content warnings at the end of the review
The Big Dragon, also referred to Chaos, is a Super ZZT game made by GAMEBOYJBF. There is some evidence from other worlds he released that this was based on Super Mario 64 and maybe even was a Mario 64 fangame at some point, but it was turned into this original work.
It was brought to my attention by it being included in the ZZT Love Letters article published by Dos in 2021. It was also periodically plugged by Zinfandel, someone with a near-encyclopaedic knowledge of ZZT games, as a recommendation to play or a stream selection for Dos. I played it on this recommendation and found a fun Super ZZT world. I was not disappointed in spite of some rough edges.
Potentially taking a cue from its Mario 64 inspiration, the Big Dragon puts you in a hub world where you collect stars in 16 regular levels and 4 bonus ones. Not all are available at the start, and you need to collect gems to unlock them and move towards the goal of defeating the titular Big Dragon in a 17th level, who is set up as an existential threat to the world.
While not all the levels are immediately accessible at the start of the game, you still have freedom to access what's available in any order depending on how many gems you have. The gameplay in the levels is diverse, with a mix action, racing, simple puzzle or maze games, fetch quests and (in one case) a very dicey proto-platformer set on a waterfall. There is some amusing metacommentary on dark boards and torches in one of the maze levels too. The game can get quite hard at points due to overwhelming opposition (bullets and stars) and not enough health to cushion that. The platforming stage (stage 6), discussed further below, is a high point in difficulty of sorts.
From a technical point of view, the game has two interesting approaches to using water. Water in Super ZZT forces the player to move in a given direction specified when making the board (if you want old-school water in SZT, use lava) GAMEBOYJBF's use of them in racing boards is a bit of an eye-opener. While they get more repetitive every time you encounter another one, the racing boards make good use of water as a set-up for races, combining it with other obstacles or transportation thingies for some competitive races. Another level set on a waterfall demonstrates another interesting use of water. Together cobweb terrain (another thing unique to Super ZZT) and objects spawning solids to create temporary platforms, GAMEBOYJBF takes a valiant stab at making a platforming level in Super ZZT. However, this requires some pitch-perfect timing and movement (hard with the water), making it quite frustrating. In fact, the first time I played the Big Dragon, I gave up playing here. Checkpoints offer some respite.
Taken together, these two levels give the player a glimpse into how you could make a proper racing or platforming game in Super ZZT without using an engine (though not recommended for the latter) if someone sat down and ironed out the kinks.
The writing is mostly goofy, with an amusing skill tree you progress along to unlock levels, some funny ideas ('autograph magic' is a great euphemism for forging autographs), a barrel of puns revolving around the number 6 and, incongruously, the Titanic. However, the tone of the game hits a few bumps later on as a character is essentially killed off for a sense of drama (or, in other words, fridged), and the author's attempt to give the Dragon a Career of Evil touches upon heavy stuff too lightly in my opinion. These things can definitely dampen your enjoyment of the game; the first incident certainly did that for me and caused me to dock some points from this rating.
In the end, this is a Super ZZT game worth the time of the properly informed ZZTer. Some levels use Super ZZT's large board size and wraparound linkage to good effect, which can feel quite awesome the first time you play it. It's not polished as say, House of Horrors, but it's a game someone playing Super ZZT could grow fond of and inspire them to make their own, as Ellypses' ZZT Love Letter testifies. Good call, Zinfandel.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to make some memorial fan art of Ms. Hihoe. You will not be forgotten!
CONTENT WARNING: Contains a tone-deaf reference to a real-life atrocity late in the game