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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Kid Chameleon

Old gamers like me love to complain about how easy games are these days and how they all hold your hand.
"Hit right here to kill the boss!" "Go this way to beat the level!" "Hit this button!"

We're right, of course, but not all of our low-bit games really captured that hardcore attitude we like to gloat about. Mario and Sonic are a lot of fun and they're definitely challenging but it's not like the designers sat down in front of a computer thinking, "Fuck these gamers. I'm going to break them."

In Kid Chameleon, though, that was their design thesis.

This game has almost an endless number of levels that share no rhyme or reason with each other. For one level you'll be in a forest fighting robots as a tank, and in another you're scaling the side of a floating castle as a knight (why is climbing the special power for the knight? Shouldn't it be a monkey?).

There's no world map. The levels have names but no numbers, and there are tons of multiple paths to take, so you could play the game a dozen times and end up in a dozen different places with no idea how far you've really gotten. Playing Kid Chameleon is like being dropped into a 16-bit wilderness with no idea of where to go or how to get out, and if time runs out you drop dead.

Even the story is about how tough the game is. There's an arcade machine the size of a building called the Wild Side and once gamers go into it they never come out. So even before you start level one the game is talking trash.

Too bad the controls are uncomfortable. Jumping with precision is difficult and your character has way too much momentum when he lands (no sticking power) so getting onto a small platform is a bitch. The concept of this game is great, but it was a long step away from what it should have been.

This would be a good remake.


  1. It's hard for me to have a true opinion about this game because I never played nor even saw it back in 1991 or whatever. I've only played it briefly in an emulator. I don't know why you have a problem with the game's lack of story or context because all games had ridiculous settings back then (in the Age of Mutant Ninjas, as I like to call it).

    I don't remember if the game was particularly easy or hard, just that it was really "basic", or at least it seemed that way by the time I saw it in 1998. But I remember what you mean about the character being slippery and how that could cause a lot of extra frustration.

    I think this might be another case where saying the game is "hard" isn't accurate enough. The game isn't hard intentionally so much as it's hard because the design is immature and needs more polish. The game is clearly a ripoff of Mario, and a cheap one. It also smells a lot like DOS shareware titles from 1992 or so, which means that it's a platform jumper just for the sake of being a platform jumper, with many disparate settings and enemies mashed together just for the hell of it, and where collecting coins or whatever along the way has become a motive that no longer stands on its own. It doesn't quite give that "special feeling" that Mario offers, that the world is perceivable, that the game can be mastered, or that the game is _worth_ mastering. Anyway, my point is that this isn't intentional, it's a side effect of the game's initial vision being to "rip off Mario". It is commendable that the developers added so many features and carried this poisoned vision all the way to release.

  2. 'this poisoned vision' is a beautiful combination of words.