- you can customize six characters based on head, body, and weapon
- the order in which you choose levels affects the routes you must travel in between
- the overall style is very lighthearted and has a quirky charm to it
- the weapons don't feel very balanced
- it's possible to really screw yourself if you make terrible characters, especially in the end stages
Two features that modern gamers take for granted are nonlinearity and customization. Back during the NES days, the former was around, but the latter was almost unheard of. Cocoron was one of the rare exceptions to that rule, as you could create six characters from twenty four different bodies, sixteen different heads, and eight different weapons, all with Mega Man-style gameplay. The game was released in 1991 by Takeru, a company that gave us another nice Mega Man clone known as Little Samson. Cocoron is one of my all-time favorite games, and it’s unfortunate that it never showed up on North American shores, but we in the 21st century won’t let that stop us from playing the game.
THEMATICS: Cocoron takes place in a dreamworld ruled by a blue tapir wearing pajamas. That tapir’s name is Tapir, by the way. Someone gets kidnapped or the world is about to collapse or something else… I don’t really remember. The plot is never important or even very consistent in this game. The fact that it’s a dream and there’s heavy customization makes the story seem a lot more open to interpretation, which is a nice break from having it anchored to logic. I’d suggest filling in the blanks on your own. It’s kinda fun that way.
There are a bunch of wacky levels that have no relation to one another, with an angry moon, a dragon that must be defeated to free Santa Claus, a pirate that challenges you for the hell of it, and others. There’s some fairy character who needs to be rescued, and then another one. Again, it doesn’t really matter. The final stages involve you rescuing the rest of your playable characters, and then finally taking on the master of dreams, who is doing bad stuff for unexplained reasons.
AESTHETICS: The dreamworld that Cocoron takes place in looks very stylized and goofy, almost like a toy box. The levels are mostly well-detailed, with only the backgrounds being bland on occasion. A nice touch is that the usual stage types are tweaked a little. For instance, instead of a generic water level, you swim through a sea of milk. It even has swiss cheese as the solid ground to replace what would normally be coral. Other weird stages include a mountain and a space level. The former is made out of a combination of molten rock and frozen rock, and there are little living quarters inside the cave parts that are furnished with tables and beds. The latter seems to be a planetarium with falling stars and trains. The other two regular levels aren’t particularly strange, being your garden variety forest and castle, but they still look pretty cool. The forest has giant leaves you need to walk on, and the castle is checkered with a playing card theme.
There are also interesting transitional sections between the levels, such as an area with childish scribblings on giant drawing boards, cloud platforms with scientific formulas written in the sky, and a mountain of skulls. That last one admittedly seems out of place in an otherwise family-friendly game. The final levels tend to look like enormous playpens for babies, usually with a pink and white color scheme that makes use of polka dots. Again, if you’re looking to feel manly while playing a game, this isn’t gonna cut it. It’s pretty good at making you feel nostalgic for your earliest years, though.
The playable characters look very cartoonish, but the enemies are actually pretty realistic in appearance, usually just being animals without any stylized features. All bosses have a lot of detail put into their sprites, and most of them are large enough to take up half the screen. The projectiles from enemies are typical, but your own weapons stand out among Mega Man clones. The sprites get pretty big, and you have baseballs, pencils, and even musical notes along with the more traditional projectiles like shurikens and boomerangs.
All the music tracks are extremely upbeat and well-done, which is what you should have expected at this point. Only the boss theme even remotely hints at danger, or anything other than a walk in the park for that matter.
MECHANICS: Now we’re at the best part. The gameplay in Cocoron rivals that of the top Mega Man titles. I’m almost tempted to say it slightly edges out even Mega Man 2, which is my all-time favorite platformer, but that’d be blasphemy both to the retro gaming community and myself.
Right from the start, you get to customize a character. First you choose head and body, both of which affect things like durability and jumping height. Some of the bodies can give additional abilities like temporary flight or better traction up and down hills. After those are chosen, you move on to the weapons, of which there are eight. Come to think of it, the weapon selection in this game also reminds me specifically of Mega Man 2, as there’s a shuriken that blows everything else out of the water just like metal blade does, then there’s the boomerang at a distant second, and everything else ranges from decent to a little on the pointless side. No weapon is absolutely terrible, however, so there is that. After beating each stage, you get to make another character, up to six total. Each part can only be used once, so you can’t just give everyone armored bodies and shurikens, as much as you were probably hoping. You coward. You dirty little cheater.
The action itself is pretty straightforward as far as projectile-based platformers go. You jump around dodging bullets while shooting off your own bullets at enemies. It plays a lot like Mega Man, so anyone who so much as supports the concept of “fun” should have fun.
The levels are structured in a way I find to be very unique among NES titles. You can choose between five of them right off the bat, again, like in Mega Man. Except in this game, the level you select will be set up in a way that depends on the level you just left. You’ll have to go through transitional areas that resemble the previous stage or even a combination of both stages. In fact, there are times you’ll have to go through an entire level in between the other two, if they’re spaced out enough on the world map.
Each level has a boss in the middle of it that disappears for good once it’s defeated. After the initial levels are beaten, you need to rescue a character who has been imprisoned in one of the large eggs that are scattered throughout the world, then you have to go through a gauntlet of more challenging stages to rescue each playable character besides the first one you made. After that, it’s final stage and final boss time.