Cool Spot — 2Q2019 issue

A refresh­ing platformer

Every so often there will be a licensed game that’s actu­ally worth some­thing. It will have a great sound­track and decent con­trols and not be so obnox­iously unplayable that legions of older gamers remem­ber it with a cer­tain hatred that burns deep within their soul to be passed down through gen­er­a­tions to come. Cool Spot, licensed from Pepsi part­ner 7UP, is the excep­tion to the norm. If you’re expect­ing a half-baked idea of plat­form­ing solely because it’s a mas­cot, think again. This romp to release sen­tient lit­tle red dots is actu­ally not half bad and has genre-redeeming qualities.

Cool Spot starts off innocu­ous enough. Spot must res­cue its friends, who are trapped through­out 11 lev­els in cages. Why its friends are trapped, we’ll never know but it’s up to Spot to res­cue them and lec­ture you about not drink­ing dark sodas. Spot’s tra­ver­sal through these 11 lev­els is noth­ing short of amaz­ing despite the ram­pant prod­uct place­ment. It’s sur­pris­ingly good, with solid con­trols that don’t make con­trol­ling Spot a chore, and com­pe­tent sim­ple mechan­ics that don’t get in the way: It’s mostly jump­ing and shoot­ing mag­i­cal sparks at ene­mies and barred gates. The life sys­tem — hilar­i­ously denoted by an ever-peeling and dete­ri­o­rat­ing pic­ture of Spot — is more than gen­er­ous and there are helper power ups galore to get through lev­els. The lev­els them­selves have a lot of depth and are timed just right with enough time to explore or get the bare min­i­mum expe­ri­ence in the search for Spot’s miss­ing friend.

While Spot might be on a prod­uct placement-filled jour­ney, it’s a lushly drawn trip. Cool Spot is no slouch when it comes to the audio-visual depart­ment. The back­grounds are drawn with Spot mov­ing through an obvi­ously human world at about 25 per­cent of the size of every­thing else. It isn’t big at all but the world sur­round­ing it is and it shows in the sheer scale, though my only gripe with the game comes here: The back­grounds, while beau­ti­ful, are recy­cled except for a few stages. At least the first three stages are repeated and reused, just with new stage names and some recol­or­ing in spots.

While you’re soak­ing up the beauty of it all, how­ever, the sound­track is rock­ing in the back­ground. Cool Spot is one of the best sound­tracks for the Super Nin­tendo and should be in every gamer’s library. Mag­nif­i­cent pro­duc­tion val­ues, crisp audio and nice, deep bass lines make for some inter­est­ing tracks that don’t sound like stan­dard 16-bit audio. Tommy Tal­larico, pre-Video Games Live fame, put obvi­ous love and care into the audio and it shows. It’s one of the best sound­tracks for its time.

Cool Spot has a lot to offer in the way of good ’90s plat­form­ing. If you can work around the prod­uct place­ment and shilling for the 7Up brand, you’ll find an uncom­pli­cated hop-and-bop with depth and a bang­ing sound­track that’s sur­pris­ingly refreshing.

Bust-A-Move — 1Q2017 issue

Puz­zle Bobble’s break­out hit

Bub­ble Bob­ble isn’t super famous last I checked, but I learned who Bub and Bob were by the time I fin­ished their first puz­zle effort for the Super NES, the mid-90s appro­pri­ately named Bust-A-Move.

There’s much fun and mirth to be had in the bubble-popping title. There’s not much story other than Bub and Bob are pop­ping bub­bles to save a friend, who is trapped at the end (level 100). Once their friend is saved, that’s it. But, that’s assum­ing you can make it that far.

Bust-A-Move is incred­i­bly sim­ple to play but hard to mas­ter. The con­cept is easy to under­stand: aim a launcher and match three like-colored bub­bles. The bub­bles will fall off the play­ing field, clear­ing space and rows so that you can work toward clear­ing fur­ther bub­bles. After a cer­tain num­ber are cleared, the ceil­ing of the well low­ers, inch­ing closer to a vis­i­ble line. Once the line is crossed with a bub­ble, the game is over. Basi­cally, it’s reverse Tetris with bub­bles instead of lines. The trick­i­ness in mas­ter­ing the game comes in pop­ping the bub­bles. There are dif­fer­ent tech­niques to achiev­ing the results that you want, but it really comes down to know­ing how to aim and learn­ing the fabled bankshot off the side of the well.

With its sim­plic­ity in learn­ing, Bust-A-Move quickly dis­tin­guishes itself as fun to play. I requested the game for my 14th birth­day, and I’ve had a blast play­ing the orig­i­nal since. There are other games in the series, but this one is the best out of all of the sequels and spin­offs of the series. The con­trols aren’t too stiff, though some­times I have com­plaints about the par­tic­u­lar way a bub­ble bounces or sticks a lit­tle too eas­ily to the first bub­ble it comes close to. Yet, the con­trols aren’t horrible.

The sim­ple theme also shows in the graph­ics. Bust-A-Move is one of the bright­est and cutest games I’ve ever played. The col­ors pop and while you’re using col­ored bub­bles, they don’t nec­es­sar­ily inter­fere with the back­ground graph­ics, which could make for a con­fus­ing play field.

Bust-A-Move also gets a nod for its atten­tion paid to other modes such as Chal­lenge and the two-player bub­ble pop­ping. Chal­lenge is fun and a good test of skills: You’re tasked with pop­ping as many bub­bles as you can before it’s game over. It’s hard to pop a lot if you’re new to the game, but as your skills progress, you can and will see a dif­fer­ence in how long you man­age to last. The two-player mode is fun also, because you can either play against the com­puter or against another human player. Any game that gives me the option to play two-player against the com­puter auto­mat­i­cally gets a nod because that injects longevity into a title immediately.

There’s a decent amount of depth to Bust-A-Move and it cer­tainly makes for an inter­est­ing puz­zle dis­trac­tion on the SNES. It’s worth explor­ing the bubble-popping world with the orig­i­nal bub­ble eliminator.

NBA Jam — 3Q2014 issue

Photo cour­tesy of Gamefaqs.com

The old king of the court

NBA Jam was — and still is — an expe­ri­ence. No, that’s not some pre­pos­ter­ous fluff dreamed up by an National Bas­ket­ball Asso­ci­a­tion maven like yours truly. It was truly an expe­ri­ence because if you were around at the time that Jam hit the streets, you’d remem­ber the sheer amount of hype that sur­rounded the arcade release. You’d also remem­ber the hype that came home with it. Was it jus­ti­fied hype? Yes and no.

You see, Jam rep­re­sented the start of the exag­ger­ated sports game era, the type of game where the player ani­ma­tions were over the top and the action just as extreme. Throw in a plethora of secrets — like play­ing as Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton — and the hype went into over­drive. The game isn’t bad and it mostly lived up to its billing. The sim­ple setup of two-on-two bas­ket­ball and fast-break bas­ket­ball helped cer­tainly, and the ani­ma­tion isn’t bad at all. The player inter­ac­tion is where it mostly suc­ceeds, actu­ally. At the time,

Photo cour­tesy of NIntendolife.com

there was no other place to get the kind of play that Jam offers: Crazy dunks, the abil­ity to be on fire from great shoot­ing and street ball-type rules. It’s that offer­ing that made it a phe­nom­e­nal success.

Jam doesn’t stum­ble in its race to be an in-your-face baller expe­ri­ence. That street ball player inter­ac­tion means you don’t have to learn much about the game to suc­ceed and play well. The con­trol is sim­ple yet has a layer of depth that means any­one can do well at any skill level. The atmos­phere could be a lit­tle bet­ter with a bet­ter sound­track, but what will make you take notice is the announcer. If there’s any­thing you will remem­ber about the game, it’s Tim Kitzrow shout­ing to the top of his lungs that a man is “on fire” or “BOOMSHAKALAKA.”

The graph­ics, like the sound­track, are noth­ing to get excited about. There’s a sta­tic crowd except for the court­side folk, and then there’s the play­ers. Jam pop­u­lar­ized the over-exaggerated look for play­ers, and it cer­tainly had its uses. It’s not out of place for Jam, and it brings a cer­tain atmos­phere to the action that Jam ben­e­fits from.

If there’s ever a rea­son to play NBA Jam, find it in the car­toon­ish action, sound and look. That’s where the fun is, and the main rea­sons why the game suc­ceeded in liv­ing up to the hype (mostly) that broke back­boards in the olden days of 1993.