The gameplay shines through in this oldie but a goodie from SEGA’s Sonic Team…
In 2000 (or 1999 in Japan), Chu Chu Rocket was released on the Dreamcast and became a cult hit. Now the space-age mice have been unleashed in pocket form on the iPhone (though the GameBoy Advance was first in this area) and are also available for your lap, on the iPad.
ChuChu Rocket sees you guiding a troop of mice from one part of the play area to the awaiting rockets, all the while avoiding evil cats. Quite why the game features rockets is anyones guess, but maybe it’s to shoot them away from the Cat infested planet where they have been marooned.
Each level is a maze of sorts, and there is generally one path to get the mice to the rockets. Once on the move, the mice will continue in a given direction until they hit a wall, in which case they will (by default) take a clockwise route. If they come to a dead end they turn back in the opposite direction. By using available directional tiles, you can influence the mice direction by laying tiles on the game board, and if the mice come into contact with said tile, they will follow its direction to a tee. As you progress through the 145 levels, and as expected in any puzzle game, the difficulty rises. This increased challenge can be a result of a larger number of mice to control, the threat of the evil Cats, or holes that swallow up the mice. The skill is to place the correct and available directional tiles in the correct place in order to successfully navigate the nice to safety. These later levels can become real brain bruisers, but thankfully you can try out a level as many times as you like, without a time limit until you get it right.
Controls are of course touch-based, and it is hard to imagine a better way to play it. I busted out my GameBoy Advance version of this game to see how it played and, while the gameplay and overall experience is identical, it feels pretty archaic to use a d-pad and shoulder buttons when a touch screen is so much more intuitive. To lay a tile on the touchscreen you simply swipe in the direction required. Whereas on the GameBoy you must cycle through the available directional tile with the A button. That’s not to say the touch screen is not without a few niggles. On the iPhone it can feel a little fiddly compared to the iPad (thanks to its larger screen), and I’m not a fan of the start/stop button position top left. You see, when playing on an iPhone, your thumbs tend to rest on the bottom corners, and so would have felt more natural if the regularly used start/stop button was placed bottom left instead.
Visually, the game has an endearing visual style, and I love the look of the mice and cats, with their modern and funky Japanese design. The menus and button appearance could do with some updating though. Especially on the iPad, where you have mix of visual styles for buttons; from bevelled edges, rounded corners and straight squares all in the same space. It lacks polish and consistency when compared to its contemporaries… but maybe that’s the graphic designer in me talking too much!
One of the cool features of the Gameboy version was the multi-player, through the use of game link. On the iPhone this is back, though only through local WiFi or bluetooth. In it you share the game world with up to 4 other players (bots fill the empty spots if you play with less than 4 humans) and in a much more hectic experience must direct the mice into your base, on the fly. It’s great fun, but for the best experience you must try the iPad’s single device’ split screen multi-player, for added mayhem, including having to switch corners.
Back in 2000, puzzle games of this quality and freshness were few and far between, but within the crowded AppStore where anything goes, these games are ten a penny… From Cut the rope to iBlast Moki, there are plenty of stellar ‘get-the-creature-to-the-exit’ games out there, and at a fraction of the price. Despite the competition though, this ten-year-old game shows no signs of fatigue, and still feels fresh to this day. The game promises more levels and features through updates, which can only improve the game… especially for seasoned ChuChu-veterans like myself.