Genre: Puzzle Developer: Sonic Team Publisher: Sega Ent. Players: 1 Released: 1999
When I first learned that Sega would be releasing a new console, it was clear to me that I would need to save up for it. After my $400+ experience with the Saturn, where I had to go half-and-half with two friends to get the machine and some games, I was going to be ready this time. I had just started a new teaching job, so I started saving early, using one of those large, plastic soda bottle banks. Every nickel, dime, and quarter I got went into that bottle, and by 9/9/99, I had enough saved to buy a Dreamcast, a VMU, rumble pack, Sonic Adventure, and Blue Stinger.
It was really exciting to own a console that had online played built in, but I was so disappointed to only have the limited Internet options in Sonic Adventure. The world ranking mode and Chao Garden were cool, but I wanted to play online! The Dreamcast web browser was all there was until Sega and Sonic Team gave us ChuChu Rocket.
Wait, a puzzle game? All this waiting and anticipation for a puzzle game? It seemed unthinkable at first, but my opinion quickly changed once I put some time into ChuChu Rocket. Normally, puzzle titles aren’t my thing (though I did enjoy Columns and Baku Baku), but heck, this was the Dreamcast! I had to play everything I could, and the fact that this game was the first true online experience on the console meant that it was a must-play for me. After about an hour, it was safe to say that I was one happy Dreamcast owner.
By the time ChuChu Rocket finally arrived, I had gotten married and moved. I got my first Internet connection in October 1999 specifically for the Dreamcast and was eager to put it through its paces with this new puzzler about cute little ChuChus determined to escape from the evil KapuKapus space cats that had invaded their space station. The goal was to guide them to their rocket ships using directional arrow tiles to change their paths, all while avoiding the KapuKapus. The ChuChus always ran in a straight line until they hit something, so the arrows were needed to guide them into walls so they could follow a specific path or around obstacles like holes so that they could safely reach their ships. Only three arrow tiles could be placed at a time before the oldest one disappears. The ChuChus could pass over the arrows, but KapuKapus caused them to shrink and then disappear.
The ChuChus were certainly cute, and while the game was simple in premise, its core was pretty deep and complex. Strategy was involved in arrow placement, and often players had to plan several moves in advance. A lot of trial and error was involved, but one could thankfully reset and try again as often as necessary. The first dozen or so stages weren’t overly hard since there were only ChuChus involved, but the difficulty ramped up after that when the KapuKapus were introduced, making the rest feature a godsend.
ChuChu Rocket packed enough options and game modes to keep those little mice running for a long time. Along with the standard single-player experience, there were modes for playing with up to four players, a team battle, stage challenge for one or two players, and online play. Four player and team battle modes were all about saving more ChuChus than opponents (human or computer), while stage battle gave players different objectives to complete within a 30-second time limit. Lastly, online play turned up to four players from all over the world loose on each other.
As my wife didn’t play video games, I didn’t spend much time with the offline multiplayer modes. Rather, the single-player and network modes were my bread and butter. The former was a good way to get a feel for the game and understand how to quickly recognize stage layouts quickly. I remember that network play was surprisingly smooth for the time, considering the BLAZING speed of a 55k modem, but communication was kind of a problem. I didn’t have a physical keyboard, and the virtual one was slow and awkward. It was really fun though, to rank against other real players on console, and Sonic Team supported the game with some neat downloadable characters and hidden goodies like wallpapers.
With its wide array of gameplay options and brilliant puzzle designs, ChuChu Rocket was and remains a joy to play. It’s obvious that Sonic Team put a great deal of love and thought into each stage design, making the often singular solution in puzzle mode a ton of fun to discover. The multiplayer modes make the game perfect for parties, and while the online features went silent shortly after the Dreamcast’s demise, fans brought them back in 2016 through the magic of Dreamcast Live, which makes a modern broadband connection with the console’s modem.
Really, there’s no reason not to have ChuChu Rocket in your library, regardless of whether you plan to play online. The puzzle and stage challenge modes are more than enough for single players, and the offline multiplayer modes will keep you coming back. The online features are kind of spartan (remember, this was before SegaNet), and getting it up and running today takes a bit of know-how. Also, the game doesn’t tax the Dreamcast hardware in any way, and while that makes for smooth and stable multi-player and online play, things look a bit dated. Still, the gameplay is extremely addictive, and the whole product just oozes that Sega creative charm. ChuChu Rocket is also comparatively cheap compared to most other titles. It also has one of the most insane advertising themes I’ve ever heard, so what’s not to love?
SCORE: 8 out of 10