Overall Rating: 2.5/5 Stars
Released in 1990 by developer Arcadia, Spot The Video Game was a license game for the Spot character that represented the 7UP soft drink at the time. For those who do not remember personally, the Spot character was an anthropomorphic representation of the red dot (er, Spot) on the 7UP logo prominently displayed on all the drinks. Spot would pop right off the can, or bottle, and suddenly become a diminutive animated character interacting in the real world, sporting a hip pair of shades and spindly limbs complete with white Mickey Mouse-style gloves and itty bitty tennis shoes.
Unlike other licensed games before it that settled for being an average or below-average platform title (Yo! Noid, the McDonald’s game, Popeye, etc.), instead, Spot was actually released as a board game video game. It was similar to Othello (which also had a Nintendo Entertainment System version as opposed to the usual traditional board), but different enough to form its own unique competition.
Some said that putting board games on-screen for the NES was a poor use of the console’s potential, and representations of chess and checkers would definitely never make any best-game-ever lists. So, did Spot rise above the usual board-oriented expectations and provide a worthwhile playing experience that was even enjoyable, or did it too settle into the mire of time-wasting not-quite-video-games?
Play takes place on a 7×7 (how appropriate) board with 2-4 players. Each player begins with one piece (a spot) in one of the corner spaces. Each player controls a different color. On each player’s turn, he or she can either move the spot to an adjacent (even diagonal) space, and thus gain a spot in the new space while retaining the original spot as well (eight possible destinations); or, they can skip a space (sixteen possible destinations) in their movement and gain that new space, but lose the original spot.
If any move lands adjacent to an opponent’s spot, the opponent’s spot changes to the jumper’s color. The match ends when all spaces are occupied, or when no further moves are possible, and the winner is whichever player has conquered the most spots on the board.
It seems simple enough, but a couple games reveal that it, indeed, has a deep strategic element like many other board games. Players must often weigh the benefit of long jumps that lose their original spot for bigger gains, or which other players to target, and general board-control tactics. Human players will soon find that an overly conservative gameplan will be harshly attacked by even low-level computer opponents.
Each player involved can be a human or computer, and the computer has five difficulty levels in determining its intelligence in move choice. These options can be decided in the funky options screen before each game, with a weird television theme, where turning televisions (in respective corners) on and off designates participating players, and the television in the middle can be turned to parody channels like SSPN for brief, humorous short animations. One additional feature worth mentioning is a board editor, which allows the selection of specific spaces to be made into “blank” locations that cannot be moved upon, allowing for some potentially intriguing (and challenging) configurations.
Being a board game, the appearance of this particular video game is fairly simple; you have your board spaces, your spots, some green background, a possible timer, a tally of how many spots you have, and the two Spot characters hanging out in the sidebar while a human player is thinking. There really is not much else. It is not altogether impressive, and in fact probably should have been refined a bit more, as the result is somewhat stale (like 7UP that has been open for a few days) and could have been sharper.
However, the highlight of the game has to be the move animations. They can be turned off for more “serious” matches or when they grow tedious and redundantly repetitive, but each of the 24 spaces that a spot (then, a Spot character) can move to represents a different move animation. When you select your spot with the cursor, the Spot character pops up all ready to go, then launches into the animation when you choose the destination. These include a roller-skating spin, a pole vault launch, an Egyptian walk, a simple fall backward, a quick backflip, etc. Discovering or intentionally overusing these animations can be half the fun of this title. Alternately, these Spot character movement animations can be turned off, thus allowing the spots to just neatly slide around the playing board.
The sound effects, though narrow in their scope (they all sound like they are coming from within a rather limited range of instrumentation), perform their job competently and provide a crisp, even dare I say hip, feel to the Spot game. But the choices are very limited, as this is a board game simulation after all, and the background track can become irritating fairly quickly. Fortunately, there is an option to turn it off.
This particular NES video game deserves credit for turning a soft drink character into something playable, unique, and even somewhat appropriate for the characterization (a two-dimensional red circle, in essence). It is superior to some other half-hearted attempts at capitalizing on popular icons of its generation; however, in the end, it still remains a board game simulation, even if for an innovative board game.
That is the crux of Spot The Video Game: Sure, it is quirky, original, potentially multi-player competitive, and provides strategic exercise. But when it comes to comparing against the pantheon of the best NES games of all time, it just does not hold up, and does not generate the same deep soulful experience, nor outstanding replay value. For being a success at what it aimed for though not aiming extraordinarily high, Spot The Video Game earns a middling two and a half stars (or is that spots?) out of five.