I really wanted to like Cool Cool Toon. I'm not a huge rhythm game fan - Dance Dance Revolution and Beatmania and the like are games that I can take or leave, with no hard feelings either way. I do confess a certain affinity for the Dreamcast, and back when they still had a shot, SNK. I bought into the Neo Pocket in a big way; I really wanted to love their games.
Cool Cool Toon (Hereinafter referred to as CCT) is a game that so very nearly had it all starting with that most important of qualities, good fashion sense. Almost. Everything about CCT oozes a very coherent style, with colourful and very vivid designs, levels, and characters. The problem is they're not really very good, though admittedly there are highlights, like the giant dog and the green-skinned Frankenstein girl. It's like SNK hired an artist with amazing fashion sense and no inspiration - everything works, it's just not interesting.
It almost had the gameplay down too, with a unique take on the rhythm genre. Rings contract on points in a circle, and you move your cursor with the analogue stick to the point indicated, and when the circle contracts to the narrowest point, you press the button indicated. There are sliding maneouvers where you follow a string of points around the outside as a spiral wave moves across them. It's not really obvious at first how this works, but you'll pick it up soon enough. THe problem with this gameplay is twofold: it starts off hard and out of nowhere it gets harder so without any warning. For three levels you're playing with points around the rim of the circle with only one button, move the stick all the way to the outside and press the button when the circles contract. Tricky, but easy enough to figure out. Suddenly, out of freaking nowhere, you're given rapid fire pulses to match, three more buttons are added to the mix, and the points are no longer around the outside of the circle - you've got to hold the sick in exactly the right position, and if you've played with the dreamcast pad for long you know this is hard enough when you're not under pressure! This happens halfway through a level, there's no warning, it just makes the jump from tricky to fucking hard and laughs when you fail (And you will).
The music is another 'almost'. While perhaps the game would have benefitted from known artists or even talented amateurs, it seems SNK picked someone less than fully qualified - perhaps they knew it was a lost cause? The tunes are probably among the poorest and most boring of any rhythm game ever released. Only a few tracks have any kind of vocal elements, and all the music is kind of a lack-lustre midi style. There are some catchy elements and none of it is particularly awful, it's just... Boring.
What else is there to a rhythm game? You need a gameplay element that can by consistant and challenging with gradual levels of difficulty. CCT fails this test. You need great music, something memorable. CCT fails again. Good design helps, witness Space Channel 5 and Rez. CCT again doesn't pass muster. The design is the best part of this game, and it's just not as interesting as the games or styles it resembles. It's a real shame, because it shows a side of SNK that was rarely seen before and never seen since, a side that would take a risk, try something new, and break away from the fighting genre they're known for.
I think maybe if there had been a sequel it might have rocked, if only they had just one or two more talented guys on the project Cool Cool Toon could have been a contender. I'm saddened by SNK's failure this time around, there are seeds of promise throughout, but nothing actually grew into something fun.