Sunday, 5 February 2012

New to me: Number 6 - Cool Spot (Super Nintendo)

Game: Cool Spot
Format reviewed: Super Nintendo
Released by: Virgin
Year of original release: 1993/1994
Also available on: Sega Mega Drive, Commodore Amiga, Sega Master System, Sega Game Gear, Nintendo Game Boy, DOS
Available now on: Nothing!

Cool Spot - now there's a short-lived blast from the past. Cool Spot was a character based on the red dot in the 7 Up logo from back in the days when companies tried to use video games as a way of promoting their products. Like many other corporate mascots, he was portrayed as being the epitome of cool, obviously because that's what the company he was promoting wanted people to think about them. Oh yes, he had all of the trademarks of "corporate cool" - the sunglasses, the white sneakers, a bit of attitude, the swagger (that's the current word for being a bit of an obnoxious knob). But, unlike other advert games featuring arsehole "trendy" uber-cool cliched characters, Cool Spot is actually quite a good game.

Some shameless advertising here!

Cool Spot began its life on the Sega Mega Drive before being ported over to the Super Nintendo shortly afterwards (it's likely they were developed around the same time as each other though). This review is of the Super Nintendo version, although I'll say a bit about the Mega Drive version a little later seeing as I gave both versions a go just for curiosity's sake.

Who needs an instruction manual when you have this?
The aim of the game is to help Spot to rescue fellow Cool Spots that have somehow got themselves locked up in cages hidden on each level. Quite how they got locked into them is probably explained somewhere in the game or its manual, but I haven't bothered to find out as it probably isn't really that interesting. You have to guide Spot through a series of typical platform scenarios collecting red dots. Once you have collected more than 60% of the level's dots, you can then go to find the cage to free the imprisoned Spot, thus ending the level. Enemies are killed by firing fizzy bubbles at them of which you have an unlimited supply. Bonus levels can be accessed by collecting about 85% of the red dots on each level. And that's just about all there is to it. Collectibles scattered across the levels include clocks which give you a bit of extra time, 7 Up bottles which replenish your energy, and 7 Up logos are worth 7 spots. The image from the game to the left pretty much sums it all up.
A lobster in pants. That's a sight you don't see every day.

Despite the huge sign, Spot still needs a map to find the next level
The game is well-presented all round. It was developed by David Perry, who was also behind games such games as Disney's Aladdin (Mega Drive), Global Gladiators and of course, Earthworm Jim. This game shares similarities to all of them, in particular the high production values and the fluidity in the animation of the game's characters. Each level is colourful, and all have vibrant, dynamic and clear backgrounds. Each enemy character is also well-designed and seem to have had as much care and attention put into them as the main character itself - the mice on level 3 are a great example. The cut-scenes and level title screens are also entertaining and good to look at. Little touches like Cool Spot smashing up an alarm clock to stop it from going off after running out of time are humorous and add to the overall feel of quality to the game. The in-game sprites are large, as are the platforms and other objects scattered around the levels. In a way, they are actually too large, as they limit the field of view a little, preventing you from seeing what enemies or other platforms are around you. This results in you having to make some leaps of faith in places, or falling into traps that you couldn't see coming, and results in some unfair deaths and frustration. Also, Cool Spot can sometimes be too close to the edge of the screen when walking towards it, meaning that you don't get much chance to react to any enemies that appear from beyond that edge.

A mouse in pyjamas firing cheese at you. Almost as weird as a lobster in pants.

As for the music, this is a definite positive of Cool Spot. In fact, it apparently won awards back in 1993! It is composed by famous video game musician Tommy Tallarico who worked with David Perry on a number of games (again Aladdin and Earthworm Jim). The game opens with a rendition of Wipe Out as Cool Spot surfs the waves on a 7 Up bottle. Each level features suitably suitable backing tracks, some resembling other more familiar tunes, and the sound effects compliment the game well without getting annoying. The bonus stage music, which is basically rave/dance music 1993 style really does evoke memories of that era in your ears. Or it did mine, anyway. You'll be pressing shoot and jump a lot of times, so it's important that the sound that Cool Spot makes when he performs these actions doesn't drive you crazy.

One of many frustrating leaps in this game.
Playing the game is okay. Cool Spot is one of those games in which the character gains speed the more he walks, so it sometimes feels like a bit of a chore to get up him up to speed, and perhaps a bit sluggish when you have to keep stopping and starting again. Performing large jumps sometimes requires a bit of a run up too, which means having to go back on yourself a little to achieve this. This is partially due to the issue described earlier with the limited field of view preventing you from seeing what lies ahead before it's almost too late. Another frustration is that sometimes you need to shoot diagonally to kill enemies. Although this is possible, Cool Spot also moves in the direction you're firing, meaning that you quite often walk past the enemy you're aiming at and have to re-aim from a different angle, or you walk into it and lose power. You can press the right shoulder button down while shooting, which stops Spot from moving, which helps things greatly. Despite these niggles, the game really is fun to play, and you'll find it doesn't take long until you feel confident enough with the controls to be running, firing and leaping around the levels like a madman.

Bouncing around in a bottle. Woo-hoo!!
The game will keep you going for a while. The levels are huge, and the challenge is substantial. You have to earn continues throughout the game, and getting these isn't easy. You can only get continues from the bonus levels. These bonus levels are a lot of fun and involve you bouncing on bubbles in a bottle of pop to reach different items - mostly red dots, but there are also 7 Up logos and extra time in there, plus the aforementioned continue. Usually located in the most hard-to-reach place in the giant bottle! Also remember that you don't automatically get to enter the bonus level. You need to have collected enough red dots in the main level to qualify.

Due to the challenge and the size of the levels, this is a game that will keep you going for a while. It sometimes feels a bit samey. The middle of the game seems to get bogged down in toy-themed levels which feel never-ending, and the last three levels use the same themes as the first three, only in reverse. However, the game has enough in it to impress. You are encouraged to explore the whole levels to get enough red dots required to complete the level, perhaps to reach the bonus levels, and maybe even to get each and every dot scattered around it if you're a bit of a completionist.

Level two, and it's a bright day. The caption was going to say "Snakes on a Chain" but seeing as they're actually on a rope, it wouldn't really work.

Level nine, and it's now getting dark. Well, it is a long game.

The ending. Almost.
As a game in its own right, it is really rather good. Although it is clearly a game to promote a product, it feels like a lot of care and love has been put into it. It would be a great game if it wasn't for some frustrating elements in it. As an advert for a soft drink, it kind of works. There's nothing more annoying than when a company tries to force a character on you, with the clear intention that you have to find that character "cool" and that you would be cool too if you associate yourself with it. By giving their red dot from their logo the name Cool Spot, and making you collect red dots to raise the "cool meter" and even saying in the on-screen guide, "If you're cool, collect these" when referring to a 7 Up logo, 7 Up are doing just that. What companies like 7 Up (or Dr Pepper, or Pepsi, or whoever owns them) didn't get is that companies like Sega and Nintendo gained their "coolness" through characters like Sonic and Mario organically. That is, they didn't have to tell their audience that you'll be seen as hip and trendy if you like them. Basically, it's the youth that decide what's cool, not the corporations attempting to create it. That said, I have to admit that while playing the game, I really wanted a glass of 7 Up! And I haven't had a drink of 7 Up for years.

Presentation: 9
Graphics: 8
Sound: 9
Playability: 7
Overall: 7.5

The PAL palaver
As this review should make clear, Cool Spot was a game advertising the drink 7 Up. However, this was for the American market. In other markets, in particular the UK, 7 Up at the time used that annoying Fido Dido character as its marketing mascot (although the cans did still feature the red dot). So to avoid confusing the public who would obviously stop buying 7 Up due to brand confusion, just about every reference to 7 Up was removed from the game for the PAL market. This means that the 7 Up bottle on the game's title screen is just a generic green bottle, and power replenishments and points are not gained by collecting 7 Up bottles or logos. So, if you lived in a PAL region, you'd have quite a good game in Cool Spot, without the constant advertising of a fizzy lemon and lime drink. However, a little bit of advertising for another company did sneak in. The game was published by Virgin Games, and the 7 Up logos that replenish your energy were replaced by red dots, with the Virgin "V" logo on them. Also, the trains in one of the levels appear to be operated by Sir Richard Branson's company. The cheeky chaps!

It's just like one long advertisement for products, this game is. 7 Up, Virgin Trains, and upside-down dolls.

The Great 16-Bit Console War - Revisisted
Unless you lived on Mars during the 1990s, you should be aware that the Super Nintendo was involved in perhaps the greatest console war known to man. Yes, the first half of the decade was dominated by a legendary struggle in which the Nintendo's white(ish) box was pitted against the Sega Mega Drive in the Great 16-Bit Console War. There was much bloodshed during it as the two great powers fought and feuded in many memorable battles. The Battle of Cool Spot was one of those battles. Other consoles and computers tried, but failed, to compete in this battle, with the Amiga coming a distant third, and the Gameboy making a valiant, but ultimately fruitless attempt. It was really only ever between the SNES and Mega Drive. So, almost two decades after the battle ended, now that Sega and Nintendo have kissed and made up, it seems as good a time as ever to review the skirmishes that took place in 1993's Battle of Cool Spot and declare the victor of this contest.

ROUND 1: Graphics
As far as looks go, the Super Nintendo just about clinches this. The graphics on both versions are fantastic, but on the SNES they are more colourful, more detailed and more defined. Sometimes, colours seem to be added to the SNES version just for the sake of it (there isn't really any reason why the balloons on level one need to be different colours, whereas on the Mega Drive they're all red), and sometimes there is probably a bit too much colour in places where minimal would be better. But, overall the SNES is a slightly prettier game to look at.
ROUND 1 winner: SNES

The lobster in pants image from SNES
And from the Mega Drive

ROUND 2: Sound
Like the graphics, the sound on this game is great. It won awards, and it's not hard to see (or hear) why. There's a great variety in the tunes, styles and sound techniques used throughout the game which demonstrates 16-Bit music at its very best. But, the sound on the Mega Drive version just sounds a little crisper than the Super Nintendo's, which sounds a little bit muffled when the two are compared. This is both the case with the background music and the sound effects. Plus, the Mega Drive has a few extra tunes in it and sound effects in it. For example, there's a little tune that plays when you complete a level, plus in level four, the objects you land on make a variety of noises. So, the Mega Drive has the sonic edge.
ROUND 2 winner: Mega Drive

ROUND 3: Overall Presentation
Once again, both versions of the game are beautifully presented and demonstrate that the developers really did put everything they could into showing off their skills. However, simply due to the fact that the SNES has a better opening and slightly nicer-looking level titles, plus better graphics all round, round three goes to Nintendo's box of fun.
ROUND 3 winner: Super Nintendo

Pre-level presentation Super Nintendo style

While over on the Mega Drive, it looks like this

ROUND 4: Controls
The game controls in the same way on both versions, with Spot responding well to your commands through the control pad. Some parts of the game require a bit more practise on the Mega Drive version (even on level one, it's harder to do the balloon jumping sections, and the climb up the sunlounger), whereas the Super Nintendo version feels a bit more fluid in these areas, and also has the added bonus of you being able to make Spot stand still while he's firing. As you play through the game though, you kind of get used to the slight difference in doing these kinds of things depending on which version you are playing, but just because the SNES version feels easier and a bit more natural, it wins round 4.
ROUND 4 winner: Super Nintendo

ROUND 5: Playability
Now this is where things are different. Both games are extremely fun to play, but as the review above mentions, the Super Nintendo version has a few frustrations. The main problem is due to the fact that it feels like the sprites are too big, and it feels like you're a bit too close to the action. The limited field of view means that it is difficult to see what's around you, resulting in you sometimes making mistakes and losing power/lives. Level two and level four are especially prone to this problem, with you climbing up and down ropes and not being able to see what lies above and below you before it's too late. On level four, you have to leap from lily pads to toy boats and onto toy aeroplanes in a bath tub, but it's often quite difficult to see where the next object actually is until you're just about to land on it, and quite often you'll find yourself falling into the water and losing a life. Of course, you could take your time and edge yourself as far as you can to see what's where, but this isn't really much fun, and doesn't really benefit you that much. But what about the Mega Drive? Firstly, the field of view doesn't seem as limited and you can generally see more of your surroundings. Also. when you face right, the screen scrolls quickly in that direction to reveal what lies ahead of you. This was a trait of a few of David Perry's games, and can also be seen in Aladdin and Earthworm Jim. It feels weird at first, but works. This scrolling technique isn't present in the Super Nintendo version. In fact, it doesn't really scroll much differently than other platform games. The scroll effect is a subtle difference, but it makes quite a large difference to how the two games play.
ROUND 5 winner: Mega Drive

ROUND 6: Overall Enjoyability
Although the Mega Drive controls are a bit more difficult to get to grips with at first, it doesn't really take long to do so. However, the fact that the scrolling and limited view on the Super Nintendo haunts you throughout the game, the Mega Drive version is slightly more fun and less frustrating to play. However, it's a very close call on this game.
ROUND 6 winner: Mega Drive

In the Battle of Cool Spot, the Mega Drive is able to claim the spoils. It might not look quite as good as the Super Nintendo version, although it still looks fantastic, but it sounds better and, more importantly, plays a little better. And therefore, it can be declared the winner!

As a special treat, here is a video of me playing through level one on the Mega Drive and the first bonus stage. I did record a SNES video of the entire game (including about half an hour of trying to get through Loco Motion), but I can't figure out how to convert it to a proper video format to upload.

Of course, that's just one victory for the Mega Drive. The 16-Bit console war was fought over many battles. And we will analyse more of these battles as we come across them. The war may be over, but it isn't forgotten.

And, if you agree, or disagree with this review or the analysis of the Battle of Cool Spot between the Super Nintendo and Mega Drive, you can always leave a comment below!

Phew! This is the review that keeps on giving. Here are some extra screenshots from SNES Cool Spot.

Another mouse in pyjamas. I'm going to be having dreams about these tonight!

The end of Level 4 (Wading About). It took me forever to reach this, but I managed it eventually, and with 100% of the spots too!

Cards, chattery teeth, and piles.

Words can't really describe what's going on here.

Spot decides to take a drive in a tractor. Well, he can't actually drive it, but the picture makes it look like he is.

These boxes spell out Jet. Oh, I remember Jet. She made Gladiators worth watching.

Oh yes!

And finally... another mouse in pyjamas.


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