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Chip's Challenge (PC) artwork

Chip's Challenge (PC) review

"Crammed inside the miniature mysteries of Microsoft's pack-in puzzler Chip's Challenge is a larger conundrum that bears worth pondering. What kind of game is this, really, and who is it for? It's easy to picture people who normally are puzzle game fans becoming bored of it quite easily, but then again, who's to say they won't try and keep on keepin' on through all 144 levels of this 16-color riddle? What starts as a simple game to waste your time may evolve into a ruthless slave driver who deriv..."

Crammed inside the miniature mysteries of Microsoft's pack-in puzzler Chip's Challenge is a larger conundrum that bears worth pondering. What kind of game is this, really, and who is it for? It's easy to picture people who normally are puzzle game fans becoming bored of it quite easily, but then again, who's to say they won't try and keep on keepin' on through all 144 levels of this 16-color riddle? What starts as a simple game to waste your time may evolve into a ruthless slave driver who derives sick joy from watching your brain get battered by such deceptively designed levels. Or, it may remain a primitive time waster, wherein you just plug through a level here and there when you have a free moment. Chip's Challenge is a rarity in that it is all things to all gamers. It is an intellectual behemoth, and yet it is comprised of mere kilobytes. On one side of the coin, it's a healthy change in routine from screwing around with Solitaire, a happy little escape from sorting spreadsheets and managing databases. The other side of the coin reveals much more, however: the machinations of minds that are either very finely attuned to the ideals this game represents, or very sick and in need of fresh air.

Chip's threadbare story is perhaps appropriately restricted to a small section of the game's help file, as it has so little bearing on the game itself that you won't actually recall any important details of it when you're weaving your way around a horde of madcap arachnids and paramecia. Still, all men on a mission have their motivation, and Chip's is that he wishes to impress Melinda the Mental Marvel, whose fortress he must traverse if he wants that dream to come true. Chip immediately exudes an aura as the kind of guy that girls say is nice and smart and possibly very funny if he would ever amass the balls to talk to them, but are thinking in the back of their minds even as they speak those words that a first date is out of the question. This game is all about Chip's primal need to prove that he has the manhood to embark on such an undertaking. Puberty be damned! He is so willing to match wits with the ever-unseen Melinda that he will scramble about the 144 floors of her smart people's club picking up all the stray computer chips he can find. One could argue that Melinda is playing some heavy-duty psychological games with Chip and in a way already has him whipped, but it is highly against this reviewer's advice to stand in the way of a man in the throes of passionate nerd love.

His titular challenge begins as a game that anyone can play. The first several levels are tutorials that acclimate you to the many objects and wacky scamps romping about Melinda's fortress. They show you how to do simple things like open doors with keys, make bridges over water with blocks, and use various types of footwear. Hints are distributed liberally for the truly lost, and although time floats away in the breeze as you read them, it doesn't matter because the clock should accommodate even the slowest player. There are basically only three ways to die in these early levels: through an accidental blunder, intentional experimentation, or a ill-bred desire to see the little dweeb suffer. Chip is quite fragile (it only takes one hit from anything to kill him), but also persistent; any time he steps in fire without the appropriate boots or drowns in the drink, he starts right back at the beginning of the level with an unbending desire to impress his sweet Melinda.

Once you know how to play, the game pulls no punches. Among other things, it will expect you to exhibit a startling command of reflexes and to use items or do things in ways that require a large degree of lateral thinking. Levels are either frustratingly difficult and require the utmost precision or have such a monotonous solution that it's all you can do not to pull out enough hair to facilitate a horrid combover. Consider for example a relatively early level called ''On the Rocks.'' Chip begins the journey on a small strip of land surrounded by water for as far as the field of play can see. His only friend is a machine that pops out a fresh block every time he steps on a red button. From this, he must build a bridge one block at a time to the exit in the upper right hand corner. Not only that, but there are chips along the way to collect as well, and the player must spend an inordinate amount of time hunting down these isolated, scattered items as well. For better or for worse, you have infinite time to accomplish this. Whether you want to or not is another matter entirely, but you'll either consider it a break from the hustle and bustle of running away from rogue ultralights or an exercise in how long someone can do the same thing for six hours. But if you want to do the latter, just get a job stocking shelves, I say. Fortunately, if you try hard enough on a given level with no visible success, Melinda is more than willing to let Chip pass on to the next one.

Chip's Challenge is the very paradigm of simplicity, designed with a scant 16 colors and clear evidence of pixels showing up everywhere. Our young protagonist tests positive for dork DNA, sporting what mothers the world over call the ''little boys' haircut'' and a garish outfit of green and teal blue. The look of the game is meant primarily to disguise its extreme difficulty, which at times sneaks up on you like a serial killer with meat tenderizers in both hands. Creative use is made of nearly all elements, including enemies and the computer chips our hero will collect throughout the journey. The latter will often be set up within your range of vision, but in such a way that it's impossible to get to them without weaving all the way around the level and a bunch of evil fireballs and haphazardly moving blobs first. For a game made from the building blocks of one drawing application, the graphic look and basic concepts succeed admirably, despite eliciting screams of agony from the player later on.

People who enjoy having their frontal lobes tickled will sadistically enjoy the stripes left by the mental cat o' nine tails that is Chip's Challenge. At the end of the game, when you've beaten the 144th level with help from the various bypassings that Melinda kindly bestows upon our hero who studies advanced trigonometry in his spare time, you'll see a number that indicates how many levels you actually beat. You'll look at this number and heave a sigh of relief that makes you think you're more intelligent than you actually are, or you'll write it in red permanent marker on a piece of posterboard and hang it up on your ceiling so you can go to sleep every night and remind yourself how a little puzzle game made for an innocuous entertainment pack made you look like a fool. In which case you probably need to get out more, or go back and tackle it head-on once again.

Rating: 7/10

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Community review by snowdragon (December 20, 2003)

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