Knuckles' Chaotix (Sega 32X) review
"Spin-offs are usually never a good thing. Sure, we have some special cases like Frasier but the majority of the time, the spin-off rarely surpasses the original. In fact, the majority of these spin-offs flop horribly (take the recent Friends spin off Joey for a perfect example) but once in a blue moon, you get a spin-off that not only rivals its originator but also actually surpasses it in certain ways. "
Spin-offs are usually never a good thing. Sure, we have some special cases like Frasier but the majority of the time, the spin-off rarely surpasses the original. In fact, the majority of these spin-offs flop horribly (take the recent Friends spin off Joey for a perfect example) but once in a blue moon, you get a spin-off that not only rivals its originator but also actually surpasses it in certain ways.
Knuckles Chaotix is a prime example of this. It’s been slandered for years for being an awkward and messy platformer due to the unusual style it brought forth and since its only home is on Sega’s flopped console, the 32X it has generated a slew of dismissal for years. However, those who get into the wacky and the colourful world of the Chaotix will find it a remarkable addition to the Sonic series and a brilliant platformer in its own right.
It takes the fundamental ideas that made the Genesis Sonic games so special and adds it’s own quirky and original flavour to it. Instead of running around freely, you and a second character are bound together by a bizarre elastic force, which you have to manipulate by using various techniques. You can call your partner directly to you with the tap of the A button (it will cost you ten rings to use) and you can ask your partner to “hold” and he’ll stay planted to the ground. This enables you to stretch the elastic to its max, allowing you to rev up some speed. With the release of B, your two characters will shoot across the screen like a greyhound with Charmy Bee in its behind.
You have a choice of five primary characters, each of them have their own special yet similar abilities. Knuckles can climb and glide like in his previous adventure while his new companions possess a small array of special skills. Mighty the Armadillo can kick up walls while Espio the Chameleon can walk up them and run on the ceiling. Vector can also climb and use a bizarre air dash move that sends him hurtling through the air like a bullet. You can also play with the minute and annoying Charmy Bee, a character that has the ability to dash in the air constantly, think of controlling Tails in Sonic 3 but with extra speed and the inability to tire out. If you team with him, his lack of jumping may get him stuck in some tight spots but you can use the call feature to drag his ass towards you.
You can choose your character at the beginning of each game but your partner will be assigned via a “claw” machine. Do you know those machines they have in carnivals? Remember the scene in Toy Story with the aliens? Your partner is selected via one of them; you move it and try to grab a character. They switch around furiously and to make matters worse, they’ve added two bogus characters in the mix. Heavy and Bomb are really awkward robots that will furiously hinder your progress in rather obvious ways. Controlling Heavy is like dragging an anvil around with you everyway you go and Bomb will blow up in your face whenever he gets hit. Unfortunately, these two twats make the most frequent appearances in the claw machines so you really have to be careful when choosing a partner. You have to play through at least one level with your team, unless you completely restart the game.
Chaotix makes an unusual change from the usual Sonic routine. You can still collect rings and collecting fifty rings will unlock a special stage at the end but everything else has been significantly changed. You have no lives and the only way for you to die is if you and your partner are both hit with no rings. Even if you die, you’re just sent to the main portal stage. Rings are now used to buy you time in the special stages and to use the “call” move, which costs ten. These stages are a mixture of the running chute in Sonic 2 and the orb collecting in Sonic 3. Every ring you get gives you one extra second of running down the chute and every time you hit an obstacle in the chute, like a spiked balls, you will lose rings and time. You have to avoid the pits, spikes and springs and collect the number of required blue orbs to win a Chaos Ring. However, winning them all won’t give your character the ability to go “super”; it simply unlocks the good ending for you.
Chaotix’s visual palette is absolutely gorgeous; it simply puts every other 32X game to shame because it builds on old foundations rather than pushing messy polygons forward in order to pimp out the system. It uses the traditional Sonic style and polishes it up with the more powerful 32X graphics system. The bright and extremely vibrant use of colours is so eye soothing that it will have your eyes locked to the screen. It’s very loud and cheery but stops at the line where Tempo did a long jump over. It doesn’t mess your eyes up after playing or induce headaches but it is still a bright and shining explosion of colour. Occasionally, small system flaws occur when calling a character as his body is catapulted into the screen, turning him into a giant and blurry representation of his former self. These close ups of sprites can look rather messy and blocky but the fact that you rarely see it allows you to appreciate the beautiful backdrops and sprite animations that Chaotix pushes forward.
We also have a brilliant sound score with some extremely memorable tracks that rival those in the original Sonic series. Some are very relaxing pieces, like the main theme song while tunes like Electronica and Walkin’ are really pumping tracks that make the gameplay all of the worthwhile. Not only will they entertain you during play, they’ll etch themselves into your brain. Few games can admit to this so when you have a game like Knuckles Chaotix that constantly fill your ears with the sweet stuff; it’s a pleasant and refreshing experience.
Don’t let the 32X label throw you off the mark. Knuckles Chaotix is an original and unusual creation that doesn’t get the appreciation that it deserves. The unusual path that Chaotix takes us down isn’t a complex one, although it sounds it. The ring-linking system is extremely easy to master once you’ve had one practice at it. It’s a fresh approach to the platform genre that has been obscured by general 32X hate. Hopefully, Sega will stop re-releasing poor Game Gear games in their collections and stick this in their next compilation. Finding 32X bios is hard as hell and finding a cheap console can be even more taxing so the only way for this gem to get its second chance is through a re-release, which probably won’t happen.
Community review by goldenvortex (September 24, 2005)
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