SNK bows out of the Dreamcast arena with a moment of insane shuffling. SNK is renowned for its 2D beat-‘em-ups and, to a lesser extent, its forays into other two-dimensional genres. It is not, however, recognized as a pioneer of the rhythmic games made popular by Konami’s BeatMania. With its final Dreamcast title, SNK is hoping to change public perception.
Cool Cool Toon is actually a rather innovative title, if not an original one. At heart, Toon is a rhythm-action game quite like PaRappa the Rappa, Dance Dance Revolution and Bust-a-Groove. Its visual approach and gameplay technique distinguish it from the pack though. In many ways its graphical style is Nintendo-esque. Colors fly in the player’s face like beams of white light, while the the backdrops and characters are similar to Mario 64. Cool Cool Toon is very cartoonlike, as its name suggests. Whether or not it’s cool can only be decided by analyzing the gameplay.
Fundamentally, Cool Cool Toon’s gameplay revolves around the same system as that of Pop ‘n’ Music and Dance Dance, in that buttons and directions are displayed onscreen and need to be addressed promptly for the player to succeed. The way in which this system is executed in Toon makes it a greater prospect than even the aforementioned musicals. A circle is overlaid on the screen, within which buttons are displayed. The indicators can (and do) appear in all the extremities of the hoop, necessitating lightning-quick reflexes. The speed element is implemented by the buttons being pitched inside ever-decreasing circles of their own, and hitting them before the fields about them evaporate is vital. To summarize, movement of the analog stick takes the cursor to a button in the circle, which must then be tapped (often repeatedly) before it disappears. It may sound a mite complex, but in reality it is remarkably natural and intuitive.
The soundtrack is a mixture of house and Japanese techno, with a dash of J-pop thrown in for good measure. Okay, it’s not the sort of thing that most people would choose to listen to, but it suits the game to a tee and fits in well with the implausibly funky dancing. The characters that “get down” and “groove” are an uncanny bunch, too. Spica — the main man — is an odd-looking boy, resembling a cross between French cartoon favorite Tin Tin and Charlie Brown. The entire roster is quite extensive, encompassing a good degree of diversity. And the range of stages in which groups of dancers parade their routines is also quite broad. Some dances take place at vibrant house parties, another outside an eerie mansion and still others on greater stages at concerts. So there’s something for everyone.
Altogether, the “keep it going” gameplay is already impressive, and the graphical effervescence accelerates Cool Cool Toon toward the top of its genre. It’s unfortunate that this is – bar a miracle – going to be SNK’s last direct contribution to the Dreamcast’s catalog, with what remains of the company heading toward PlayStation2 in the hope of salvaging what it can. Cool Cool Toon could be quite successful when it is launched in Japan in a few days’ time, but even in that case, it’s unlikely to ever make it to the west. So long, SNK.