Virgin Interactive is a forgotten publisher these days but once upon a time they were one of the big dogs. We remember all of the great licensed titles from Sega and Capcom however Virgin were right there beside them. In some ways their output even surpassed those two; they could do no wrong regardless of the license. Cool Spot is one of the most unlikely licenses to create a great video game around. Yet in 1993 Dave Perry and company did just that. It has its flaws but overall is a great game.
Spot is no stranger to video games, having starred in an arcade game that was ported to multiple platforms. But even still, a soft drink mascot? I was skeptical of the glowing reviews at the time but should have known better. Global Gladiators should have taught me that these guys know what they are doing. There is no overarching story other than Spot needing to save his friends.
Spot himself only has a fizzy projectile as his means of defense. That’s all you need even though killing enemies really isn’t the focus. The goal of every level is find the captured spot, usually in the upper left hand corner of the map. But first you need to collect a minimum number of spots to break the lock on the cage. Spots come in two flavors, single dots worth one and seven up icons worth seven. It’s a clever use of the license without being blatant about it. The minimum number of spots steadily increases as you progress, forcing you to fully explore each map.
Don’t let the license fool you, Cool Spot is a hardcore platformer in every sense. Each level is absolutely massive, not just from Spot’s point of view but in general. The levels are pretty expansive often with multiple paths. While the stages are timed there is usually ample time to explore and with good reason. The designers have done a good job hiding the spots as they can be literally anywhere. Generally you can find the bare minimum out in the open. But if you want to collect all one hundred you’ll need to search behind every object and dead end. The rewards are worth it; eighty spots grants access to the bonus level to earn continues. One hundred grants an extra life. It becomes a real test collecting everything later in the game and is a nice challenge for those that want it.
The game’s theme of a small character in a giant world is probably its best asset. Every level is themed, adding a great deal of variety. Exploring common everyday areas such as a beach, a bath tub, and even the inside of a wall is pretty trippy from this perspective. Most games only flirt with it for a single level while here it is the whole premise. Right when it settles into a rhythm the game throws a curveball in the form of Radical Rails. This nightmarish high speed level can be hard to navigate since you are always on the move in some form. Even the bonus rounds are pretty cool; they take place inside a 7-up can and challenge you to collect one letter of the word UNCOOL in a limited amount of time. Rather than being restricted by the license Virgin used it to their advantage.
There are a few flaws that drag the game down however. Collision detection is an issue, resulting in you falling through clearly defined platforms. Other times what looks like an interactive object is simply part of the background. This is a problem that plagued most of Virgin’s games back then but Cool Spot might be the worst offender. With levels this big the game tries its best to guide you but it is easy to become lost. Probably my biggest issue is the pacing. About half way through the levels start to repeat. Immediately after Radical Rails you revisit Toying Around, a level you had just completed two stages ago. Although the layouts have changed the theme and enemies are the same. It is pretty jarring and kills the game’s momentum.
Cool Spot is a little more difficult than it initially appears. Despite their size the levels are densely populated. On the plus side enemies do not respawn after death. Although you can fire in eight directions it is still hard to avoid cheap hits. Health power-ups are rare and without thorough exploration extra lives are hard to come by. While the game is generous with time don’t be surprised if you just barely make it to the end a few times. I actually like the slightly higher difficulty although I wish some of the game’s flaws were fixed.
I did not expect to like Cool Spot as much as I did back in the day and it was a welcome surprise. Aside from the repetition toward the end this is was a pretty unique title that stood on its own. With stellar animation and some of the best music on the system Cool Spot is a great game worth seeking out for platform fans. Too bad about the sequel though.