals itself to be a fake when Zem reaches it as well!


Level seven introduces optional money to collect for bonus points. Strangely, this mechanic isn't used in any later levels, which is a shame as it would be a good way to introduce some optional difficulty to the puzzles, which while an improvement on the original are still ultimately pretty basic.


Level eight revisits level three, but this time in reverse.


I managed to not build my first staircase where I wanted and fell into the pit. Oddly enough Zem didn't react to being shot, most likely due to being "locked" while falling and this rejecting jumping to any labels in his code for handling being shot until he registered as landed and "unlocked".


My solution lived up to the level's name.


Level nine goes back to a very simple one action solution of making stairs over the lava pit.


I missed a screenshot here, but this level has a big red button down below which Zem needs to stand on before the exit portal will appear.


Don't fall in the water unless you want to write a creepypasta.

This level is nice in that you can't just make some stairs and finish the level even after hitting the button. You'll need to turn Zem around on his stairs and start building more in the opposite direction, climbing your way to the top with several staircases.


Level eleven actually comes with that first staircase already in place. I'm starting to feel like I overhyped this game's improvements in quality over the original with another simplistic level like this one.


In this level, the player is told that Zem will move faster, so you do have to react quickly to keep him from falling down onto the spikes, but once again it's still a basic puzzle.

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Fem! She's a girl because she's pink and named for her trait of being a girl.

Unfortunately, the second lemming doesn't really change anything up. There's nothing stopping you from just completing the level without even issuing a command to her. It might have been more interesting if she had a new ability, or perhaps if the level had the two located in different areas.


Level fourteen brings back some more interesting design. The player does have to stop and think about exactly what sort of path they're taking in order to make sure they don't get themselves trapped.


The final level is another letdown. Zem walks to the right so you need to remember to hit the walk command to turn him around.

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And just like that the game ends.

Zem! 2 has a handful of reviews on z2 which seem to give it a lot of 5/5 ratings surprisingly. It's definitely an improvement, and going from playing Zem! directly into playing Zem! 2, made it much more appealing, but standing on its own, it's still a pretty weak game, with a fun concept.

There are a few levels which have some complexity to them, but if you play Zem! 2 you'll pretty much just breeze through 90% of it

How do they play today?

Playing the original Zem! is a bit of a mess. Its sequel is interesting in terms of the engine it uses, but the execution of both games ultimately fall flat. With Zem! 2, you'll at least feel like each level is different from the previous even if the solutions still tend to be really simple.

One thing to note is that Zem! 2 isn't actually the last game in the series. There's also the "Zem! 2 Level Pack", which is a series of levels created by other ZZTers, as well as "Zem! X", where you play as a lemming hunter who has to capture Zem in each level. Both of these worlds look to have more well designed levels than the first two games. Perhaps I'll take a look at them in the future!

Where can I get them?

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