Nintendo, the pillar of family friendly gaming, once made a good amount of money by selling kids plastic guns. OK, it was a Zapper, but the point stands; we may bemoan some mature, modern shooters for the violence they promote, but more fantastical and cuddly violence has always been part of the gaming landscape. Cocoto Magic Circus 2 brings to mind that tradition of family friendly shooting, and utilises modern technology to make it feel rather like a shooting gallery from the local Fair; it does that job well.
Cocoto is a franchise that Bigben Interactive and Neko Entertainment has utilised for a number of years, and the relatively high volume of these games suggests that there's a welcoming market. It's a cute mascot, for sure, though its role here is mostly cosmetic. The Cocoto face is on targets that should be avoided, props that must be protected, and occasionally sneaky enemies will wear Cocoto masks that you should avoid hitting. If you hit Cocoto you lose one of your many hearts, so don't shoot it — everything else, however, can have terror rained down in the form of red ball projectiles. Shoot them, shoot them all.
What this title does well with its basic premise is pack it with plenty of character. There's a lovely paper-based visual effect, with every environment and arena looking like an elaborate hand-crafted stage, with convincing effects on enemies when hit. When you throw in some excellent music, themed appropriately for each main world, this is relatively top-tier presentation, and far from being phoned in. While we'd like to expect this level of quality from downloads all the time, it's still a pleasant surprise to find high-level retail-standard presentation in this title.
The core of this game is that of a gallery shooter, ultimately. In the main "Exploration Mode", you progress through multiple stages in five different Worlds, each time aiming for all of the available stars — these are awarded for points, avoiding death, as well as a bonus sub-task such as hitting certain targets, avoiding others and so on. With each screen throwing up assorted enemies and creatures as well as bonus and penalising balloons, the sub-tasks add a little extra tension to proceedings as you pick your targets.
The gameplay is well honed, to the developer's credit, with a limited range of enemies and perks that shake things up. You're shooting at paper animals that are well crafted, but alternative targets such as gems, diamonds and the aforementioned balloons keep your eyes busy. Green bonus balloons can boost your combo chain, destroy all enemies on screen and freeze time, for example, while red balloons accelerate time, as well as flipping and shaking the screen — among other things. In a thoughtful piece of design the game also encourages precise, controlled shooting, with substantial point bonuses for consecutive hits and a limited ammo stock that requires timely reloads.
The gameplay has a degree of linear progress in Exploration Mode and can include up to five players, each appearing as a cross-hair on screen, while other modes — Survival and Sudden Death — have variations that only riff on those of the main mode. Objectives such as surviving as long as possible or only hitting certain enemies are common sub-quests in Exploration Mode, so there's a lack of dynamism and variety at play. That is this game's greatest crime — dressing up new modes in recycled clothes like old-school gallery shooters, when modern standards demand a little more innovation.
The repetition is at least supported by well implemented controls. One option is the GamePad, which is held horizontally and pointed at the TV, rather like the Takamaru's Ninja Castle controls in Nintendo Land. You simply tap on the touch screen to fire and reload with a swipe, though a minor frustration is that a swipe to reload is occasionally recognised as a shot, destroying a combo; we're also not sure how sustainable this is over a longer play-period for youngsters, as the GamePad can feel heavy after a while, even in adult hands. It's a neat control-scheme that's accurate, though the standard Remote pointer is still the quickest, most precise option, with a reload executed with a simple flick upwards. It seems like the Remote is given a little less ammo than the GamePad to accommodate the minor limitations of the latter, which is a well-thought-out approach.
Ultimately, the positive aspects of this game are betrayed by repetition and minor control flaws. One particularly bizarre instance is that you're allowed to play single player on the Remote, yet one of the menus between levels — in Exploration Mode — can only be controlled on the GamePad touch screen, which is an odd oversight. It's also a very easy game, a fact which should perhaps be forgiven considering the target audience — though stronger young players may yearn for a little more challenge. Finally there's the price; while it may decrease in future, it simply doesn't offer enough variety and compelling gameplay to justify its launch cost. Ultimately, there's a few hours of fun gallery shooting on offer before Cocoto Magic Circus 2's tricks lose their lustre.
Cocoto Magic Circus 2 is a solid gallery shooter for young gamers that includes excellent, charming presentation values. The GamePad shooting controls are entertaining but arguably less efficient than the Wii Remote pointer, and this is a enjoyable experience in single player or with others. Ultimately, once the initial buzz wears off it runs out of ideas quickly, which makes its launch price tag questionable. For fans of the franchise or younger gamers looking for a few hours of high quality — albeit simplistic — fun, it's certainly worth some consideration.