Chu-Chu Rocket


   The object of competitive multiplayer games is usually one of two general concepts: either you outperform your opponents, plain and simple, or you work on outright destroying them. Tetris is a good example of the former method, while Bomberman is the purest form of the latter. Chu Chu Rocket, on the other hand, is a notable example of exquisite synthesis between the two styles.

   Like Tetris, the playing field is level. Each player has the same material to work with: four hatches from which emerge both ChuChus and KapuKapus, and his or her own rocket. Both ChuChus (which are good) and KapuKapus (which are bad) have the same movement pattern; each will run forward until they hit a wall and turn right, or until they hit an arrow on the field--in that case, they'll run in the direction that the arrow points. No player-specific special moves, no real weapons, and no inherent advantage. All the player can do is place arrows pointing in any four of the cardinal directions--but only three arrows at a time; if a fourth is placed then the first will disappear.

In the non-Marvin Gaye sense, of course.
Let's get it on!

   The real fun of the game is all the things you're expected to do at once with those three arrows. To begin with, you need to route the ChuChus coming out a hatch into your rocket. Simple enough with a well-placed arrow, perhaps two or three if you decide to get nasty and attempt to route all the ChuChus into your rocket. But you'll need to do a quick reroute to keep the KapuKapus, who come out of the same hatches, from getting into your rocket and devouring one-third of the ChuChus you've collected. Of course, no ChuChus can enter the rocket either until the path back to the rocket has been restored--so don't waste any time. You might not get to this right away, though, because you'll also be wanting to do two things to your opponents' rockets, of which there are always three. First, you want to route their ChuChus into your rocket, and second, you want to send KapuKapus into their rockets. If your opponents are smart, though, they'll be doing the same thing to you. To sum up, you've got three arrows to route "your" ChuChus into your rocket, send all the KapuKapus to your opponents' rockets, manage the KapuKapus they're sending at you, and steal the ChuChus away from them. It's crisis management from the word "go," requiring fast reflexes and an ability to pay attention to what's going on virtually every square of the board at once. As you can imagine, things get rather heated against two or three human opponents, the alternation between anguished cries and arrogant boasting taking almost as much mental energy as the game itself.

   It's not far off the mark to rank Chu Chu Rocket among the greatest multiplayer games ever. Unfortunately, the single-player game is nowhere near as compelling or addicting. Though the computer AI more or less matches the setting you give it--three "weak" computer opponents weren't any more or less challenging than my friends who hadn't played the game before, and the "tough" AI was suitably frustrating--it's a strangely empty feeling all the same. There's no hook to make a single player care about the main game, unlike Puzzle Fighter's ladder-style competition against recognizable characters, or Tetris' progressively difficult levels. The online play is also strangely unsatisfying, probably because the inability to chat during the game removes the human interaction aspect of a good multiplayer stomp.

 Sue Sue Rocket
Puzzle mode

   To make up for this, there are other modes of play for single players, or even for those with significant others. Puzzle mode gives you a situation with a certain amount of ChuChus and KapuKapus frozen in preset positions. Your task is to set the arrows you're given so that the ChuChus make it to the rocket, avoiding the KapuKapus, and then start the action to see whether your solution worked. Puzzle mode is divided into four levels--Normal, Hard, Special, and Mania--each with 25 puzzles, all of which must be beaten to advance to the next difficulty. When you finish that, then try your hand at Stage Challenge, which is similar to Puzzle mode except that the puzzle begins in action and you have only 30 seconds to accomplish the task.

   In the end, though, none of this makes Chu Chu Rocket any less of a blast. Even a match with only one other player can be enjoyable, since the Team Battle option lets the two of you duke it out against the computer. As a multiplayer game, it's a must-buy, but if you bought a Dreamcast because you don't have any friends, then it's probably best to look somewhere else.

Review by Nich Maragos, GIA.
Chu-Chu Rocket
Developer Sonic Team
Publisher Sega
Genre Puzzle
Medium GD-ROM (1)
Platform Dreamcast
Release Date  11.11.99
5 high-resolution Game Boy Advance screens
Pilot designs
Box art