#399 ChuChu Rocket

Posted: 16th September 2012 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , , ,

179th played so far

Genre: Puzzle
Platform: Dreamcast/GBA
Year of Release: 1999
Developer: Sonic Team
Publisher: Sega

Right now we’re writing you from a bank holiday weekend. With this meaning that Peter has some more time available (having planned ahead) and the general weather being grey, wet and miserable, we decided to put this time to good use… and play a number of games on our recently acquired Dreamcast. Let Dreamfest begin. Yay!

(I know we’ve played Sonic Adventure and Skies of Arcadia before, but in both cases, due to necessity, we played the Gamecube versions. These games are for the proper console)

To start off with, we go for ChuChu Rocket! (the exclamation mark being part of the title). I’d say because it had a distinct look on its own, but as I’m watching Space Channel 5 being played as I’m typing, that’s no longer as accurate. Still, this game has its own qualities, so let’s see how it holds up.

Our Thoughts

The struggle of cat and mouse is an old and classic one. Tom & Jerry is an earlier, more famous example, but it returns in many forms, and is, in its own way, one of the themes of ChuChu Rocket as well. Mice run around the field, in a straight line, turning when they reach a wall or when an arrow on the floor directs them elsewhere. Cats do the same (most of the time) and try to catch the mice. They eat them. You may have seen similar games before… the fact that the cats move like Pac-Man was a fact that did not escape either of us.

There’s a slight Lemmings-like twist, in that the mice can escape. You can make them escape by leading them to a rocket, which they can use to take off. Just don’t let the cat get there first – it’ll eat the mice already in the rocket. The goals differ per mode – in some cases, you need to get a certain number of mice in, or all of them, in others it’s your goal to get all mice eaten by the cat.

You influence the movement and mice and… cats by placing arrows on the floor. If a critter walks over it, it’ll turn to go in that direction. That way, you can lead them to their goal or away from it and accomplish your goals… or just watch them race around in circles. It’s sort of like Flight Control, but with less control and less harmful collisions (as long as there are no cats around).

One of its most interesting features at the time were the game’s online capabilities. You could go online and get new puzzles or play the multiplayer modes against or with other players around the world. Normal in today’s world, but an absolute revelation at the time – the game was being given away at one point specifically to promote this. In a way this was a plus point for the game but there were some critics who were quick to criticize how this was handled. When you consider that this tried out online playing before the Halo games were a glimmer in the milkman’s eye it may have been overly harsh.

Even without such features (which we could not test at this time), they game still holds up well. We played it mostly offline multiplayer, which worked as well. There are a number of team challenges that involve you solving puzzles and such together (and get in each other’s way while doing so). Most of these are also single player, with a one player only puzzle mode, which means that the online or multiplayer component isn’t necessary… but it is welcome.

There’s many more options that come into gameplay. Relative speed of mouse and cat matters sometimes, including a puzzle where you have to give the mice shortcuts so they don’t catch up with the cat in front of them, and you need the right amount of insight in combination with enough speed and accuracy to make it through the game’s faster levels. Because of the game’s instant feedback, this never gets annoying and you find yourself tweaking your strategy more and more – too often you feel close enough that you’re just there, even if you’re looking at the wrong solution. It can just seem too close.

The one thing that’s possibly worth mentioning the most is the music used. During certain vs. modes, you can get power ups, each with their own sound when they start… and often they just make you smile, even if they don’t seem the most appropriate – a speed-up power up is one that’s more about making you relax for example, while more appropriately cat mania (yeah, what you think it means) makes it clear who’s coming after you. The ‘mouse mania’ music was incredibly addictive…

The graphics aren’t hugely brilliant, but they’re pretty nice and suitable and work pretty well for the game. Sometimes the colour of your goal and cursor can be distracting, but the nicest parts come in the finale of the game – your rocket takes off and you see a flat view of the board, with cats walking over rather than next to you.

Final Thoughts

These days you’d find this game – as so many others of the area – on your mobile or iPad. It’s hard to imagine how it’d deal with some things, but it feels it could work. Still, that’s not a bad thing about this game – it’s brilliant fun that has you banging your head against the wall repeatedly as you play it, and the challenge is still difficult and frustrating. That’s something that won’t change.

One thing that this game made me wish for was a large group of local gaming mates who would want to come round with pizza and beer (Pepsi Max for myself) and play retro games as part of an all-nighter… a man can dream though…

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