Holli Would if she could and she will. That was the strap line on the front of the Cool World box. Having never seen the film I bought this game simply due to the box art. A trusted publisher and prominent cartoon lady got me to part with my cash when I picked this title up from Boots, the UK’s best known high street pharmacy. Back then they sold all sorts of things, they seem to have dropped games from their range long ago.
The concept of the film on which the game was based was devised in 1990 and the film was released in 1992. In that time the plot, sets, live action filming and animation had to be completed. By comparison, Who Framed Roger Rabbit was initially given the go ahead in 1981 and test footage was created. In 1985 Amblin Entertainment was bought on board and the film we got to see in 1988 was started with a huge budget of $30 million behind it. This difference in production time might explain the difference in standards between the animation in the two films. Not that the animation in Cool World is bad it’s just not as polished. Rotoscoping is used for the human Doodle (cartoon) characters which adds some human motion to those characters but when they interact with live action actors they clearly look overlaid, something that the Rabbit and his friends managed to minimise. The budget for Cool World was apparently $28 million so in theory at least a much better job could have been done.
Many people claim that the film’s soundtrack is the best part of the production. Indeed the late David Bowie recorded the track Real Cool World that is heard over the end credits. The film opens with an energetic track by the Thompson Twins called Play With Me. This tune rattled around in my head for quite some time after I heard it. The rest of the soundtrack is made up of dance, techno and rock tunes. Most of which are available to play on YouTube, one of the highlights would be Ah-Ah by Moby which plays during a dance club scene in the movie.
The film’s plot revolves around the creation of the Spike of Power by a Doodle called Dr Vincent Whiskers and its ability to link the Cool World (where the Doodles live) and the real world (where you and I live). The villain of the piece is Holli Would, played by Kim Basinger in her human form and she also voices the Doodle version. Holli wants to be a human and to get out of Cool World, in order to do the former she needs to sleep with a human. She decided that Jack Deebs (Gabriel Byrne) is the guy for the job and through a series of visions she lures him into Cool World.
The Cool World itself is a twisted, nightmare world filled with intricate buildings that tend to have faces which glare down at the streets below. It’s all very dark with the occasional neon sign to brighten things up. Vehicles race along at breakneck speed with little or no regard for road safety, I suppose it is a cartoon world where anything from a bump on the head to a full on car crash can be shaken off. This is a violent and crime filled world where even the cutest fluffy bunny can demand bloody vengeance for the slightest indiscretion.
Keeping things on the straight and narrow falls to another human, Detective Frank Harris (Brad Pitt in a role he took after Thelma and Louise). He is accompanied by a Doodle called Nails, a stressed out spider who enjoys a cigar. Frank was bought to the Cool World at the very start of the movie just after being involved in a car crash that kills his mother. Given that Cool World is such a rotten place and the apparent ease at which an individual can cross between worlds it seems odd that Frank would want to stay there. Maybe it’s his relationship with another human type female Doodle called Lonette that keeps him there.
Developed by Twilight and published by Ocean the Amiga game was released in 1992 for OCS/ECS machines and it came on 2 disks. There were versions for the C64, Atari ST and MS-DOS. A year later the Game Boy received its own version which did away with one of the two main elements of the Amiga game ( as we will find out, that was probably a good move ).
How did Ocean/Twilight go about turning a movie for adults into a game suitable for all? Easy, they completely glossed over anything saucy and focused in on the basic plot. That being Holli wanting to get to the real world.
The game opens with a pretty decent intro which feeds off the notion that Jack Deebs thought he created the Cool World and its characters in his drawings. A pen falls from a desk in black and white, a drop of ink falls from its nib and within the ink we see Holli Would (oh! It’s a gag, a play on words…Hilarious) beckoning us into the Cool World where she then twirls away in an animation loop that goes on for as long as the music plays. The animation of Holli is actually lifted from the film although the background is changed and it plays a lot smoother than the example above. The accompanying music is quite funky with a nice echo on the drums that adds an almost live effect. It has little in common with the music heard in the film. The sax or trumpet instrument lets it down a little but it’s worth listening to as it might be the most fun you will have with this game.
After the intro you are greeted by an image of Holli, this time it has been treated with some slight shading and smoothing and Ocean and Twilight take their credit. Now you can start the game.
You play as Detective Frank Harris and you start your quest on the streets of Cool World. Two types of Doodles are seen wandering around and you should avoid contact or better yet shoot them with your ink pen/gun. Doing so sees them pop and drop a Wooden Nickel, you’ll need a lot of these. Before you can get too far a telephone Doodle with catch up to you and Nails will inform you of an impending problem, some Urchins are jumping over into the real world! Here they intend to create an imbalance between worlds and as you know that sort of thing tends to be bad news. No mention is made of Holli’s overall plan or involvement at this point. That was left to the text on the back of the box which only lightly alludes to her interest in Jack.
You now have to use the map (press m) to traverse the streets until you find the right door. These doors do not like you and let you know it (yes they talk) and all but the correct door will refuse you entry. However, you will need to collect a set amount of the Wooden Nickels to bribe your way through the correct door. The streets are fairly dull, there are repeating backgrounds which don’t manage to evoke the twisted buildings seen in the background of the film.
A few nods are made to the parts of the film where a live action set is used to recreate the animated Cool World though. In the film certain objects such as cars are drawn onto large, flat boards, giving a 2D effect in a 3D world. In the game, street furniture such as fire hydrants have that 2D look. Certain locations from the film are also found on the streets, such as Slash’s Club found right at the start of the game. The street roaming is the part of the game that was cut in the Game Boy version.
Once you locate the correct door and handed over your Nickels the main part of the game begins. Here you have to maintain the balance between worlds. The Doodles found here upset that balance in two ways. Their very presence in the real world is a threat and on top of that they will collect and bring real world items back to Cool World. Two gauges represent the number of Doodles and items that need your attention. If either of these gets too high a warning will sound and you have to either touch the items which sends them back home or go to the real world and capture the Doodles. You do that by first shooting them with your ink gun which imprisons them in an inky bubble and then sucking them into the pen, you can also pop the bubble for points or power ups.
The only indicators of either of these two dangers are the gauges. There is nothing to tell you where the stolen items or the Doodles are so you tend to just run around hoping to locate them. The levels aren’t that big but with 2 worlds to traverse and some areas being dead ends with no nearby method to get to the levels above or below you may find it somewhat annoying having to backtrack a way to find an access route. It is best to clear the real world of Doodles before returning to Cool World to send the items back. In the comic book store level shown above you stand a good chance of success by standing in that location as most Doodles will try to pass you. You just need to wait for them to come to you!
Having said that, this is the best part of the game. The locations are much more varied than the streets and take cues from film locations. Places such as Jack’s studio where he draws his Cool World comic, a theater production of Romeo and Juliet with stage, a comic book shop that sells Cool World comics and some casino rooftops. The enemies you face change too, some can fly.
Maintain the balance for a predetermined time ( there is an on screen countdown ) and you will clear the level and find yourself back on the streets. The map shows 16 locations which all have to be cleared in the same way.
Once you have completed the last balancing act you will get to face off against Holli in her Doodle clown form, she bounces around the platforms and attacks you with kisses. Your objective is to shoot her until she releases some large bubbles of what appear to be squished Doodles, you can suck these up into your ink pen. Eventually she will melt away and you will be treated to an end screen of the telephone Doodle looking happy and a “well done” while a new, rather downbeat tune plays. Incidentally, you get similar treatment on “game over” with the same tune but your walking telephone pal looks very unhappy and possibly ill.
The graphics for the most part aren’t bad. There are some decent recreations of the locations seen in the film. All reworked to fit into the platform nature of the game. There was some real effort into polishing up the presentation of the game. Large scale representations of the films characters looks really good but these are limited to the title screen and static overlays in the game. All the in game character sprites are recognisable too but none display any of their big screen character traits, they just walk about. The game engine is more than capable of keeping up with the onscreen action. Everything moves smoothly.
Your character controls well with the slightest hint of inertia when changing direction. There is an issue with the collision detection as you are collecting coins on the street. As a Doodle moves towards you your ink projectile may miss but the Doodle will still be able to walk into you if you don’t dodge.
In game sound is very limited. You have a suitably liquid shooting effect throughout the game. While roaming the streets the wooden nickels make a satisfying yet very metallic clang as you pick them up. While trying to keep the balance between worlds you will hear a slightly trippy violin effect as Doodles jump through portals and there is a warning siren that goes off if you haven’t been doing your job and the imbalance is becoming too great. There is an issue with the audio in the game. Sound effects will be cut short if another effect starts. This is slightly jarring especially as the effects are so sparse that each effect could have been assigned to a different one of the Amiga’s four audio channels.
For this gamer Cool World is about twice as long as it should be. The first 4 levels show you pretty much all the game has to offer graphically and game play wise. The basic idea is good but it seems stretched out. The box description talks of visual jokes and gags punctuating your adventure but sadly there are none, at least none that I saw. That pretty much sums up the game, it’s not bad just not enough fun to keep you engaged for long.