By Daniel Gulyas / April 20th, 2013
|Title: Chu Chu Rocket
Developer: Sonic Team
Release Date: November 22, 2011
Platforms: Android, iOS
Age Rating: E
Chu Chu Rocket! is a game that practically every gamer owes something to, whether they believe they do or not. The original release for the Sega Dreamcast was the first “mainstream” game to ever incorporate online play on a console, way back in 2000. It was an extremely unique experiment by Sonic Team, allowing them to experiment with online console gaming before their flagship title, Phantasy Star Online, pushed the limits of what was capable on consoles at the time. Sega would later port Chu Chu Rocket! to the Gameboy Advance, as well as both major mobile platforms. This game was actually one of their first games for each platform.
Of course, the purpose of this review is not to be a history lesson, but rather an assessment of how good the game is. Chu Chu Rocket is, stripped to its most basic elements, a fairly simple puzzle game. There are sets of space mice, called “Chu Chus” that have to return to their rocket. They run around on a grid that the player views from an eagle eye view, running in a straight line until they hit a wall, at which point they turn right. There are also space cats called “Kapu Kapus” that instantly eat any mice they touch. The player also has the option of placing arrows by tapping a square and swiping in the direction that the arrow is to face.
The concept itself is extremely simple, easy enough to be taught in the game’s 5 minute tutorial, while also allowing for a shocking amount of depth. You quickly learn that Chu Chus run slightly faster than Kapu Kapus, which is one of the many factors involved in the very simple task of getting the Chu Chus to the rocket. The game has three game modes; Puzzle, Challenge and Battle, each of which plays slightly differently.
Puzzle mode is the heart of the experience on mobile. In it, you set all the arrows prior to setting the Chu Chus and Kapu Kapus in motion. And for the most part, it works very well. Most puzzles are tricky at first glance, but there’s a definite skill that builds up as you play. Some of the puzzles are also extremely rewarding, and it does a great job of making you feel great when you finally overcome that puzzle that you’ve been stuck on for hours.
It’s not without its problems though. Some of the puzzles are not only hard, but very difficult to see. Others, particularly the ones that rely on timing, feel like they’re more about trial and error than any real skill. Usually, they have a set number of spots that placing an arrow makes sense and it’s a matter of trying them all until you find the one that works. Even so, there are a ton of puzzles; Sega bundled the original 100 they created, as well as another 400 user created levels from its Dreamcast glory days. Some of these are great, doing things that Sega didn’t see in their original game, while others are overly complicated or too easy. Still, there’s something for everyone. About 10 hours in, I’ve only cleared 96 of the 100 that Sega created, as well as maybe 25 or 30 of the user created ones.
Challenge mode was by far my favorite, although it was a bit short for my liking. This mode tasks you with completing certain challenges in real time, like having a cat eat all the mice on the stage, or getting 100 mice to the rocket. The real time nature makes the game feel frantic, but at no point does it feel unfair. Only once or twice did I feel that the game misread my taps and swipes. Playing on a larger phone or tablet would make the problem nearly go away, and the speed change makes these very, very fun. These are probably worth the price of admission on their own.
Last is the Battle mode, which is a 4 player free for all. It has some of the features of the best multiplayer games, like tons of stages, deep gameplay, and a real feeling that skill is involved. In fact, Chu Chu Rocket! is one of the best puzzle games you can play with friends, since the multiplayer is so easy to teach, and messing with your friend who is in the lead by directing cats to his rocket is invariably fun. At times, it can feel like the last thirty seconds are the only part that matter, since Kapu Kapus do more damage the more mice are in your base, but it also, like Mario Kart, allows for people in last to have miraculous comebacks. There’s just one major problem with the Android version; there is NO way to play your friends. There’s no local multiplayer on a tablet, and no way to link up over bluetooth to play even people in the same room. Even online multiplayer, a hallmark of the original, is completely missing. It’s a baffling, sad mistake, and one that you hate to see.
That’s the biggest thing missing from the Android release, but it’s not the only one. The Dreamcast version had online multiplayer, a puzzle editor, and the ability to share those levels with people online. It was a very forward thinking game that would set the stage for games like Little Big Planet. The Gameboy Advance version sacrificed the cell shaded graphics of the original for a sprite-based incarnation, but also allowed for complete customization; you could build stages of any type, and you could create your own 16-bit sprites for use in the game. There wasn’t much like playing as a bunch of rupees trying to run from an 8-bit Link.
The Android version is far from hurting for content; indeed, there are two unlockable skins for your Chu Chus for beating all of the Sega-made puzzles and challenges. I managed to unlock the ability to play as Chao from Sonic Adventure, which is a nice touch for Sonic Team fans. The large amount of puzzles will keep anybody entertained for a long time, and there’s also nearly infinite replayability in battle mode, provided you are okay with only playing CPU opponents. Technically, the game runs well, but there are a few too many loading screens on my Nexus 4. The music is harmless stuff, but there’s also the option to turn it off and listen to whatever you want from the phone itself. Graphically, the game ran with no lag on my Nexus 4, Galaxy Nexus and Toshiba Thrive 10.1, even when the screen was filled with Chu Chus from a Mice Mania in battle mode, although, the non-functional settings key is a personal pet peeve of mine.
Overall, it’s a really solid package, when you factor in that the price is only $.99. It’s very easy to gripe and moan about how the history of the game is missing, but Chu Chu Rocket! is a game well worth playing. The iOS version has the missing local multiplayer, which is a huge bonus, although, I’m unable to test that out; but even the Android version is great for those looking for a slightly different type of puzzle game. It may not be one of Sonic Team’s best known games, but it is clearly one of their best, and available at such a low price point that it’s nearly impossible to not recommend.
Review copy was purchased by the reviewer, and reviewed on a LG Nexus 4, as well as tested on a Galaxy Nexus and Toshiba Thrive 10.1
Chu Chu RocketSegaSonic Team