Koopo The Lemming

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Closer Look: Koopo The Lemming Part 2

In Part 2, Koopo finds his unique vision for his game by introducing a jetpack

Authored By: Dr. Dos
Published: Jul 15, 2019
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I'm back! It's time to check out the second half of Koopo's Koopo The Lemming. If you haven't read part one, I'd suggest doing so beforehand!

When we last left off, after completing 20 levels using running, jumping, bashing, brick laying, and swimming, Koopo encountered yet another species of lemming eater. This one rather than being used as the foil for a creative boss battle, opted instead to teleport him far far away from his home. Now it's time to begin that long journey back through another 20 stages.


Before the game can resume, the player needs to input their password. This is always the same thing, so Koopo's decision to make such an elaborate entry system is a tad overkill. Honestly, with ZZT's editor it's not like these things are going to stop anybody who wants to play the second half without completing the first.


But, Koopo opts to show off his programming skills with a text entry system, with all the usual ZZT hangups. "Please don't do this or it will break." is something you can surprisingly get away with in ZZT, since your audience is generally other people who are also making ZZT worlds and know the frustrations of its limitations. (Though I don't see any reason cycling past all the letters would break things to begin with.)


And it's a rather odd system. Not every letter is represented, which fine, cycling through from A to Y, overshooting, and having the engine break would be a nightmare, but the available letters change with each input and aren't even alphabetical. This is kind of a terrible system if passing out the correct input means you have to restart the game.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
As Koopo was walking along, he found a
great tool.

Well, Not exactly found, It sort of
hit him on the head first before he
noticed it.

Koopo: A rocket pack! I think I'll venture
       through this bizzare really hard
       forest for no good reason.

So he set off for the forest.

Koopo: HEY, I didn't sign on for this..
       Lemme go. I don't wanna continue!
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

So far, Koopo The Lemmings has been a pretty solid, if not responsive enough game. The puzzles have worked well and made good use of Koopo' abilities, but after 20 mostly reasonable Lemmings levels, Koopo the author throws caution to the wind and turns the concept of the game into his own creation.

And I am so on board for that.


There's no need to follow the template laid down by Psygnosis. Koopo can do as he wishes, and what he wishes is for his lemming to use experimental technology to zoom across the board at breakneck speed.


Gravity is now a suggestion.


And not only does it dash, but it also lets Koopo smash into things with enough force to knock them over. (Despite the message about slamming into a wall at high speeds Koopo is fine health-wise.)


I am cheering right now. The dash sends Koopo hurtling maybe a dozen spaces across before the thrust stops and gravity can take over, leaving a trail of flames behind him as he zips across the stage!

This makes movement feel so much fun when ZZT platformers are most well known for their clunkiness.


Unfortunately, the bombs up top make short work of Koopo. Although the tips mention dashing in the opposite direction, it feels like the wrong thing to do, and I kept instinctively dashing into bombs expecting to knock them away rather than have them detonate in my face.


Dashing away from the bombs lets them be deflected without harming Koopo as the instead ricochet off the flames which are just walls in ZZT terms. Don't think too hard about it.

After hitting the mysterious jerk running the bomb machine a few times, the level completes and Koopo can move on.

Update: I completely missed that this level does have a bonus level and one that's actually intact. By jumping on top of the wall instead of knocking it over, he can then jetpack into that white F and be warped to a bonus minigame that involves catching a ball thrown by Interactive Fantasies member Hydra78 and then throwing it back and hitting him with it. It's surprisingly fun for such a simple thing. However, unlike the warp in file 1, whether you win or lose the minigame results in just advancing to the next level (with bonus points if you win it).


This ZZT game has a "Rocket Jump" button. THIS ZZT GAME HAS A "ROCKET JUMP" BUTTON.

Even the rules of the first file are thrown out the window as the second level here is a boss fight already.


Not only are bombs dropping from up top, but the bridges across the lava are slowly erased by some objects. This boss needs to be taken out fast since the timing on jumping the lava below safely is not something easily done.


The solution is of course the new rocket jump ability which sends Koopo straight up where he can ram into his foe. They become momentarily immune to damage with some short lasting shields, but Koopo can pretty safely just rocket jump repeatedly once he's lined up with the boss until the fight's over.


We have no idea who this guy is. Now he's a ghost?


And it's immediately being followed up with yet another boss! The game won't be exclusively boss fights, but Koopo definitely seems a bit bored of the traditional level structure. I can't blame him, if this game was another 20 stages of that, it'd definitely overstay its welcome. Especially when the alternative is rocket jumps.


For this fight, bullets and spikes fall form the ceiling, and the machine shoots as well. Like before, being on the offensive is essential since it's easy to be hit by several bullets in a row.


By dashing into one of the spikes before it disappears on the ground, Koopo can collect it and then destroy the machine with it.


But the villain gets away.


After a few levels of playing around with the rocket dash as a means of attack, this next boss fight breaks away from it, and also introduces a dramatic plot twist.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
  Koopo pilfers the unknown entity's stash
of bombs and continues on the down the
tunnel.. He reaches a part when he hears
a deafening growl..

  Koopo recognizes the lemming on the
conveyor belt.. It's.. the guy who's been
bombing him!

???: Koopo! Now I recognize you! I've
      been away from the lemming villages
      so long that I've forgotten!

Koopo: Who the hell.. Wait a sec.. Are
        you Tricky, the pyromaniac who
        got banished by the lemmings
        because you "accidentally" blew
        up the town hall...

Tricky: It wasn't that accidental.. but
         yes! I need your help.. I can
         show you back to the lemming
         villages but first throw me
         a couple bombs and let's finish
         this L.E.!

Koopo: *Grumble* Fine.. I just can't let
        A lemming die... Damn programmer.
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

It turns out this jerk who's been attacking Koopo is an exile from his village! Exiled for pyromania apparently, but Koopo can't bring himself to leave Tricky to be eaten by a lemming eater and agrees to help by using Tricky's bombs.


This one is kind of a dud in execution. Tricky moves via conveyor straight towards the lemming eater's mouth. Koopo is intended to carefully time throwing bombs to Tricky so he can throw them into the creature's maw.


If you try to do it that way, you're not going to succeed since it takes so many bombs to defeat the lemming eater. And you'll likely waste time dashing around trying to get Koopo to align properly in the first place.


Instead, you should just hold the down button and constantly throw bombs which Tricky will constantly catch and throw. It's very unsatisfying and ends up being the least impressive boss fight thus far.


Look at this badass.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
  And so the heroic Koopo smitted the
evil lemming eater and brought glory and
fame to all of lemming-kind and that was
the end..


  Even though Tricky was saved, he lies
deep within another cavern of the L.E's..
Koopo took one look.. then prepped himself
for the longest leg of his quest.

  Equipped with all the necesities..
of course. Such as his basher, flame
thrower, worms kit, underwater apparatus,
rocket dasher, rocket pack, rocket boots,
brick layer, digger pick, and various
other tools...
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

There's still of course quite a ways to go. Now it's time for Koopo to get serious, loading up on a whole bunch of tools, so many that he won't be able to use all of them at once, including a "worms kit" which will make more sense later.


The game returns to its roots with traditional levels and tools, but now Koopo has several available at once that can be cycled with the space button.


All the classic Lemmings abilities seen earlier return simultaneously. The method for cycling through tools is a tad clunky, but it's really no different than physically moving the player and hitting buttons like in Zem! 2 and Scooter, so I can't complain too much.


Level 26 is so close to being the introductory level I'd want it to be. Everything is used, and Koopo doesn't have to worrying about falling to his death. If this level didn't have its time limit, it'd be a safe playground.

There is one small change to the brick tool, but it's a smart one. Previously, the bricks were shaded, some would be made of normal walls, and some would be breakable. Now they're always breakable, a conscious decision that lets Koopo dig or bash through them. This makes a lot of game-ending mistakes recoverable, provided the time limit is generous enough to let Koopo get back on track.


The time limit here was so tight that I had to save on this tile here before ZZT could react to the 0 seconds of time remaining and kill me. After saving I was dead, but reloading starts the game paused with 0 seconds and let me move into the passage without ticking the timer!


Two obvious things to see here: The first is all the blue smiley faces. This is just a water animation where for some reason Koopo didn't set the starting character by hand. As soon as the level begins it displays as intended.

The second is the weird set of letters "PAR" "LYX"? "PLAYRX"? My first thought was these were supposed to be some kind of Portal-esque transporters, which would have been impressive, but they're just empty objects and the level name is referring to Koopo digging/bashing links between chambers and I guess the area at the end is almost a loop.


Falling water blocks the exit, until you notice this gray switch that removes it and displays a message plugging Zem! 2. Like Scooter, Koopo the author is more than happy to look at his "competition" favorably.


The next level is another "hidden exit" level, but there's more to it than just bashing through a wall.


The opening hints that the exit might not be the obvious one so instead of proceeding to the right side of the screen, I tried to climb out the top.

But that wasn't the exit so...


So instead it's just a straightforward level with some misleading help. Rude.


The level design in this segment is really nice. The player can decide if they want to jump or build, it looks visually interesting, and the occasional button or switch makes sure that Koopo actually has to traverse the majority of the stage and not just go from left to right.

This one has the oddest solution in that just letting Koopo fall without providing any input will safely drop him to the floating platform and then back to the one with the switch. No input is needed prior to bashing through the left wall.


My construction got a little awkward, and I expected I'd need to restart, but it turns out the water doesn't kill Koopo, invisible objects above the water do, and the waterfall doesn't have any of those. I was able to safely bash, fall, and then just climb over the waterfall.


The second file of Koopo has been pretty heavy on boss battles, so level 30, which follows the 5 level pattern for bosses is no surprise. Except this time Koopo is back to just basic abilities. No rocket jumps here.


It's lacking in the art department, but it's got a lot of objects. The boss this time is "Mayhem", which I assume is deliberately named after the hardest set of levels in the original Lemmings.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
Mayhem: Well, Well, Well.. look who came

Mayhem: to rescue his little friend.

Koopo: Who?

Mayhem: Take a good look my friend. See..

Mayhem: the scars? The wounds? I'm..

Mayhem: a mess. And you know who caused..

Mayhem: ..it?

Koopo: Uh.. no.

Mayhem: I'll give you one guess..

Koopo: Uh.. Um.. Er..?

Mayhem: YOU did it! You psychotic !@#!@!

Koopo: Me? What?

Mayhem: You released me into the clutches

Mayhem: of the lemming eaters. It's been

Mayhem: A hard life. I've always wanted

Mayhem: to get revenge on you!

Koopo: ...wait..

Mayhem: Am I jogging your memory? Maybe..

Mayhem: you remember a lemming, by the

Mayhem: name of Zem? Huh? Do you?!?!?

Koopo: Uh.. no.

Mayhem: ARGH! I'm gonna kill you anyways!

Koopo: Uh.. oh.. crud????

Mayhem: *Activating guns..*
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

Koopo's got a one sordid history apparently. It's Newt's Zem! Back for revenge on Koopo for some unseen wrong in the past. Maybe this is why the game plugs the Zem series, to make it known that this isn't some weird dig on Newt.


Zem is the most difficult boss to get a grasp on yet. There are a lot of guns and now clear way on how to get to Zem who is both protected by rock and a forcefield.


The bullets do fire on a fixed timer, so after a few tries I'm able to build a ramp up to the upper level, though I have no idea what to do once I'm there. What doesn't help this fight is that every time Koopo dies, you have to sit through that very long villainous diatribe from Zem.


Nothing makes itself clear up top, but being up there at least means safety from the bullets. I trap myself inside so I can think of what I'm supposed to do here. (By which I mean check the editor.)


Even the editor isn't helpful. I learn there are more guns up top still, and that Zem needs to be shot, but I can't figure out how. I suspect I must be overlooking something, and sure enough I am. The digger ability digs by shooting south, normally that means either you shoot a breakable wall below Koopo, or you shoot a solid wall and nothing happens. Here however, the player is supposed to notice that some of the tiles are water, so a failed dig attempt still means shooting a bullet.

The forcefield itself flashes a pattern of terrain, including breakable walls letting Koopo pace back and forth up top and slowly break through and begin to hit Zem.


After a few hits, the hidden guns reveal themselves and put Koopo into what seems like an unwinnable situation. They fire too fast, one fires horizontally, and there's no way for Koopo to reliably dodge them while also taking the time to keep up his attack.


My solution is drastic, but boy does it work. I fill the entire room up with bricks which should stall the guns, and keeps Koopo always positioned to fire.


It ends up working very well! Koopo can now fire straight down and just completely overwhelm Mayhem. The guns barely get a chance to shoot and Mayhem is defeated before Koopo can move out of his firing position.


Koopo is cool.


Forget Lemmings. Koopo has found a far cooler game called Worms. They have flamethrowers instead of parasols.

Calvin and Hobbes

Pictured: Koopo developing Koopo The Lemming


After a brief return to classic mechanics, it's time for Koopo to turn the game into something of his own design.


The Ice Caverns are a convenient place to have a flame thrower in. The tool list changes once more between bashing, flaming, and using the flame thrower to propel Koopo upwards.


Trying out the new toy, using the flamer ability shoots a short range of boulders with some objects coded to check if they're blocked and that there are red boulders on screen.It's one of those things ZZT can't technically verify, (like the issue with the blockhead enemies in Cannibal Isle). Koopo can bump up against the ice and shoot fire to the west, and as far as the object is aware it's being hit.


The flame jump is no different than rocket jumping earlier. I wouldn't have minded if it was mixed up in some way, even visually, but it's still a lot of fun to just blast off!


One bash and one flame later, and Koopo reaches an obviously dangerous bridge that needs to be jumped over due to the gap. It also begins to collapse as Koopo walks over it so there's really only one chance to cross.


Level 32 brings in the first non-boss and non-environmental enemies since the fish way back in level 16!

They don't do much, just pace back and forth, taking a bite out of Koopo if he gets close.


The flamer attack makes short work of them, melting them into nothing.


Although the mites themselves are pretty easy to get past, the level itself is definitely a difficult one. The lower area has a gap in the bridge and a mite. It's very easy to get bit and have Koopo turn around fall right in. The mite needs to be melted quickly, then a short hop over the gap (use halt!) followed by a tile-perfect flame jump to hit the upper switch which in turn activates a large flame thrower to melt the ice wall that Koopo's can't handle on its own.


Even if you pull off the necessary actions, if you don't get them right away there just won't be enough time. (Hitting the switch with fire activates it, but Koopo is going to keep walking left so it doesn't save time.) It still took a few more tries to finally make it through. It's not an unfair level of difficulty, and by this point the player is going to have a significantly better grasp of Koopo's movement. This is actually a really good level!


A subtle reference to Tseng's Da Hood series.


This is another trick level, though not in the sense of finding the hidden path. Here the assumption is that after jumping and bashing through the first half, Koopo will need to get up top to the red object and so something (probably violent) to open the gate below.


The trick here is that the red object is a red herring, that just says "You didn't find a secret level!" when Koopo reaches it.

Instead, unlike every other gate, the way to get past it is to stand on top of it, which knocks it over and lets Koopo fall in safely. I didn't even think I was going to beat the level when I did. I got tricked by the object, and in a panic was just trying to not die while I looked for something I missed, and Koopo just happened to climb up the gate.

On to a cinematic of Koopo's flamethrower breaking after a long fall and then being attacked once more by Mayhem, getting knocked far down below to his next boss battle.


I do like the design of this boss! Some terrifying living ice creature.

The attacks are two-fold, with mouth shooting across the room, and a duplicator up top which creates an icicle object that moves horizontally and shoots downward.


Koopo, who moments ago gave up on his flame thrower and apparently kicked it into orbit, has collected it again and is able to make it function, albeit with a greatly reduced range. I don't think I even bothered with the flame jump since getting on the creature's nose is easily accomplished with a regular jump (though the flame jump isn't impeded in any way).

Like the giant lemming eater boss, there's also a knock-back mechanic where the lemming eater creature blows Koopo backwards after each hit from the flame thrower.

Overall, this is a good boss fight! The wind prevents Koopo from just mashing flamer, and the bullets get in the way, but never really overwhelm the player.


Koopo's reward for defeating an ice god is to become even more of a badass like the worms are.


Look at him! He doesn't need a rocket pack or flame thrower anymore. He is a weapon.


No more digging, building, bashing, or even flamer jumping. Koopo's moves are entirely rewritten with which I can only guess are "Dragon Bash", "Kamikaze", and "Dragon Punch"? Glancing at a wiki for the Worms series of games, there's a "Dragon Ball" and "Kamikaze" but I can't find a third equivalent. Still, whether these are directly from Worms or Koopo's own ideas, it really changes the feel of the game for these last few levels.


Dragon B. is kind of the boring one, making Koopo stop, charge up, and then destroying a breakable wall next to him, not really any different than the regular bash.


Kamikaze however, is a lot more original. It sends Koopo flying horizontally and can be used while in mid-air, giving Koopo an unmatched level of air control. He'll keep going until he hits a wall, and then lose 3 health, which doesn't quite live up to the name, but is obviously more useful than the alternative. Hitting a wall also causes Koopo to stagger backwards for a step, so the usage of it in mid-air is a requirement here to prevent Koopo from clearing the giant pit only to stumble backwards into it right after.


The final new ability, Dragon Punch, is just that, a Shoryuken uppercut where Koopo leaps upward for a few tiles (not as high as a regular jump) and destroys anything breakable adjacent to his attack.

In short, we have something totally unique that totally works. Part 2 really breaks away from its ties to Lemmings and really becomes something that's its own unique experience to play.


Mayhem returns to taunt Koopo some more in this level that otherwise plays pretty much the same as the previous.


The bridge burns away before Koopo can reach it, turning into another required Kamikaze attack. If you're actually fast enough you can step onto the bridge for just a moment before the last of it burns. It would've been cool if the timing was changed so that a skilled player could actually reach Mayhem and smack him once if they're fast enough, but instead it's just like level 36.


This one though, is where it all comes together. The starting area is too cramped to get out without shoryukening your way through. Then the vertical wall needs to be bashed through, but then there's the stumbling block of clearing the gap.

Using a kamikaze move will cross it, but Koopo will stumble off the wall and fall down the pit.

There's a tile below, which means Koopo can begin to fall, and then Dragon Punch off of it to climb upward, but then he just falls down right after.

Turns out just jumping with no clearance will halt gravity long enough to clear the gap, but you still need to be very quick with another bash/punch to clear away the next wall.


Then Koopo must jump up, and break through the final wall. A Kamikaze is a safe bet to avoid mistiming the jump.

What makes all this work so well, and feel really good to get through, is Koopo being clever enough to give these moves a sort of latency through their animations. The sequence to complete this level amounts to punch, punch, punch, jump, punch, jump, kamikaze. It's a lot of inputs where anything after the third is likely to result in Koopo's death if not performed properly. The latency after these moves makes them not only feel powerful, but also gives the player time to switch tools as needed.

I think my first successful attempt actually had me do punch, punch, punch, then switch to bash while in the middle of the third punch, make the jump, bash, and use the windup time to switch to kamikaze, and then jump and kamikaze across. It's such a complex series of motions that without these moments where Koopo is busy charging and scaling walls to punch through them that would otherwise likely be impossible. Instead, it feels great.

The idea of "advanced movement" in a ZZT platformer is absurd to me, but that's absolutely what this is about. Chaining together moves in "quick" succession to get through the level, turning it from a traditional puzzle of figuring out how to get to the exit, into something much more actiony feeling.


The screenshot here is mid level, but it's close enough. Koopo's final regular stage is a race against time to get to the end before an avalanche crushes him.


Though the inputs are fewer here, the amount of time Koopo has is extremely limited, requiring some smart movement, cutting any corner possible (like using Kamikaze over the row of ice to prevent having to climb up an extra tile). Here it's critical to realize that the bash attack has such a long windup that it's faster to punch.


Any time that can be shaved off needs to be as the avalanche breaks through the ice and spreads from up ahead. It's all too easy to get pinched in between, but again it's great to make it through. There's a mastery of movement in these last two stages that are really a high point of the game.


All of these new abilities are of course for more than just movement tech. It's time to do battle with Mayhem.


The fight turns into a sort of wire-fu battle with Mayhem jumping around with a reckless disregard for gravity and shooting pretty much everywhere he can. It's a pretty decent fight since Koopo's attacks require him to get close, but it can be a little annoying getting things lined up in such a way that Koopo can actually attack successfully.


At one point, Mayhem breaks a gap in the floor, and I was worried this would be something Koopo accounted for, with some triggers for a game over below, but thankfully Koopo and Mayhem are free to finish the fight on the lower half of the level.

If it was deliberate to fall down there past a certain point I'd have honestly been impressed, but it's just a nice fluke.


There's not a ton of feedback that you're actually harming Mayhem, but eventually Koopo perseveres and Mayhem does the traditional surrounding of himself with red fakes.

Mayhem: Ack.. you.. ba...stard...

Mayhem: I.. will.. get.. you..

Mayhem: One... of these.. days...

Like the first file, the second ends with some art of Koopo, confused by a weird can which happens to be the next file's password, but this time we're done here. There is no file three.

My original assumption here, was that just like a lot of ZZTers before him, Koopo was immediately thinking about the game's sequel. I certainly wouldn't have minded one. Forty levels is quite a lot, but the quality of this game would definitely make me interested in more down the road.

However, that doesn't seem to be the case here, and the release of Koopo The Lemming is a bit more interesting than that. Talking with Newt, the author of Zem!, on the Worlds of ZZT Discord, he was able to give a bit of insight into the era of Scooter and Koopo's release.

Apparently Koopo was a bit of a perfectionist, and had actually been developing the game for a rather long time. In fact, there's even a preview of the game in Koopo's ZZT Arcades, two years prior to the game's release. So while Newt was working on Zem! 2, there was plenty of discussion over which was the "first" ZZT Lemmings game. (Reminder that the first Zem! doesn't involve issuing commands to Zem). Koopo apparently intended to keep working on the game even after Zem! 2 and Scooter, and the release of Koopo The Lemming as we know it was done by fellow Interactive Fantasies member, Hydra78 unofficially releasing a version he had received from Koopo. So our abrupt end here is because there apparently was supposed to be a third file!

While we don't have any record of how Koopo felt about that, there's some brief mention of it in the Game of the Month Review for Scooter, where the reviewer Hercules, opted to not give the prestigious award to Koopo The Lemming, as he wasn't sure how Koopo would feel about his unofficial and technically incomplete release getting the award.

Frankly, as wild as this story is I was quite relieved to hear it, as the moment I realized that Koopo lost the Game Of The Month award to Scooter, I felt he was robbed!

Final Thoughts

Like I was saying, Koopo just destroys its competition. Zem! 2 and Scooter are cute games, but they feel very restricted by ZZT. Playing them, it seems like improvements could be made, but as if what you get is pretty much the best you could expect of a ZZT Lemmings. Koopo's game however, really stands out as the star of this genre.

From its early levels as a classic interpretation of Lemmings, it quickly becomes apparent that Koopo really understands how to do this sort of game and engine well. That first boss fight was completely unexpected, and as the game develops, the unique tools given to Koopo make the game feel less like a poor man's Lemmings and more of a unique puzzle platformer. Koopo's ability to turn something ZZT can pretend to do well into something genuinely respectable for the genre reminds me a lot of Commodore's later works, where Psychic Solar War Adventure and Angelis Finale turn ZZT RPGs and shooters into something that can stand on its own without the "this is good ...for ZZT" caveat that so many well-made ZZT worlds are unable to escape.

The controls feel like they could be better, and in the end 40 levels is a ton to get through, but this is a game absolutely worth experiencing yourself.

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