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CONSOLE: Game Boy Advance DEVELOPER: Sonic Team PUBLISHER: Sega (JP, US)/Atari (EU)
RELEASE DATE (NA): June 10, 2001 GENRE: Puzzle
// review by SoyBomb

Let's chu the fat about an interesting game.

It's official: Japan is notorious for creating flat-out weird games. How did we end up with a game where an Italian plumber grows because he ate an oversized mushroom that was lodged inside a brick? How did we end up with a game where miniature dinosaurs blow bubbles to encapsulate their enemies and save their girlfriends? How did we end up with a game where an amply-groined king commissions you to recreate the universe by rolling up miscellaneous items with a sticky ball after he accidentally destroyed it in a drunken stupor? This is Japan in a nutshell. They are always willing to take a chance with outrageous ideas in their video games, unlike American developers who stick to the ol' "everybody loves first-person shooters and World War II simulations" mantra. We can thankfully sidestep that mentality with the aid of all the wacky wonderful Japanese games that come our way, and we can include one more in that pile: Chu Chu Rocket.

The name alone should be indicative of how unusual the game is. Chu Chu Rocket was originally released for the Sega Dreamcast back in 1999 (and later in 2000 for North America), and was the first mainstream console game with online capabilities. It was ported to the Game Boy Advance and released as a launch title with the system in 2001. This is essentially a puzzle game where you are presented with a series of grid-based mazes that you must guide the ChuChus (basically little mice with no brains of their own) through to get to a rocket and blast off. Why are they blasting off? Well... it's hard to say. Perhaps we're pulling off a project similar to that of a certain Simpsons Halloween episode where we send the beings that we don't particularly want to the Sun. Or perhaps we are trying to ensure that they escape from the KapuKapus (really drugged-up looking cats) that are trying to take a bite out of those ChuChus. The aspect that requires the use of your brain is that there are many walls placed about on each board to alter the path of the ChuChus and KapuKapus; you are then given a limited number of tiles to place around and switch the direction of animals who wander over it to help aim them to a rocket base for lift-off. However, you will fail the puzzle (although you are given as many tries as necessary) if any of the following conditions are met: (1) a KapuKapu gets a hold of a ChuChu; (2) if a KapuKapu gets to a rocket base; or (3) if the ChuChus end up in a loop of endless wandering. So be careful!

There are numerous modes in this game to keep fans entertained. "Puzzle Mode" is typical, where you are given 100 puzzles at four different difficulty levels to solve. In addition, there are over 2000 other puzzles, formerly submitted for the Dreamcast version by its online users, all of which are available on this GBA cart. That's a LOT of puzzles to solve; anyone who snags this game will end up spending a fair amount of time on it if they are so dedicated. Then there's also "Stage Challenge" mode, which will be required to solve puzzles and complete board-specific challenges in a limited amount of time. But if you are not exactly enticed by single-player mode, you are in luck! Up to four players can simultaneously join in for some real fun via the ol' Link Cable. All players (or teams of players if preferred) will be trying to get ChuChus into their rocket base and no other, at a pace that inexperienced people may consider to be almost cruel. And if a special ChuChu (with a question mark over it) goes to your rocket base, a random effect will occur, perhaps raining even more cruelty upon your soon to be former friends -- or even yourself if Lady Luck fails to shine. And if THIS is not enough, you can design your own boards and exchange them with others. Heck, you can even re-design and animate the ChuChus and KapuKapus if they're not to your liking! It's like a ChuChu buffet!

The graphics in this game are fair, but certainly would not be worthy to win any awards, not even back in 2001 with the debut of the Game Boy Advance. In fact, there isn't really much to look at, which can be expected from the majority of puzzle games. All the graphics are fairly well-rendered in two dimensions for what it's worth, but don't expect any dazzling -- this is a very straightforward title. Of course, the more basic the graphics are, the most machine power can be devoted to keeping track of all the mice on screen and keeping the speed solid. The art style is unusual and wacky, but that just adds to the general upbeat atmosphere. The music bears an equally cutesy and oftentimes funky composition style, although me trying to remember any tune is a bit difficult. Sound effects are decent although rather grainy; the voice sample in "Stage Challenge" mode is quite awful to hear.

Although Chu Chu Rocket is not a technically impressive game, it's certainly a good workout for the brain and a solid way to pass the time. There are definitely enough puzzles here to prevent the game from being over for a long, long, long time, and the charm alone is enough to warrant attention. But it's not for everyone -- hardcore gamers only interested in those North American shoot'em ups will not find the action intriguing in the slightest, but for those with brain cells remaining, it's a good investment. Plus you only need one cartridge for up to three other gamers to join in for some multiplayer mayhem, which could make for an interesting afternoon. Chu Chu Rocket was a pretty awesome launch title (although not the best), and certainly gave the first wave of Game Boy Advance owners something to chu on.

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