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Way Back Review #2: ‘Spot Goes to Hollywood’ (Sega Genesis/Mega Drive)

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AUTHOR’S NOTE: This article is about the 1995 Sega Genesis/Mega Drive game titled Spot Goes to Hollywood, not the 1996 Sega Saturn and PlayStation games of the same name which feature similar themes but different gameplay and presentation.

The 80s and 90s had many things going for them, and you’re sure to have read a million articles reminiscing the this or that of those two decades. However, one of the more salient accomplishments of that time period that I personally love to reminiscence about was the tendency of brand mascots to be just a little too cool for school, sunglasses and all.

While everyone loves Sonic the Hedgehog’s rad-ness, or loves weirdos like The Noid and Chester Cheetah, or even some mutated whatever-the-hells like Jazz Jackrabbit and the Toxic Crusaders, there’s a favorite of mine that isn’t remembered quite as well: Cool Spot.

Cool Spot, or simply “Spot”, as he appeared on 7 Up cans and promo material

You know, Spot… the red dot from the 7 Up logo who for a brief period of time, mostly during 7 Up’s “Uncola” marketing era from the late 80s to mid to late 90s, was given a pair of sunglasses and wobbly black stick-figure-ish limbs at the ends of which he adorned giant Mickey Mouse gloves and super fly giant sneakers.

I guess at some point some dude just looked at the red dot in 7 Up’s logo and said, “hey, what if that thing had sunglasses and sneakers, is that what the kids like these days?” and Cool Spot was born.

A more realistic reason for his creation might have had something to do with Fido Dido, the rather popular 7 Up brand mascot more commonly used in European and Asian regions, but not so much in the US due to either licensing (the character didn’t belong to 7 Up) or testing reasons. Spot might have been a way to recreate that kind of a character.

Whatever the case might be, we were blessed with Cool Spot.

Despite being sane and therefore not being a fan of 7 Up as a drink on its own, I’ve always had an affinity, some sort of unspoken but unrequited (since he isn’t, you know, alive) friendship with Cool Spot. There’s just something extra charming about the little guy compared to other mascots of the time that has never left me. In fact, quite literally. As I write this, I have an old promotional Cool Spot figure on my desk staring right at me. Maybe part of his charm is the ridiculousness of his existence.

But, how do you translate that into a video game? Back in the day, it didn’t matter what license you had on your hands, it needed to have a video game tie-in. Home Improvement got made in the form of a side-scrolling platform shooter (yes, with Tim Allen as the main playable character) at some point so, you know, it was a wild era.

The iconic menu/opening for “Cool Spot” on SNES and Sega Genesis.

Thankfully, Spot’s antics lent themselves to video games. Several games were made across various platforms from 1990 to 1994, with the most popular release simply titled Cool Spot, released for the SNES and Sega Genesis in 1993.

When most people think of Spot, they think of this particular game. It has become more popular than the character itself, which is kinda surprising since the game itself isn’t all that great, or at least not to my liking.

But, there was another.

I speak, of course, of one of the most important games of my childhood. The obscure, ridiculous and delightful…Spot Goes to Hollywood for the Sega Genesis.

Spot Goes Where Now?

Spot Goes to Hollywood was released in 1995, and was sadly Spot’s last big hurrah before he was retired to mascot heaven. There were a couple of other games released under the Spot Goes to Hollywood name, but those were not the same as this release (see author’s note).

His last outing, however, was perhaps his best one, and also perhaps one of the most interesting titles to be released on the Sega Genesis. The title has often been overlooked since release due to a combination of less than stellar reviews it had received initially, and also probably because no one expects a game starring the red dot from 7 Up to be any good.

Spot Goes to Hollywood

Title screen (“Spot Goes to Hollywood”, 1995)

First things first, the game looks more charming than it probably has any right to.

Presented in an isometric camera view, all the backgrounds, enemies and interactive environments have a very handmade appearance to them. While some could be written off as generic by description alone, the kind of locations Spot visits in his quests are reminiscent of cheesy Halloween party themes. Perhaps the design choice was to make them look like movie sets, but they come off more as the wild, creative, silly dreams of an imaginative child.

In this game, you’ll visit pirate ships, the ocean floor, haunted mansions and castles, dungeon-esque cellars, spaceships, a crazy minecart level (all the rage in the 90s) and even Hell itself.

What does all of this have to do with Hollywood? Well, I guess these are supposed to be movie sets, and Spot is shooting a movie maybe? Spot Goes to Hollywood’s European box art shows a fake Indiana Jones, Frankenstein’s monster, a green Nosferatu/Dracula type figure etc., in pursuit of Spot, but none of this happens within the game at all.

There’re very few vague homages to actual movies (save for one very direct reference to the Terminator films, who’s not even on the cover), so the game might as well be Spot Goes to Random Places for No Real Reason.

Spot Goes to Hollywood

Just hanging out in this Halloween-themed haunted castle, no big deal. (“Spot Goes to Hollywood”, 1995)

So, try not to take the “Hollywood” in the title too literally. In fact, it’s not wrong to consider it more of a Halloween-themed game. A better title could have been Spot’s Horror Movies; save for maybe two or three levels out the game’s 14-ish levels, the rest are more or less horror-themed. And truly “horror”, with most levels devoid of vibrant colors, evoking chilling atmospheres. Yet, since the game never takes itself seriously, you’ll find things like sharks swimming in puddles of water and fire-extinguishers hanging on the walls of Hell.

If you enjoy silly and spooky levels in videos games, well, you’ve come to the right place.

Looking Cool

Spot’s animations are fluid and full of character. He floppily runs and jumps around and even does a really “cool” slow walk when you move him around the map. There are mini-“cinematics” for different types of deaths, as well, which can be fun to watch. And, of course, there are some pretty rad idle animations thrown in the mix, as well.

Throughout the game, you’ll collect some nonsensical items, which is an aspect of any game I adore. It’s pretty similar to the kind of crazy collectibles you find in a Metal Slug title, only Metal Slug doesn’t have a collectible dog listening to music on his headphones (or maybe it does?).

Yes, those are sharks. (“Spot Goes to Hollywood”, 1995)

It’s all just really charming and goes well together. Some enemy sprites and animations aren’t the best, but the rest makes up for it. Plus, even when the sprites aren’t designed all that well, they still play into the cheap costume party vibe of the whole thing.

Another thing that plays into that cheapness is the music, which is nothing remarkable or out of the ordinary, but fits well as background music. The BGM for a few areas, like the pirate ship level, can get a little grating over time. Plus, the generic boss theme in the game doesn’t really fit anything else around it. It would’ve been great to have more individual themes for each boss, but that’s not the case.

Similarly, sound effects are pretty run of the mill most of the time, and the majority of the enemies don’t make any sounds. Spot makes his bizarre yet cute voice noises throughout the game, which was pretty entertaining to me as a child, and still manages to make me smile from time to time but might get annoying a little to fast for some folks.

Spot Goes to Hollywood

Spot Goes to Hell (“Spot Goes to Hollywood”, 1995)

Most glaringly, the projectile sound, something you hear constantly throughout the game, can sound tinny and broken, and offers no satisfying feedback when you hit enemies. You’ll grow used to it, but it could have been a lot better.

Playing it Cool

The gameplay is a huge departure from the side-scrolling runabout in Cool Spot. As mentioned before, the game is viewed from a pseudo-3D isometric angle, though Spot still walks in a kind of grid.

This makes it easier to move around and eliminates a lot of potential depth-perception issues, though those will still happen until you get used to Spot’s movement. That said, it can get rough; Spot still moves in a stiff way that’s a bit of a determent to the game’s playability in certain levels where you might have to act quickly. Again, you can get over it eventually, but never fully.

I would describe the genre as an action puzzle adventure title with platforming segments. There’s action, which mostly amounts to avoiding enemies and then hitting them with a projectile attack from a distance, usually really easily, and you have to “solve” each level by finding collectibles and secrets that lead to a way out.

Spot Goes to Hollywood

Far too many hours and days of my youth were spent trying to figure out how to get that flashlight and bulb in the cellar level (“Spot Goes to Hollywood”, 1995)

Levels are split into sets of three, with each set following a theme and a “story” of how Spot ends up from one place to another. Each level has a number of collectible red “spots”, a percentage of which you have to collect per level to be able to unlock that level’s exit, though you can go for a 100% collection rate if you’re into it. Overall, it’s not all that hard, though there are a few secrets in certain levels that are pretty ambiguous.

As a kid playing the game, a few of the game’s secrets I was never able to figure out in the pre-Internet dark ages. Still, the determination to find everything in the game had me replaying it for a very long time. And those memories have stuck with me well into my adulthood, and upon revisiting the title since then, have not disappointed.

Spot Takes it Home

I’d best describe Spot Goes to Hollywood as a hidden gem. Though its popularity on the internet has increased a bit within the past decade or so, in the early days, I couldn’t find any information about it, so it’s a welcome change!

Spot Goes to Hollywood

Mine cart levels were a fad, and Spot wasn’t going to be left behind! (“Spot Goes to Hollywood”, 1995)

It’s a bit of a diamond in the rough. It has charm for days, and for a game centered around the adventures of a 7 Up mascot, it’s not a game that ever comes off as trying to sell you a product. In fact, the 7 Up logo only shows up as a collectible that grants you extra lives. It remarkably stands on its own, and it’s clear the folks over at Eurocom (who also developed the more popular Disney’s Hercules game) poured a lot of love and creativity into it.

I would especially recommend this game for kids, as its visuals and often simplistic gameplay lend themselves really well to a younger age group. You might have to hold their hands in a few difficult areas, but it’s all well worth the experience.

It’s a wonderful, time capsule of a game, belonging to a certain era, that also in many ways remains timeless. Most importantly, it’s hours of fun, and as one of Cool Spot’s last appearances ever, it’s the best send-off possible to one of the quirkiest, corporate mascots to ever exist.


“Way Back Review” is a somewhat recurring column by Maxwell N where he reviews and talks about games of all shapes and sizes, classics and obscure gems, from….well, way back.

Immensely fascinated by the arts and interactive media, Maxwell N's views and opinions are backed by a vast knowledge of and passion for film, music, literature and video game history. His other endeavors and hobbies include fiction writing, creating experimental soundscapes, and photography. A Los Angeles, CA local, he currently lives with his wife and two pet potatoes/parrots in Austin, TX. He can mostly be found hanging around Twitter as @maxn_

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Game Reviews

‘Life is Strange 2’ Episode 5 Review – “Wolves”: A Worthy Send-off

The final episode of Life is Strange 2 may take a while to get going but it does offer a solid conclusion to the Diaz brothers’ journey.

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Life is Strange 2

Life is Strange 2 hasn’t made any bones about being a political game over the course of the last year. The 5th, and final episode, “Wolves”, doesn’t just continue with this message, it doubles down, and in a big way.

Set near the Arizona-Mexico border, “Wolves” follows the Diaz brothers on the final leg of their journey. Having escaped from the cult that held Daniel up as a messianic figure in the previous episode, Sean and Daniel are camping out in a sort of pop-up town filled with outsiders like themselves.

Life is Strange 2

The location provides Life is Strange 2 with its final breath of relaxation before the story enters its high tension endgame, and it’s a much needed reprieve. Unfortunately, it does seem to go on a bit longer than the player might like, and that makes things drag a smidge.

To give you some idea of how long you’ll be spending in the village, 4 of the 6 collectibles are found here. So, yes, this starting area is the main place you’ll be spending “Wolves” in. To be clear, the area isn’t bad per se. There’s a lot to see, a scavenger hunt to go on, and a few interesting characters to speak with, including a surprise cameo from the original game. The bummer of it all is that players will be feeling the time here more laboriously simply because there isn’t much of anything happening.

Life is Strange 2

In the 2nd or 3rd episode of this story it’s perfectly fine for an extended bit of down time. Episode 3, in particular, benefited greatly from allowing you to settle into the setting and get to know a diverse and likable new group of characters. However, by the 5th episode, players will be so eager to see how things are gonna settle up, they won’t be able to get out of this area fast enough.

On the upswing, once Sean and Daniel leave the village, the story moves at a pretty solid clip to the credits. As the key art and trailer for “Wolves” might suggest, the Diaz brothers do indeed challenge the border wall in the final leg of Life is Strange 2. Where things go from there, I won’t spoil, but rest assured that Daniel will absolutely go through the crisis as you’ve trained him to do.

By this I mean, you will see the final results of your choices throughout the game, and they’re pretty impressive. With 4 possible endings, and 3 possible variations on those endings, Life is Strange 2 can ultimately play out in a variety of ways. How yours plays out will, of course, depend on the choices you’ve made and how you’ve influenced your brother throughout your journey.

Either way, though, Life is Strange 2 closes off “Wolves” with an emotionally satisfying and generally fulfilling conclusion to your journey. It might be a necessary evil that the events can’t be intense the whole way through, being that this is not an action or combat-focused game, but the fact that things take so long to get going in the final episode is a bit of a problem.

Still, fans worried that Life is Strange 2 might fail to stick the landing can rest easy. “Wolves” might not be the best, or most satisfying, episode of the series but it does what it needs to do and it does it well, particularly in the back half.

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Game Reviews

‘Yaga’ Review: A Bittersweet Fairy Tale

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Yaga Game Review

Some games feel perfectly suited to their genres, as if they fulfill every ambition that their genre could promise. On paper, Yaga from the developer Breadcrumbs Interactive, should be one of those games. This roguelike RPG is meant to bring traditional Slavic folktales to life, and its procedurally generated structure allows the game to change in every playthrough, just like how the ancient fairy tales it’s based on can change in every telling. Yaga immediately shines on a conceptual level, but as a game, the most important question remains: will this fairy tale be enjoyable to play?

From start to finish, Yaga uses the rich source material of Eastern European history and folklore to create a vibrant, fantastical world. The entire game is framed as three elderly women telling the story of Ivan, a heroic blacksmith who has been stricken with the curse of bad luck. These women spin a fanciful yarn, one in which Ivan is constantly plagued by horrors from traditional fairy tales such as the hideous One-Eyed Likho, along with more realistic foes, such as a corrupt, overbearing Tsar. The game thrives on this balance between history and fantasy. Its world is filled with peasants who face daily, universal struggles with war and agriculture, while massive ogres and goblin-like Vodyanoys haunt the surrounding wilderness. This mixture creates a strong setting that finally gives Slavic history and mythology its long-overdue representation in games.

Yaga Game Review

“Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.”

The frame story always remains the same: Ivan will always have to serve his Tsar while avoiding bad luck in every playthrough. However, beyond these core details, the old women are extremely flexible storytellers, often switching events around or changing story beats entirely. In some playthroughs, you may discover a woman raising an enormous chicken; in others, you may instead encounter a band of thieves waiting to rob you. You will frequently face important decisions to make that will dramatically impact the outcome of your quest. yes, you can always break into monster hideouts with hammers blazing to slay every creature before you; but more often than not, you are also given the opportunity to peacefully talk your way out of these toxic situations. Even more dramatically, oftentimes the game will zoom out to the old women storytellers and allow you to choose how they tell the rest of Ivan’s story. Yaga is at its best when it doubles down on this player freedom. It makes every moment engaging and allows its stories to truly come alive.

Yaga

Yaga’s writing and presentation only serve to make this world even more striking. It features a distinctly dark sense of humor – for instance, a man may ask you to push a boulder into a well behind his house, but he will neglect to tell you that he has also thrown his wife into the bottom of that well ahead of time. Much of this dialogue is even written in rhyme, enhancing the otherworldly, fairy tale atmosphere. On top of that, nearly all dialogue is fully voice acted, with most voice actors delivering some eccentrically charming performances that make the game feel as if it’s a playable Disney film. The visuals look like they’re taken straight out of a Russian children’s book of fairy tales, while the music incorporates traditional instruments and language into an electronic, hip-hop fusion soundtrack that captures the cultural heritage that Yaga focuses on while connecting it to modern culture. Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.

However, this leads to the gameplay. Quests may be randomized each time you play, but nearly every one of them takes the same general format. One character will request help, and then Ivan will have to venture out into the world to fight some demons or recover an item. Worse yet, the levels are just as randomized in their procedurally generated design, and not in a particularly clever way, either: most of them likewise follow the same formula, being little more than arenas full of enemies connected by copy-and-paste environments. Many paths in each environment lead to nothing more than pointless dead ends. The combat has a satisfyingly simple basis, with basic moves like long- and close-range attacks, roll dodging, items to use, and a variety of different weapons to equip, although his trusty old hammer is generally the best choice. However, while this simplicity makes the combat enjoyable on its own, there is very little depth to it, and the inherently repetitive design of the mission only serves to highlight how paper-thin combat can be. Most battles involve little more than hacking away at enemies until they die, which becomes increasingly repetitive by the end of the roughly ten-hour campaign.

Yaga

At the very least, the robust customization system helps add a little intrigue to the combat. As a blacksmith, Ivan is naturally gifted with the ability to craft weapons for himself to use. By scavenging parts and items from fallen enemies and treasure chests around the world, Ivan is able to create the most powerful weapons. Crafting is simple to use yet extremely ripe for experimentation, requiring only one base item and a handful of accessories to create unique new items. With dozens of components to discover and use in your forging, there are plentiful opportunities to create the best possible weapons.

“All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.”

The crafting system would be the standout aspect of the moment-to-moment gameplay if it weren’t foiled by another one of the game’s systems: Bad Luck. Ivan has been cursed with perpetual Bad Luck, which grows constantly throughout the game – whenever something good happens, Bad Luck is sure to increase. Whenever the Bad Luck meter fills all the way, Likho will appear and strike Ivan, generally breaking one of his weapons or stealing his money.

Yaga Game Review

On paper, this mechanic makes sense, since it prohibits the player from becoming too overpowered and also fits into the folklore style off the story. In practice, however, it is an infuriating limitation on player progression and invention. It effectively punishes players for putting thought and care into their weapon crafting and character-building – at any moment it can all be washed away in bad luck, so what’s the point? Considering how enjoyable the crafting and combat systems are, it’s a shame that Bad Luck seems to exist solely to diminish the very best parts of the gameplay, leaving the game feeling like it cripples itself.

Your enjoyment of Yaga depends heavily on what experience you want out of it. If you’re looking for a deep and satisfying RPG, then it likely won’t deliver. Although it features satisfying combat and customization systems, the frustrating randomization of its level design and Bad Luck system only serve to foil these good qualities. If you are instead looking for a faithful, fleshed-out image of Slavic cultural heritage, portraying both the harsh realities of peasant life along with its fanciful folklore, then Yaga is a clear triumph thanks to its emphasis on player choice, its excellent writing, and its beautiful hand-drawn visuals and inventive soundtrack. All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.

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Game Reviews

‘Remothered: Tormented Fathers’ Review: I Want My Remummy

There’s merit to be had if you just want a quick bash at a quirky, indie horror game, but with so many flaws, I can’t recommend Remothered.

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Remothered: Tormented Fathers Review

It feels like a while since the ‘survival horror but you can’t fight back’ genre was at its peak, especially with the recent, tradition-tinged revival of the Resident Evil series, but back in 2017 when Remothered: Tormented Fathers was being developed for PC it was all the rage. Like any indie game that’s had even the slightest amount of interest or acclaim during the current generation, Remothered has received the now-obligatory Switch port. Although its modest technical requirements clearly made a successful transition to the platform more than manageable, they don’t help to hide the game’s very obvious shortcomings.

Players take control of Rosemary Reed in her attempts to investigate retired notary Dr. Richard Felton, who is currently undergoing treatment for a mysterious disease. Oh, and he has a missing daughter that he probably murdered. The plot of the game feels a little cliché, but it’s undoubtedly its strongest facet. However, suspending your disbelief at the ropy animations and dodgy voice-acting is needed to avoid being sucked into feeling like you’re watching Theresa May running around a big mansion trying to escape from a John Cleese impersonator with his arse hanging out. Alas, I clearly failed in this endeavor.

Remothered is essentially a game of ‘go there, fetch that, bring it here, use it’ with an added element of ‘don’t let the annoying old man kill you in the face with a sickle’. Yeah, one of those ones. The story takes place almost entirely within Felton’s huge mansion, and navigating the ol’ girl is by far the game’s toughest element. It’s made especially harder while you’re constantly on edge, trying to avoid the stalking lunatic without a map, weapons, or a proper objectives system. Be prepared for your bearings to be quite considerably lost.

There are a couple of ways to avoid that face full of sickle. There’s a dodge button (provided Rosemary isn’t too tired to actually dodge), a run button, distraction items, and defense items that will automatically be used to escape a grab attack if you have one equipped at the time. Remember those crappy bits in Resident Evil 4 where you had to play as Ashley? This is like that… for a whole game.

While a little tired in 2019, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the formula of the weapon-less survival horror game – it’s just that in Remothered, it’s not implemented all that well. Enemy AI routing is weird, which should be grounds for an unpredictable fright-fest, but leans more toward the annoying and/or hilarious. It seemed like the stalkers would either sit directly outside the room I needed to enter – barely moving and refusing to be distracted for longer than a few seconds before returning immediately to their original spot right on my current objective – or simply bugger off to another floor and never come back.

Even with his penchant to completely vacate the area, and despite his advancing years, Dr. Felton possesses supersonic hearing. It seemingly doesn’t matter how far away you are – if you run in this game, he will hear you. To make matters worse, the sound design just doesn’t make sense. With every press of the run button, enemy dialogue would instantly change to indicate they’d heard you and then loud footsteps would permeate every room you enter as if they were right behind you, when they most certainly are not.

It’s either a cheap scare tactic to give the impression of enemies constantly being within touching distance, or the fallout from a combination of naff sound design and the limitations of my Switch’s Pro Controller not having a headphone port. What makes it worse is that everything is so campy that it’s seldom scary in any tangible way. When the man trying to murder you is constantly shouting about how he hasn’t got anything to eat that isn’t moldy while you hide in his cupboard, it’s not exactly bone-chilling.

As a result of the big-eared murderers and their impeccable radar tuned to the sounds of running, I spent almost the entirety of the game… well, not running. Unfortunately, Rosemary walks slower than an asthmatic ant with heavy shopping, and this made exploring the mansion a monotonous chore – especially when getting caught and subsequently having to run up and down floors to hide before slowly sneaking back to restart the investigation.

Puzzles are that old school type of obtuse where you’re tasked with finding everyday items to fix problems. The puzzle itself lies in realizing the item the developer decided should work, finding it in the giant four-floor mansion, and slowly returning to the its intended area of use without dying. For example, in order to get into an attic, you have to search rooms at random to find an umbrella to pull down the door’s previously-out-of-reach cord. It’s such a shame that Remothered eschews any type of self-contained puzzle for a string of confusing fetch quests, as everything feels more tedious than taxing.

It feels a little unfair to bemoan the lack of polish for a two-year-old indie game, but Remothered is full of niggling issues. Animations are janky, lip-syncing is non-existent, and the camera wigs out after the QTEs to fight off enemies have finished – always pointing you in the wrong direction. I also encountered a couple of game-breaking bugs where Rosemary did her door-opening animation without the door actually opening, and I couldn’t enter the room without rebooting the game. Lastly, and I don’t want to be too harsh to an Italian developer, but the in-game English is pretty abysmal, and lots of the game’s expositional notes and articles border on illegible through their poor translations.

There are some people out there who can’t get enough of the whole hiding under sofas schtick, but I like my survival horror games with better psychological tension, a (limited) means to fight back, and coherent puzzle-solving. There’s merit to be had in the game’s labyrinthine setting and short length if you just want a quick bash at a quirky, campy indie horror game in the Haunting Grounds model, but with so many flaws and such a frustrating gameplay loop, I can’t recommend Remothered: Tormented Fathers outside of anything other than morbid curiosity.

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