Friday, June 7, 2013

Cool Spot (SNES) Review

Written: June 5th-7th, 2013
Year: 1993 | Developed and Published by: Virgin Games

Cool pose
So, in continuation of my sometimes summer theme this season, I figured I would review a game that many gamers associate with this time of year.  A game that many herald as a classic, a game that screams "'90s", a game that stars a former mascot based on a drink that many still buy today.  A game that some identify as one of the best non-Disney licensed titles that's ever been made in the past two decades, while others (such as myself) might respectfully disagree.  The game in question is none other than Cool Spot, by famed video game company Virgin Interactive.  Oh, and regarding my previous review, I apologize for that one moment that likely distracted from the game I was talked about; I just wanted to express how appalled I was about that.  And I'm sorry if any took offense to that one moment, I'll try not to repeat that mistake again in the future.  =(

Trapped in a bubble
For those that didn't know, the '90s was a very big time period when it came to video game mascots, particularly those that were licensed from shows and food-related ones, or ones that were not licensed that dominated the '90s (a lot of them being Sonic-wannabes).  The former rings true for the red 7-Up dot Spot, who was a commercial and video game mascot for several years until his untimely retirement in the second half of the decade.  His series of games started with the Reversi-like title Spot: The Video Game, eventually followed up by this title, to be followed up years later to the much maligned isometric sequel Spot Goes to Hollywood.  There was also a fourth Spot video game... sort of.  In 1992-93 there was a Game Boy title with the name of Spot: The Cool Adventure which mirrored the control scheme of M.C. Kids; and speaking of which, the European version was titled McDonaldland, where it featured the characters from said game and the McDonald's characters as well.  Sounds like Kemco Mickey (Crazy Castle) all over again to me, but we're not interested in action-puzzle hybrids or fast food characters right now; just the soft drink ones.  <=|

Bells, bells, bells
But onto the game!  In 1993, when 16-bit was all the rage, Virgin decided to craft an open-ended platformer that starred the 7-Up mascot in his prime Spot.  It was first released for the MegaDrive/Genesis console, and upon release it was received very well; Virgin took notice of this successful news that they decided to port it to various other consoles and handhelds like the Amiga, the Sega Master System, the original Game Boy (I saw gameplay footage of that one, though I don't think cropping the game exponentially was a good idea), and the SNES among others.  For awhile I was curious about this game and I wanted to see if it was as good as a lot of people made it out to be.  Back in May of 2010 I decided to order the game alongside the box and manual for the SNES, and I'm glad I got a chance to experience it.  =)

*clap*  All right, story-time!
"Hang ten, dude!  Cowabanga!"
Climbing shoelaces
The unfortunate news in this regard is that if you're just buying the game itself and are expecting a story to be told while playing it, I'm afraid you're going to be shorthanded since there's nothing in-game hinting at that.  =(  Luckily I have the manual in my stead, and basically this is the plot it covers: eleven of Spot's friends (all called Spot; kinda makes you wonder how anyone can tell them apart?  Almost makes you wonder if you're controlling the same Spot any time you revisit the game?) have all been trapped inside cages and separated by Wild Wicked Wily Will (hurray, alliteration!) who has long been trying to prove to the world that the Spots are real!  Hmmm, reminds me of a different character similarly trying to prove the existence of something else entirely!  Makes me wonder if they share the same sanity or lack thereof.
Oh, Denzel, how I missed your mannerisms.  It's just a shame the series made some live-action movies lately.
Anyway, Will is about to get his chance, but all hope is not lost, since there is one Spot that's here to save the day: the eponymous cool Spot (if you're confused about Spot and his friends sharing the same name, I don't blame you), that is.  Each location has got a single Spot trapped in a cage, and you must free your friend before Will comes back.  Speaking of being shorthanded, here's another one if you're just getting the game: Will never ever appears in the game, or even the manual for that matter (he's just mentioned there).  All this has occurred while the protagonist was surfing, and once he finishes up he realizes what has happened.  Will our not ambiguous Spot prove successful to save his friends?  Here's hoping.

Hanging by a thread of a cool balloon
Cool Spot is an open-ended platformer, in much similar fashion to games such as Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure, The Pagemaster, and Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow, in that the stages are big and are open-ended in nature.  The gameplay is good, and the controls are simple yet intuitive: jump and shoot.  Spot can shoot in any direction, and he can also duck, look up, cartwheel down slopes, climb, or hang on to balloons.  There are also bubbles he can bounce up from, and tiny capture bubbles that he can enter and make him momentarily float upward for a few seconds.  Spot can shoot his unlimited array of sprites towards his enemies, or as the manual calls them, "Cool Shots".  Most areas will be littered with enemies, and some of the ones you'll be contending with are ones such as
fish heads that somehow manage to fit in wafer-thin puddles of water,
pajama-clad cheese-throwing mice who look like they belong in a Beatrix Potter tale (or some animated movies with realistic-looking rodents, rather),
playing balls that bounce up and down,
toy bandits in runaway toy trains,
toy train workers who'll ambush you with lumps of coal, and worst of all,
Batman: "Bees.  My God."
bothersome bees!!!  D=
A lot of the time Spot will be moving as he shoots, but fortunately there is a way of making life easier in this regard.  Like Contra III: The Alien Wars, you can hold down the R shoulder button while you shoot so you'll be holding still while doing so.  And it helps, it really does, so you won't have to move all the time as you shoot.  A lot of gamers, from what I noticed, are under the misconception that it can't be done, while in actuality it can; unfortunately, the only time you're actually given the know-how to that control is in the manual.  I guess it comes to show how owning the manual can be helpful depending on the game.  As good as the play control is, it's a little on the loose side, and that's fairly evident when it comes to jumping.  There two kinds of jumping in this game: proper jumps and "wimpy" jumps as the manual calls them.  The former can be accomplished if you jump right after you move, while the latter is done if you jumped while you were not moving before, and how far or near you jump depends on your maneuverability after performing either jump.  How high you jump all depends on how hard you press the button.

Of Mice and Spots
The goal of each stage is to free the friend from their cage, and get past all the obstacles.  Here's the catch, however: to break the lock of the cage, you must first get the requisite amount of red dots, depending on the difficulty: on Easy you have to get 30%, on Normal you must accumulate 60%, and on Hard you must gather 90%.  You even have a chance to gain access to the bonus stages inside a 7-Up bottle, but only if you collect enough dots.  On Easy it requires 75%, Normal 85%, and on Hard you must have 95% (on the manual it states that you have to get all of them, but that's a blunder).  In most stages there are checkpoints to be found which will allow you to begin from that point should you lose a life.  Spot also has a health system, which is symbolized by the state of the Spot sticker in the HUD.  If it peels off completely, you lose.  Did I mention that there's a timer involved?

"Boy, someone's a little crabby today!"
The music was composed by Tommy Tallarico, whose résumé of video game background music include works such as Earthworm Jim, Wild 9, and the original Pac-Man World.  The soundtrack featured in Cool Spot is pretty great.  =)  A lot of the music is composed of catchy beats, and several of them are calypso tunes (which is appropriate for certain stages).  The SNES rendition of the famous beach theme "Wipe Out" sounds great, and the rest of the songs sound good.  The beach theme is a nice calypso-sounding tune, the wall theme is catchy, the bonus themes are like techno-beats, the toy store theme is cool, and the pier theme is okay.  A lot of the music sounds inviting and exciting, which is good, but my favorite Cool Spot song is the train theme, and here is why: it's a border-on silly song, but an enjoyably silly one, where it begins with a brief tune that eventually segues to a banjo-driven theme, and during the process it may even play a slower or a faster rendition of the banjo.  That is great!  =D  The sound effects are good as well, for I like the sound his Cool Shots make, and anytime you get any of the letters that spell out "Uncola" there is a cute rendition of the first two beats of "Hallelujah".  A sound that may drive some away is the high-pitched voice samples Spot uses at times, particularly when you beat the stage, though I don't find it too bad personally.  There is the option in the menu to turn the music or the sound off, which I normally don't approve of since that enables some to not listen to what the music has to offer.  Still, music and sound are good.

Spot springing into action
On a visual level this game is fantastic!  Truly one of the best-looking SNES games that was made in 1993, right next to Mr. Nutz, ActRaiser 2, and Equinox to name a few.  There is a lot of attention to detail, boasting so much color throughout, and a lot of the backgrounds and foregrounds look photo-realistic, in a sense.  In particular the beach stages, where there is a big abundance of parallax scrolling, only it's not quite as pronounced as in other titles, and the various clouds in the sky look so textured and realistic (the look of the clouds look eerily similar to the ones that were used in Super Mario Galaxy 2, from what I remember the last time I played that).  The toy store stages are fun to look at, right down to the toys sitting on the shelves looming in the background and perhaps the most realistic-looking sneaker that's ever been seen in Nintendo's 16-bit console.  The wall stages look clustered and in-depth, and the pier stages don't look all too shabby what with the cruiseliner seen in the distance.  What's great about the bonus stage is how you're inside a 7-Up bottle and you can see all the fluids and bubbles in the background.  =)

Spot and the enemies look and animate really fluidly.  The enemies are detailed, realistic-looking, and very cartoony, which works a lot for the majority of them.  Spot himself animates wonderfully, and I like how Virgin made him look photo-realistic when it came to his movements and his numerous poses.  It adds a lot to the visual flair.

Coolin' down in the tube
So how's the challenge like?  Well, there are many factors that attribute to the game's challenge.  Let's talk about the main factor: collecting red dots.  Funny how in a genre where collecting items is usually not mandatory, for this one game it's a requirement!  At the end of each of stage is a cage with a Spot trapped in it, and the only way to break the lock is if you collect a certain amount of red dots, or "cool points" as they're referred to.  The easier the difficulty you're playing, the less you're required to gather; and the higher the difficulty, you'll have to obtain the highest majority of "cool points".  Most stages are openly-designed, with some complex layouts, which would augment some challenge.  And you know what, why stop there?  Why not add a timer too?

Depending on the difficulty and how the stages are laid out, you may have either an easy time or a totally hard one finding a set amount "cool points".  Some "cool points" are hidden so well that you have to look thoroughly in order to get them.  Lingering around is not an option, since the timer will continually go down the longer time passes, but fortunately there are a some timer icons you can obtain to give you more time.  Time is key, and it's time that will allow you to search and locate them.  The jumping can be a bit of an issue at times, since as I mentioned before, there are proper jumps and "wimpy" jumps.  A little distance can be gained in the air so long as you jump after you move, which can get a little awkward when it comes to small platforms as Spot gradually moves faster.  When it comes to loose gameplay, it can either work to a game's advantage or it might not work quite as potently.  Mr. Nutz, to name an example, had loose play control but it helped a lot when it came to reaching certain platforms; Cool Spot doesn't exactly benefit from that.

"Playtime's over!"
Just like a certain amount of "cool points" are required to unlock the cage at the end, you must also collect a specific amount to gain access to the bonus stage.  In the bonus stages which take place inside the 7-Up bottle you get a chance to collect all the "cool points" in order to receive a life, all in the allotted time too.  In each bonus stage there is also one letter out of six, together spelling out "Uncola".  If you lose all your lives, you'll get a chance to continue at the expense of one letter.  So, what about the "Uncola" letters, and why is it so important to know this?  Well, to add to the challenge, there are two endings, the better of the two being accessed once you collect all six letters on Hard mode.  Which means that you'll be spending a long time trying to get 95% "cool points" on most if not all eleven stages to make this possible.  And to add to the difficulty, there are more enemies the higher the difficulty setting you choose, so it's not going to be a cakewalk.  =(

And now let's talk about the boss fights.   ...oh, wait, there aren't any.
I know, right?  The fact that there aren't any boss fights at all, in a platformer of all genres, is very unusual indeed.  Even some of the lesser platformers have got boss fights in them.  Though, considering all that you have to put up with throughout the game, maybe those obstacles that I mentioned are the boss fights.  ...  Or it might all be due to size constraints or some such crap, I'm not entirely certain.

Free falling!
As far as summer games go, Cool Spot is a very solid platformer.  I don't think it's a great game, but I think it gets the job done.  Visually outstanding, aurally great, and controlling really good, it's a very good game to play once in awhile, especially during this time of year.  =)  It's got character, and it definitely does represent the '90s as best as it can.  Spot is a likable character, and he's one cool mascot.  Regarding the better ending, if you're expecting to see Will head to a mental institution or something of the like, you're going to be disappointed.  As I mentioned before, the main baddie is only referenced in the manual.  The reason for the "Uncola" business was because at the time of this game's release there was a competition being held to see who would get the good ending, and if they took a picture of the hard to access ending shot and sent it to Virgin then they (the contestants) would get a prize.  When this game came out I wasn't exactly of age to do so, so it's too late for me.  I never got a chance to beat Hard mode yet (I try my best, though), but I was curious to see what the good ending was; so I searched a YouTube video of it and without spoiling anything, I found it to be disappointing.  Because with all this commotion about the secret ending you'd expect something really big, right?  Guess not.  The challenge value is definitely competent, even if at times depending on the difficulty it might prove to be taxing.

Cool Spot was successful enough to earn a sequel, Spot Goes to Hollywood, which for the most part got panned by critics and gamers as a whole, and some even argued that it was the reason for the 7-Up mascot's demise, thereby killing the series.  While I honestly don't think that game is as bad as some gamers claim it to be, that's not to say its glaring faults aren't unfounded.  But more on that tragic swansong some other time.  If you're looking for a fun summer title, go for it, and if you can, I suggest you also buy the manual, for it's worth checking out for its humorous quality and a flipbook-like sequence at the edge of each page.  It's a fun game to play every once in awhile, and it's definitely a summer blast while it lasts.

Thank you for reading my review, please leave a comment and I hope you have a great summer!  Take care!  =)

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