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Chester Cheetah: Too Cool to Fool

Genre: Platform Developer: System Vision Publisher: Kaneko Players: 1 Released: 1993

Hey, did you know that Cheetos mascot Chester Cheetah apparently came awfully close to getting his own Saturday morning TV show in 1992? Apparently it never came to be because of concerns over such a show directly advertising towards impressionable kids (what, a TV show based on an animated animal mascot for an unhealthy cheesy puffy snack might be targeting children? You don’t say!). Anyway, I sure as hell didn’t – being from Germany, I’m barely aware of the character as it is, let alone the brand he’s representing. Believe it or not, you can’t really get any Cheetos in this country. There’s the odd U.S. foods store, most located at what few U.S. military bases still remain in this country (since those technically are U.S. territory), but that’s it. Apparently there’s a trademark issue going on around here, since there’s another savory food manufacturer producing a crispy food snack called “Chitos” who apparently is very litigious when it comes to defending “his” brand and who has so far successfully barred Cheetos from entering the local market. So if you want to get Cheetos around here, you either have to import them from another country or befriend a G.I.

Of course, with the Internet being what it is, it’s hard not to be aware of the “hip kitty” mascot representing the brand anyways these days. And there were, in fact, some Cheeto products that have made their way to local shores during the 1990s – in a way, at least: The Chester Cheetah video games for 16-bit consoles! Strange that a mascot advertising a very specific product not only got two video games made for him, but also got them released in regions that are absolutely unaware of the brand he’s representing. (Technically the first game was only released for the SNES around here, but that’s beside the point).

Then again, it kind of makes sense that this character was deemed worthy of having not only one, but two video games made for him: The 1990s were THE era of the mascot platformer, starring edgy animal mascots, and Chester Cheetah was probably one of the most popular “cool” animated characters around during that time: The sunglasses toting, motorcycle riding feline with a smooth, cool attitude and a rebellious streak almost seems tailor-made for a video game of that era. Strange though that of all the companies to adapt the mascot to the console format would be the distinctly Japanese company Kaneko. Maybe they felt drawn to a feline character due to the “neko” part of their company name, who knows. Anyways, Too Cool to Fool is the first of two games starring the righteous kitty on the Sega Genesis and Super Famicom consoles (the other being Wild Wild Quest).

So, what is this game about then? Well, Chester Cheetah is stuck spending his days at the “Four Corners Zoo.” However, totally sick of this squaresville lane zoo gig (to quote the manual), Chester ordered himself a “Chopped hog” from a motorcycle catalog. However, the zoo’s warden, Mean Eugene, got hold of the parts first and hid them all across the place. You must guide Chester though the five stages of the zoo to find the parts so that our righteous kitty can head straight for Hip City.

So yes, this platformer is of the “find the item, then head for the exit” category – in a way. Depending on whether you like or don’t like this particular platformer subgenre, it’s not as bad (or good) as it sounds, because in only two of the game’s five stages are the items truly “hidden,” and their layout is not nearly as maze-like as in other similar games. Navigating the levels never really gets tough, and it’s not so hard to find your way to the item first and then the exit (besides, only in two stages is the item really hidden, and in one of them it ends up being really close to the exit, the challenge being more how to reach it, not where it is). Stages three, four, and five just hand you the item after a boss fight against Mean Eugene and his guard dog.

The gameplay is pretty simple. You control Chester Cheetah with the gamepad, and the C button makes you jump. Each level contains a pair of sneakers that, when collected, allow you to dash while holding down the B button. This takes a time to wind up though, and once you’re running you can hardly control the feline, so this is better used sparingly for a few very specific occasions. You hardly ever need to use the ability in the entire game and are usually better off ignoring its existence. Occasionally, the game utilizes an odd mechanic that comes up during one particular level and then never again. For example, stage two needs you to swing from a vine once or twice, and realizing that I need to hold on to these by holding down the jump button took me a while to realize. Stage three offers a ride in a minecart, and stage five allows you to fly. So at the very least, Too Cool to Fool offers up some diversity, limited as it may be.

In general, Chester’s controls feel a little off. They’re not bad per se, but they lack precision; the movements are a tad too slow, and the standard jump always feels like it has a shorter reach than it actually should have. Since your only means of defense against the various critters inhabiting the levels is dropping on their heads, you’ll very likely get damaged a couple of times even though it feels like you should have hit your opponent. You also never truly defeat your enemies – you can only stun them (except for the bats in the cave levels – those just respawn almost immediately once you leave the screen). There are a few tricky passages that, when encountered for the first time, can easily take two or three off your five hit points due to several hits in short succession. Then again, the game is very generously littered with bright, glowing red Cheeto paw power-ups that recharge your life bar, so you don’t really run the risk of dying all that often. The five stages are also rather short, and you get five lives to make it to the end, so it’s really not that tough of a game.

I’ve mentioned boss fights, but I’m not really sure whether those really deserve the name; they are too limited in scope and patterns for that. It’s just finding out how to approach them that may throw you for a loop at first, because it’s not apparent at first glance what you actually need to do in these moments. Even the final boss fights introduces a small new element that never came up before in the entire game, which should be a cardinal game design sin. However, like the stages themselves, the boss patterns are quite simple, so it doesn’t take all that long to overcome them (the minecart boss is still a pain though).

There are three more bonus items deserving a mention. The skateboard grants you access to a bonus stage where you can try to collect some bonus points, a neat idea but unnecessary for the game overall, so you can simply skip them. The sunglasses turn enemies and the background colors black & white but also reveal additional bonus points or hidden health power-ups for a limited time. The most curious item has to be the electric guitar. If you pick it up, Chester starts shredding a mighty solo, jumping left and right. He’s invulnerable during that time, but since you can’t control the character at all while it lasts, the icon is more a liability than a boon. If you need to stand on a moving platform while picking up the power-up, an out-of-control Chester might leap straight off into the drink.

Everything else about the game is decent. The cartoonish graphics are not overly ambitious and are a bit reminiscent of early MTV or Nickelodeon cartoons – bright colors, big patterns, stark contrast. It fits the style of the early ’90s TV ads the character starred in, and it’s not hard to see how this character was considered for a Saturday morning TV show. Given the time frame, it probably would’ve looked something like Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog (in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the characters and design choices weren’t based to some degree on that never-realized series). Two things are of positive note. One, there is a nice parallax scrolling effect going on, most notably in the first stage. And two, there isn’t really much of a product placement present, which is kind of surprising for a game based on an advertising mascot. I saw some posters in the background of the bonus stages that may have been likened to Cheeto bags, but that was all I really noticed. The music is also okay. It’s a bit tinny and repetitive maybe but quite bearable to listen to.

Overall, Chester Cheetah: Too Cool to Fool is a short, mostly inoffensive title. In many regards it is a typical Kaneko game: It plays decent enough most of the time, but it lacks polish and occasionally surprises you with an odd quirk that comes out of left field and probably should’ve stayed there. Basically, it’s a savory snack of a game, tasty enough for the short while it lasts without needing too much investment on your end. Thankfully, it’s over before you consume too much and get utterly sick of it… kind of like Cheetos, really.

SCORE: 5 out of 10

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