Cool Spot: Spot the Difference

A cry for rationality when it comes to retro

The other night, I sat down after a pretty challenging day and decided to play some Mega Drive. I purchased a modded system a few months back, and despite having an AliExpress knock-off Everdrive (works perfectly, incidentally!) I still pick up a fair number of cart-only games when and where I can. On a whim I grabbed my copy of Cool Spot, a game I had kindly been given by a friend, and one I have written about before. The point here isn't to cover old ground, though - pay attention. Cool Spot. I plugged that cartridge in, sat back and got to playing.

Now, Cool Spot is probably a six out of ten, you know? It's definitely above average, but doesn't stand out in any significant way. The highest point of the game is the bonus stage and the music therein. I am under no delusion that Cool Spot is some sort of masterpiece. I think in my previous article I was a little too kind to it, if anything. So, that begs the question: why was I playing it?

Why not take it out and stick in something better? Even by my standards, even focusing on the more obscure platform games I like, I could pop in Chuck Rock 2: Son of Chuck and have a better time. But here I am, jumping around on a beach as the mascot for a soft drink I don't even like. What's the dealio? It wasn't even just a quick session; I finished the game (on normal), staying up rather late to do so, as it isn't particularly short. More than once I lamented the chaotic, often ludicrous level design, the cheap deaths, the leaps of faith that sour the whole package. But I still finished it.

I wonder if there's an allure to mediocrity, if there's a comfort to undemanding games like Cool Spot. I thought perhaps it was nostalgia, but I don't have nostalgia for the Mega Drive version; I played it on Master System as a kid, and that's a very different animal. No, I think there's a certain level to some games where they just... slot into your brain like a jigsaw piece. Functional enough to engage you, bland without being boring. I'm just doing stuff. And I'm focused, but not hyper-focused. Just enough that I didn't tune out, didn't lose interest. There's something to that. An extension of my general "all games are good" mantra. It runs at absolute, pointed opposite to the modern retrogaming canon, the script that seems to be followed by Youtubers and vocal Twitter nutcases. The idea that anything less than Super Mario Bros. 3 is worthless shit. The notion that there are only two types of game; Fantastic, or Awful.

What, exactly, is wrong with the perfectly middling experience I had? According to current commentators, games like this should be consigned to the bin in perpetuity. I resist that idea as fervently as I have ever resisted anything. I will always champion the software that gets abruptly cast aside in favour of yet another Mario retrospective. I want to play games like Hook, like The Flintstones, licensed titles only ever mentioned in order to mock them. I want to wriggle into these things, find the good stuff and push it out.

But that's not why I played Cool Spot, is it? That's one of life's great mysteries. I had a surplus of great games right there and I picked the middling one. I do wonder why. But I also wonder why not.