July 26, 2018

Dreamcast20 #19: Chu Chu Rocket

2018 marks the 20th anniversary of the Dreamcast, Sega's final - and in my opinion the finest - home videogame console. Despite a range of excellent games, it simply failed to compete against Sony's PlayStation 2. To celebrate, The Angriest counts down its 20 best games.

Some times the best videogames are the simple ones, and they often don't come simpler that puzzle games. Chu Chu Rocket. Conceptually it's pretty easy: there's a grid upon which a train of mice are walking in a straight direction. Also roaming the board are cats looking to eat the mice. The player can drop arrows onto the grid to change the direction of the mice and guide them into a rocket that allows them to safely escape. If they get on the rocket, the player wins. If they get eaten by cats, the player loses.

It's a simple enough concept, but it's all playing just a little too fast to handle. It rapidly becomes a frantic combination of strategy and twitch gaming as the player starts having to lay down paths in faster and faster ways and in more and more complex set-ups.

The game was designed and produced by Sonic the Hedgehog creator Yuji Naka, and is a superb blend of fast gaming and puzzle-solving. The gameplay is conceptually simple, as are the graphics. It rises and falls on the back of that gameplay, and thankfully it's both entertaining and addictive.

The game is as simple as it is because it was developed as a test. The Dreamcast was Sega's first console to allow for online play over the Internet, and a sample game was required to tests online functionality and put Sega's servers through their paces. Naka develop Chu Chu Rocket specifically for testing purposes: it didn't have complex visuals or sound, or too much data that needed to be send up or down the Internet connection. Once the online component was perfected, Naka's Sonic Team utilised what they had learned to develop the much more expensive and complex title Phantasy Star Online.

Not only was Chu Chu Sega's first online console title, it was also their first game ported to a Nintendo console. After the failure of the Dreamcast and Sega's withdrawal from the hardware market, Chu Chu Rocket was ported over to Nintendo's Gameboy Advance in 2001.

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