Whereas the Sonic the Hedgehog games are all about raw speed and adrenaline-induced thrills, Chaotix takes a more calculated approach with more methodical run and jump platforming spiced up with a variety of mechanics that have unfortunately never seen the light of day outside of this not-so well-known title.
Knuckles the echidna is the star of Chaotix, but unlike a certain stage-hog he gracefully shares his screen time with an array of supporting cast members. Each one has their own individual abilities that can help overcome the many obstacles that lie between you and the stage goal. There is someone for everyone, regardless of skill level or chromatic disposition. Mighty the armadillo is able to wall jump not unlike a certain Ms Aran, and Knuckles himself is highly capable with his signature gliding and climbing. For those that are not very confident with their platforming skills, Espio the chameleon offers the chance to walk/run on walls and Charmy the bee is able to simply flit about all over the place. And veterans can opt to have the miniature robots, Heavy and Bomb, tag along with them so long as they are fully aware of the weight and explosive issues that come with such burdens!
Whereas Sonic prided himself upon doing everything alone, as fast as possible, more often than not leaving poor Tails struggling to catch up, Knuckles in Chaotix is all about working together as a solid duo. Any two characters may be (randomly) selected before each level, after which they are bound by an inseparable force that ties the magical rings that they hold together. You have direct control of one of them, but you may use the other to help you to gain extra speed, attack indiscriminately, or to save your butt should you inadvertently run off the end of a broken track. The elastic nature of the ring-binding force means that you can pull off a range of nifty manoeuvres, such as using your partner as an anchor while you run to the left, and then releasing to let the momentum generated carry you both to the right at a blistering pace, enough to surmount the most vertical of slopes.
It takes a while to get a feel for how the controls work; the buttons are simple, but the execution requires great precision. As such, there will no doubt be many cases of accidental flingings in the wrong direction, perhaps into a set of spikes or smack-bang into a robotic foe. Sometimes this will generate a chuckle, but chances are (especially after repeated attempts to make it to that just-out-of-reach landing) that this will cause many frustrating moments where you’ll think “ah, **** it”. Sure, it can be quite punishing at times, but then that’s what the variety of characters are there for, and with many combinations to run with, the more time you’re able to dedicate to this slow kind of game, the more you’ll get out of it.
Chaotix is definitely not a Sonic the Hedgehog game in disguise. In fact, the direct opposite leans more towards the truth; it’s a totally different kind of platformer disguised as a Sonic game. The sprite-work is what we’d come to expect from the blue hedgehog’s 16-bit outings – vibrant colours, busy environments, some blast-processing – but with the added oomph of the 32X hardware, we also bear witness to some scaling effects as demonstrated by Knuckles and co. shrinking into pint-sized critters or blown-up into giants, as well as day/night (and everything in between) variants of each zone, akin to Sonic CD‘s time period transitions. To complement the polish of the visuals, the soundtrack is an eclectic mix of quick tempo riffs, relaxing beats and the occasional mind-number; overall the music is more way-out than Sonic’s usual BGM, but just like how it takes a while to appreciate the quirky gameplay system, time only serves to make the tunes here grow on you more.
Next to the slower-paced, more methodical nature of platforming, Chaotix differs from the blue hedgehog’s outings most in the level designs. Speed is not the priority here and as such each area is stacked more vertically than horizontally. This means you’ll have to make good use of the rubber-band effect to get your two chosen heroes to the end, rather than hold one direction and press a single button now and again. The level order you play through is randomly selected via a roulette, making every new game slightly unpredictable (lots of levels here too), but at the same time creating an issue with balance. As luck would have it, you may have to play through a certain zone more times than another, meaning that the difficulty obviously ramps up faster than what would be seen if a linear approach had been taken. You may even have to face five whole levels, maybe ten, fifteen if you’re unlucky, just to get to those boss encounters which must be good (and they are). You can of course restart the game to get where you would ideally like to be going, but it’s a hassle to do so, especially if you’ve finally got the dream-team that you’ve been waiting for after so many tries.
Definitely not a game for those that don’t want to slow down.
Chaotix is an under-rated title that never took off because of the 32X’s relative failure at market penetration, as well as being a shadow to Sonic’s trailblazing legacy at the time. Tis a shame, because the partner system is one of the craziest ones out there, offering plenty of variation and chances to show off some mad skills, with or (preferably) without a second player to help you out. It looks like a Sonic game without the sonic speed, but it is far more than meets the eye. Yes, there are well-designed zones, trippy special stages, exciting boss fights and lots of rings that denote your health and score bonus, but bouncing around in holy matrimony is something that no hedgehog will ever take the time to do with you.