Aah, the nineties. A time when, thanks to the escalating battle between SEGA and Nintendo for console supremacy, everyone and their mother was desperate to have a cute, action/platformer mascot. These mascots had to be cool; they had to be fun; and, most of all, they had to have attitude. Because of this, we got such fantastic Sonic the Hedgehog knock-offs as Aero the Acro-Bat, Soccer Kid, and Awesome Possum and, in some of the most bizarre and obscure examples, food brands represented by guys like Chester the Cheetah and Cool Spot.
Cool Spot was the mascot for the fizzy drink 7 Up, but this reference largely went over the heads of Brits such as myself as, in the UK, 7 Up was represented by the equally radical Fido Dido so, when I played Cool Spot (Virgin Games, 1993) for the first time on the Amiga, I assumed it was the same kind of product placement as the Penguins in James Pond 2: Codename: Robocod (Vectordean/Millennium Interactive, 1991).
Regardless, the red spot featured in the logo of 7 Up’s trademark drink got his own videogame…because of course! You could tell that Cool Spot was both cool and had attitude because he wore shades and sneakers and was portrayed as a radical, laidback surfer dude. Spot actually featured in a couple of titles prior to this videogame; Spot: The Video Game (Virgin Mastertronic, 1990), which was little more than a puzzle game that resembled Connect 4, and Spot: The Cool Adventure (Visual Concepts, 1992), which was simply a reskinned version of McDonaldland (ibid).
However, when Spot’s fellow Spots are randomly locked up in cages in Cool Spot, he doesn’t hesitate to leap into action and journey across eleven levels collecting “Cool Points” (small red spots). Once Spot collects enough Cool Points, he must find the cage containing his fellow Spot and blast them free, all within a time limit and while battling a variety of enemies (everything from giant grabs to toy robots).
While Spot is hindered by a handicap that befalls far too many of his platforming brethren (in that he cannot damage or defeat enemies by jumping on them, which I always feel should be rule one of any action/platformer), he can blast his foes with soda bubbles flicked from his awesome gloves. Using the D-pad, you can even change the direction of these bubbles to blast enemies out of the air, though some will take multiple shots or defend themselves using shells.
Spot seems far more concerned with looking cool than having much in the way of a versatile moveset; he can walk and leap about the place and that’s about it. If you hold the direction you’re going in, Spot will, eventually, speed up and be able to leap further, holding the jump button seems to help him reach higher places, and he is able to clamber up ledges but there’s no spindashes or power-ups available here beyond some ridiculously sparse health items, time increases, and one-ups.
You can also try and collect letters in each level to earn a continue and, once you complete a level, your remaining time and total Cool Points are tallied up; if Spot has enough, he’ll be awarded with an extra life. If you collect enough Cool Points in any level, Spot will be able to enter a Bonus Stage where, under a strict time limit, he must bounce around on soda bubbles collecting even more Cool Points and try for another extra life.
And you’re going to need those extra lives, my friend, because Cool Spot is quite a tough game. It starts out relatively easy, with Spot jumping around a sandy beach and blasting enemies without much issue, but levels quickly adopt a maze-like structure, forcing you to search high and low for both Cool Points and the cage that is your goal all while being bashed about by enemies or hit by obstacles like spikes and mousetraps. Spot’s health is indicated by a humerous face sticker at the top of the screen; as Spot takes damage the face reacts and comes more and more unpeeled. When the face falls off, Spot dramatically whirls around and collapses and you’ll have to start the level over, either from the beginning or from your last checkpoint.
On the plus side, Spot doesn’t have to contend with any boss battles but, on the downside….Spot doesn’t have to contend with any boss battles. He simply swaggers from one level to the next, with little variety (there’s a beach, a dock, what appears to be inside some dry wall, a bath tub, and a toy shop and that’s about it….oh, and there’s a train level…), freeing his fellow Spots and, once he clears the final level, he celebrates with all his mates and you get given a high score.
Cool Spot is one of those videogames that is fantastic to look at but tricky to play; the backgrounds, graphics, and sprite animations are all gorgeous, vivid, and full of life and character. The music and voice samples are charming and up-beat and Spot has some of the best walking, idle, and celebration animations this side of Sonic and Earthworm Jim. It’s unfortunate, then, that his game calls for some tricky and precise platforming that the controls make very difficult.
More than once, Spot must make blind leaps, hop from one precarious (often temporary) platform to the next, and hope that he doesn’t plummet back down to a lower level and waste his time having to hop back up or fall into a bottomless pit and die. Honestly, I often found it easier to just die and respawn at a checkpoint higher up rather than having to fight with the game’s stiff-yet-floaty jumping mechanics.
As a rival to Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic Team, 1991), Cool Spot is lacking in a few areas; the game has the graphics and the look and Spot is a very animated and funky character, but without the fast-paced action and the challenge presented by Sonic’s boss battles and bonus stages, Cool Spot simply can’t compete. And you have to remember that this game came out in 1993 so, while it beat Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (SEGA Technical Institute, 1993) by a year or so, it came out after Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (ibid, 1992). Cool Spot also released across a variety of platforms, meaning it had to compete with Mario’s far superior offerings as well as those of its other third-party competitors, like Earthworm Jim (Shiny Entertainment, 1994).
Even on the Amiga, Spot faced stiff competition from the likes of Zool: Ninja of the Nth Dimension (Gremlin Graphics, 1992) and its sequel, Zool 2 (The Warp Factory, 1993). He even had to compete with the two Jazz Jackrabbit (Epic MegaGames, 1994; 1998) games on the MS-DOS and these four titles all did everything Cool Spot did but better: the run-and-gun-like gameplay, floaty jumps, colourful graphics, funky music and sprite animations, and even the product placement were all better in any one of these four titles. Yet, Cool Spot wasn’t the end for 7 Up’s odd little mascot; Spot Goes to Hollywood (Eurocom/Burst Studios, 1995) saw the surfin’ spot switch to the isometric style that was popular amongst many 2D platformers that didn’t quite know how to adapt to 3D (I’m looking at you, Sonic 3D: Flickies’ Island (Traveller’s Tales/Sonic Team, 1996)). Like Cool Spot, Spot Goes to Hollywood came out on multiple consoles, including the PlayStation and SEGA Saturn, but once again had to settle for being nothing more than an average little platformer in a world full of competitors trying to stand out.
In the end, while it’s nothing compared to most of its peers, Cool Spot is a fun little action/platformer. The music and graphics do just enough to make the tricky gameplay endurable and the game is tough, but fair in many ways (at least the enemies don’t respawn once you leave the screen…), meaning that it’s up to the player to make informed decisions about when to jump and how to navigate Spot’s vibrant world.
Do you remember Cool Spot? If so, what was your first experience? If not, why not go give a play? Either way, sound off below and let me know what you think.