Cool Spot for Sega Genesis Proved That Licensed Games Don’t Have to Be Terrible

Cool Spot

When we think of licensed games today, a whole pile of uninspired, mediocre schlock probably comes to mind. That wasn’t always the case, though. In fact, in the mid-1990s, Virgin Games was on an absolute tear, putting out some of the greatest licensed games ever made. Their Disney games were especially beloved.

Of course, non-Virgin Disney properties had a particularly good run in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including DuckTales and Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers, both of which were developed by Capcom. Capcom’s NES Disney games were incredible, setting the bar pretty high for future Disney properties, yet somehow Virgin managed to top those with their sequence of damn fine games based on Disney movies, including the bewilderingly awesome Aladdin and The Jungle Book in 1993, followed by The Lion King in 1994.

In fact, 1993 really was a good year for Virgin, because in the same year that Aladdin came out, another 16-bit masterpiece was born: Cool Spot for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive.

Cool Spot follows the adventures of Spot, an anthropomorphic red dot with Mickey-Mouse-style limbs — he’s an especially odd choice for a mascot character, as he’s based solely on the crimson circle you’ll find on any can of 7up.

A refreshing can of 7up

Spot might lack the 90’s ‘tude of characters like Sonic the Hedgehog and the wisecracks of characters like Bubsy, but he makes up for it with his undying admiration for dark shades and the obligatory white sneakers.

As far as gameplay goes, Cool Spot is a pretty basic side-scrolling platformer that tasks your tiny red friend with collecting spots in various environments and then rescuing additional copies of Spot that have been imprisoned in cages that were unmistakably designed in the early 1990s.

Cool Spot

This all had the potential to go very, very wrong, but somehow all of the elements came together to make something truly special. The visuals are crisp, colorful, and loaded with personality. Spot’s movements are fluid, and his flat-faced design makes for some cool visual effects (like how the health icon Spot peels away like a sticker as the character takes damage).

The music is phenomenal, created by mastermind Tommy Tallarico (who also wrote music for Earthworm Jim and the regrettable Color a Dinosaur). These relentlessly catchy earworms will have you bobbing your head and tapping your feet while you command Spot on his grand adventure — seriously, you won’t be able to resist bopping and swaying while these tunes play.

Of course, Cool Spot is no walk in the pixelated park. By the fourth stage (titled Wading Around), it’s forcing you to make incredibly devious faith jumps while dodging toxic frog spit and biplanes. As a child, I remember Wading Around being the wall that would halt my progress until I had every jump memorized. And the game doesn’t get any easier after that.

Cool Spot

Yet if the game is too brutally difficult for you, there’s a simple cheat code — just pause your game, then C, A, B, C, B, A, C, A, B, C, B, A, C. You’ll be instantly taken to the post-level score screen, and you’ll start the following level just after that.

There’s one big flaw, however, that I’m pretty sure very few people ever noticed. At some point, the level designers must have run out of ideas, because the last several stages have you traversing remixed (and more difficult) versions of stages you’ve already been through. For example, the final stage, Surf Patrol, is just a remix of the first stage, Shell Shock. Dock and Roll is just a remix of Pier Pressure, and Back to the Wall is (as you might guess) a remix of Off the Wall.

Of course, most people probably didn’t ever make it that far, as the difficulty is simply too high for all but the most hardcore of Cool Spot aficionados (like my childhood self). This game takes some serious dedication (or use of the cheat code) to complete.

The game was popular enough that it got a sequel, Spot Goes to Hollywood. The second game was outsourced to Eurocom, and their take on the Cool Spot formula was a bizarre, dark piece of adverainment that still leaves me feeling puzzled. Not even the ending makes any sense. (But I still kind of dig it overall?)

Well, I suppose the first game wasn’t big on coherent plot, either.

Oh, speaking of the plot, none of Spot’s motivation is explained within the game. You don’t really know why you’re collecting spots or who imprisoned your friends; you just sort of go on with the game because they whys and hows don’t really matter. But if lack of story bothers you at all, the instruction manual lays it all out.

Cool Spot
Cool Spot

I mean, I would have been fine not knowing any of that.

Nonsensical plots aside, this game is freaking fantastic. Cool Spot is approaching its 30th anniversary, yet I still find it worth my time to revisit once in a while. If nothing else, it’s always a treat to hear those impossibly catchy Tallarico tunes.

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