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Chuck Rock (SNES) artwork

Chuck Rock (SNES) review


Chuck Rock (SNES) image

Playing a platformer is all about trust. When you start such a game, you rely on mechanics that won't fail you at the most desperate moments. You go into the experience hoping your jump ability works as planned, that any combat features are useful and not needlessly detrimental, and especially that the challenges you face are fair. When you encounter a game that fails in some way to deliver on these expectations, it's like a knife in the back. And the latest spinal puncture I endured is the caveman-themed side scroller Chuck Rock.

I can forgive you if you've never heard of or don't remember this title. It was one of hundreds of cute, cartoony platformers that came out during the '80s and '90s, leading up to the Saturn/PlayStation/N64 era. This one is your standard save-the-maiden affair where a chubby Neanderthal scours a Stone Age landscape for his kidnapped wife, Ophelia. It wasn't exactly a cutting edge piece when it came out in the early '90s, mostly because it didn't boast any standout features and was pretty much presented as yet another mascot game to add to your dusty collection of now-forgotten platformers. Regardless, Chuck somehow spawned a sequel and a sub-par racing spin-off.

Stylistically, this game exudes the kind of elements seen in early '90s children's programming. Environments burst with bright, cartoony colors, from lush jungles to slime-covered grottoes. Hell, even the final stage, which depicts mass extinction, manages to show off a such a strangely pleasant palette that you wouldn't think there were millions of life forms dying in unison. Somehow, the pale purple cliff sides and plumes of volcanic smoke maintain the game's Saturday morning cartoon vibe.

Chuck Rock (SNES) image

However, it's not just the vibrant graphics that reinforce the early '90s cartoon atmosphere. You also see it and hear it in all the off-the-wall details and anachronisms that scream "trying really hard to be hip so modern kids will buy this product." It comes in the form of Pteranodons wearing stalking caps, or a Plesiosaur smoking a cigarette underwater, or a Smilodon with a golden ring sticking out of his ear, or the gravelly-voiced WAAAT each dying creature belts out. Like so many IPs aimed at kids from that era, this title attempts to come off as a video game with attitude.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not ragging on the style here because it's really not an issue. However, all any of this so-called "attitude" says to me is the game banked more on visible coolness than solid mechanics or effective design. It tries to look the part of an awesome platformer to sucker youngsters into bugging their parents until they purchase it, only to ultimately let the kids down...

At first, the game seems functional enough. You perform a lot of the same tasks seen in other platformers, but with a little extra problem solving occasionally thrown in. Now and then, you might pick up a rock to shield yourself from falling boulders, or drop it somewhere so you can use it as a stepping stone. Meanwhile, dinosaurs and various other prehistoric wildlife aim to kill you, only to fall victim to Chuck's patented belly bump or flying kick.

Chuck Rock (SNES) image

And therein lies the beginning of your problems. In order to damage foes, Chuck needs to get so close to them that the two of you end up colliding before the critter dies. As it turns out, timing is key when you dish out damage. You learn to watch your opponents' movements and patterns, eventually figure out how to nail most of them before they can bite off a chunk of Chuck.

However, timing eventually goes extinct after a few levels, when the game does everything in its power--including sucker punching you constantly--to throw off your rhythm. First, you bump into enemies that walk back and forth erratically, which doesn't mesh well with timing-based combat. Then you run afoul of creatures that hop about wildly, often sneaking past your strikes and tearing off whole portions of your health in seconds. With these guys, you pretty much have to get lucky to kill them without sustaining harm yourself. Yes, it does get worse, especially when you're dealing with creatures that zip across the screen faster than you can blink, sometimes popping out from behind bits of environment or other obstructions. In other words, there are points where there's no way you could've known what's coming, so you just have to take the cheap shot and move on. Again. And again. And again. And again. Until you lose all of your lives and discover there are no continues, passwords or saves (with the exception of a stage-skipping cheat code).

Your quest relies entirely on pattern memorization, which you can only accomplish through repeated failure, frustration and a little luck. Call me ridiculous, but nothing about that setup sounds remotely entertaining.

Chuck Rock (SNES) image

Outside of combat, Chuck provides only the most basic platforming. Yeah, I mentioned problem solving earlier, but every instance of that revolves around picking up a rock and putting it somewhere else. The only other standout feature on offer involves the occasional hidden side route that sometimes holds a health-restoring heart, but typically gives you items that increase your score. The prospect of earning an extra life every 100,000 points theoretically ups the value of these goodies. However, it take so long to amass that high of a score that it's not worth your effort, plus you might end up sustaining more damage trying to earn a measly 2000 or so points. Eff that.

So at best, you're looking at a mediocre side scroller, dragged down by its needlessly frustrating battles. All of this could have been avoided if: 1) Chuck possessed an actually capable means of offense, and 2) fights were actually fair. Why not give the guy a club? Was that too predictable? Then contrive a different weapon or fighting style that isn't a total liability. Or, better yet, plot out fewer moments where enemies either come out of nowhere or move about so randomly that they render proper timing next to useless. I'm not saying for a fact that the game was designed to be malicious, but when you go into a platformer like this, you anticipate solid enough mechanics to be able to handle any situation without luck or an inhuman levels of foresight. When such a game fails on that front, it breaches your trust. As a result, it's hard to see a game like Chuck Rock as anything but mean-spirited.

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (May 06, 2020)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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