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Chu Chu Rocket!

Sega wonders why they’re in the poorhouse these days. Maybe it’s because of all their stupid executive decisions and such, but I tend to think it’s that they don’t fully realize the whoring ability that other companies like Rockstar and Capcom. Sega makes games for gamers, like Nintendo, but unlike Nintendo Sega makes a wide-variety of often bizarre games, where as Nintendo is less adventurous and sticks with well-received franchises. Sega though, they’re crazy, and willing to try new things. This is the company that gave you Jet Grind Radio, Panzer Dragoon, GunValkyrie, and Seaman, all wonderful games, but I’m sure that the sales of these titles didn’t come close to Grand Theft Autos, even when combined. But what does Sega need sales for when they have some of the most talented developers in all of time working for them? One developer, the father of Sonic the Hedgehog, is Yuji Naka, a Japanese man with a lot of quirky visions. His quirky vision lead him to create a puzzle game that looks like it would run on the Genesis that would turn out to be one of the best games of the 1990’s, that being the wonderfully bizarre ChuChu Rocket.

There’s no real way to describe the basic concept of ChuChu Rocket, because it’s one of the strangest games ever made. You see, a space station inhabited by ChuChus (which are little tiny mice), has been invaded by evil KapuKapus (which are giant orange cats). These cats are out for blood, and want to feast on our rodent friends. Though the ChuChus are technologically advanced enough to design a space station, they aren’t smart enough to know how to escape it, and it’s up to you to guide them to escape rockets before the KapuKapus get them. How do you guide them? By placing arrows on the ground that they will see and follow to safety! Oh, but the game isn’t quite that simple my clever reader. There are all sorts of obstacles in the way, namely the KapuKapus, but also holes to no where and walls. ChuChus can safely run into the walls, but they fall into oblivion if they go into a hole. Fortunately Puzzle Mode offers unlimited continue to its dozens and dozens of hellish challenges.

The game takes place in a top-down view of a checker-board pock-marked with all sorts of things. In a few of the levels, you only have to save a few of the ChuChus, but in some other levels, you have to save dozens of them. The ChuChus donít do very much, except run around blindly bumping into any thing in front of them, an obvious homage to Three Blind Mice. In each of the levels, you are given a few pieces that you must place on the board that force the ChuChus to run in that direction. By only providing a few pieces, you must look at all the options ahead of you and carefully utilize your few pieces. A few button pushes is all the action that youíll get out of the title, but itís still as frantic and nerve racking as a first-person shooter because of the limitations you get and your ultimate goal. Some people however may prefer something a bitÖfaster. For those people, there is the Stage Challenge mode. Stage Challenge is a rousing little mode which is very similar to the Puzzle Mode that the title is designed around, except youíre timed in Stage Challenge. The time limit forces you to make hurried decisions as you rush through, deftly attempting to find a solution before having to restart yet again.

ChuChu Rocket wouldnít be complete though without some sort of multiplayer mode, and in typical Sega fashion, they went all out to support all the options they could. For starters, the game featured a fantastic online mode back in the heyday of the Dreamcast, which sadly doesnít exist anymore from what Iíve heard. Thereís also a Puzzle Editor in which you can create all sorts of puzzles that rival the ones Sonic Team created for the game. This may not sound like a multiplayer mode, but you can take these levels and swap them with friends and challenge them to complete your level. And finally, you can always embark into the games four-player mode, in which you must compete to get the most ChuChus in your rocket before the timer expires as your friends do the same. This might not sound very hard, but power-ups come into play, both for and against you. Huge KapuKapus come and attack your rocket under your friends command, the mice move slowly, the mice shrink in size, and your arrows come under attack in a desperate attempt to win. While it may not sound ì2 Fastî or ì2 Furious,î it really is an exciting thing.

The first thing anyone will notice about the game at first glance is that itís pretty damned ugly. But, in a way, itís a pretty ugly. Itís a 2D, top-down puzzle game with few animations and even fewer variations on color. Oddly enough though, it doesnít matter, and like the ugly duckling fairy tale, it grows into a beautiful thing that you canít help but adore. The white little ChuChus fleeing the KapuKapus is an illustrious painting of the struggles of mankind, and will stay imbedded in your memory for years, as will the games few songs. The only negative point I could possibly find in the game is the sound, as itís a bit bland with just a few cheesy tracks filled with standard puzzle music in this not-so-standard game. Sound effects are practically non-existent.

In the end, itís my humble opinion that this is in fact the best game Sega made for the Dreamcast, and Iíd go as far to say that itís one of my favorite games theyíve ever created, period. While it doesnít have the speed of Hang-On or the grandeur of Shenmue, ChuChu Rocket definitely has the gameplay and the replay value to really keep you interested in the title. Pick it up today for dirt cheap, and prepare for one of the quirkiest games ever.

10 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2003.

Gentle persuasion

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