While graphics and gameplay advancements have been mostly anemic, quite a few of the games we’ve seen for the PS2 offer new depths of control and greater challenges for the player. Cookie and Cream pushes this envelope to the extreme — in one direction only, but certainly to the extreme. The game is a forward-scrolling, top-down action-puzzler hybrid that’s sure to test even the most nimble-fingered of gamers. The first game to enable gamers to control a character with each of the Dual Shock’s analog sticks, Cookie and Cream is cute, quirky and one hell of a brain-teaser.
The game stars two rabbits, the titular bread-and-butter duo of cute mascots with unflappable aplomb. Cookie (the boy rabbit) is the adventurous type, with an easygoing personality, who’s delighted to be thrust into an adventure. His companion Cream (the girl rabbit) is the impatient type — she just wants to get home as quickly as possible. How can you tell them apart? Cookie has a flowerpot nestled on top of his head, while Cream has an umbrella for a hat. It’s that kind of game.
The story goes something like this: Trouble’s brewing for the Rabbit Clan on the eve of the Moon Festival. No moon’s in sight, and the Festival has been cancelled. On their way home, Cookie and Cream are beseeched by a messenger (in the form of a white rooster) to seek out the errant heavenly body; he then gives them the aforementioned “crowns” to wear as badges of courage before whisking them away to a mysterious island.
Of course, this is just the window dressing, and a way to slip some decidedly trippy intro movies into the game. The island is split into eight zones (such as a musically themed world, an icy level, etc.), each of which features four levels and a boss. Most of the actual game is spent maneuvering both of the rabbits along a forward-scrolling screen from point A to point B. Sounds easy enough, but throw in jumping, interacting with the environment and plenty of attackers, and a vicious time limit, and this splitscreen joyride fast becomes a pressure cooker of gaming goodness.
While the heroic pair shares the same screen, it’s split down the middle, and neither of them can cross from one side to the other. Similarly, when one gets too far apart from the other, the screen effectively shifts to follow their respective actions — which is key, because not only do they both have to get to the end of the level, cooperation is of the utmost importance. Jumping and action are relegated to the shoulder buttons, so players will essentially have to play ambidextrously in order to succeed — it’s not easy, and less than intuitive at first, but mastery leads to a sensation of utmost satisfaction.
Along the way, the two rabbits are beset by all manner of obstacles, both living and environmental. Enemies are appropriate to their respective environments, and come in two main types. Land-bound enemies such as scorpions and moles are easily dispatched with a double jump, while the aerial attackers are a bigger problem. Either birds (the Jungle level) or floating bells (the Music level), these foes latch onto the heads of one or both rabbits, sucking away at the precious shared time limit. Fortunately, these only appear when either Cookie or Cream remains stationary for too long, so quick thinking and reaction time are crucial.
The real meat of each level, however, is the various mechanisms and devices that need to be dealt with along the way. Pulleys, levers, ropes and buttons dot each landscape, and most of these can only be dealt with by means of the action button. One example might involve Cookie jumping and grabbing a rope hanging from a beam, which Cream must then safely maneuver over a river by means of a crank. Of course the clock is always ticking, and the occasional attacker doesn’t make things easier — put another way, this game can be very, very challenging.
Of course, two players can also enjoy the game, and it’s an equally challenging experience. The obstacles and barriers are split evenly, so you’ll be relying as much on the other player as they are on you — fuzzy animals aside, this is not the sort of game to be played with a temperamental significant other. A thorough versus mode with support for four players is also included and — in the classic style of the genre(s) — there are plenty of cursory objectives to be fulfilled and characters to be unlocked.
We’ll have more on this addictive puzzler/platformer hybrid soon; in the meantime enjoy these screens and movies, and keep twiddling those thumbs — or whatever it takes to whip them into shape. You’re going to need the practice.