It’s almost fitting that the official RGG Game of the Month for August 2017 is one that comes hastily arranged, when considering the game itself and its history so closely tied with the system for which it was built alongside and ultimately released. Yes, our GOTM is one of the few Sega 32X exclusives and as the first of its kind to be featured here by us, yet only the second in the wider Sonic franchise. Ladies and gents, boys and girls, we proudly present to you: Knuckles’ Chaotix!
Chaotix (as it’s more simply known in Japan) began its life as a proof of concept demo for the 32X system now known as Sonic Crackers, featuring both Sonic and Tails, attached by a band of rings and thus creating a unique looking (and feeling) dynamic, switching it up from the usual formula. Though at the time ultimately unreported for the most part, it wasn’t until late 1994 that discussion about Sonic Crackers started to arrive, with it not listed to be a launch title for the 32X add-on.
Thanks to the world of emulation and ROM dumps from beta versions, these days we can easily track the progression of what became Knuckles’ Chaotix simply and see things from the likes of Espio being geared toward the lead character for the West, to Tails ultimately being an early intended character, to Amy being featured in a cameo role and so forth. Quite honestly, there’s a whole bunch of craziness well worth looking up yourselves outside of this little write up, which I personally thoroughly recommend doing if your interest is peaked!
So, what’s the story? In terms of plot, it’s dependent on region, with each having their own variations of what the heck is going on in the game itself, with both told via the manuals. In Japan, the paperwork indicates that following the events of Sonic & Knuckles, an island arose from the sea. Said island is taken over by Dr. Eggman and utilised to build Newtrogic High Zone (a new, advanced base) to search out some ancient Chaos Rings, which are Rings that have been infused with power of the Chaos Emeralds and alluded to by a Ring that Eggman found with an inscription. Eggman is joined by Metal Sonic and together they kidnap all those who enter the island, in this case the other main characters aside from Knuckles and put them inside Combi Catchers. With Knuckles curiosity getting the better of him, he soon joins in the adventure, which is where the game begins.
Here in the West, however, it’s a much different story and one I am obviously much more familiar with! Knuckles is the guardian of a high-tech amusement park known as Carnival Island which is powered by its very own Emerald, as you’d expect, Robotnik soon rocks up and seeks to steal said Emerald for himself. The other characters, who were visiting Carnival Island, are still kidnapped by means of the Combi Catcher in this version, with Knuckles realising that using the ring power (which gives reasoning for the tethering system for which the games foundation is built) can rescue one friend at a time on the quest to kick Robotnik (and Metal Sonic) butt.
Knuckles’ Chaotix was developed by some of the team that created a former RGG Game Of The Month (from our early days) in Sonic CD, which in itself is a noted add-on exclusive being a Mega-CD game and all. Therein lay certain similarities that doesn’t even take the most ardent of fans to notice. Most obviously is with the use of time being a key factor. The aforementioned Combi Catcher works in a way that freezes the trapped characters in time, so it’s more of a tenuous link that is hardly the same as Past and Future alignment and what not, but a key nod if anything. But also, there is a really cool effect on time of day through each Act, creating a nice visual treat on one hand, while allowing for more interesting secondary (and beyond) play throughs for the future, as the time of day is determined by how long was spent in each act and enemy placement differs depending, too.
The game consists of five Zones, renamed Attractions, each with five Acts to traverse with the majority featuring their own bit of lovely alliteration, such as Botanic Base, Amazing Arena, Isolated Island, et al. As per usual with the series, the game does indeed feature its own Special Stages and a Bonus Stage. A unique feature of Chaotix is the overworld/lobby, which is where the player is returned if you’re to lose a life (the life system of its own is another unique thing all together, that said – as the traditional lives system of Sonic games isn’t present). There you can continue, save, or exit game. Chaotix comes with its own battery save in the cartridge to allow the saving, which can be done manually, but is automatic with each stage pass.
More than mere gimmickry, the ring power banding creates some rather interesting gaming moments from a player perspective. The Sonic series has long had its association with physics, momentum-based gameplay, but Knuckles’ Chaotix arguably takes it to a whole new level in that regard. Utilising it properly allows for all sorts of on-screen madness! This (then) new system can easily throw a player for six, sort of in the same way it can in the actual game itself. But, there is a handy tutorial for those who need it, long before they were the norm (read: forced into every bloody game ever, which is now the case). In my opinion, it stops the game from becoming stale, or ‘just another Sonic’ game.
Besides the new mechanics, there’s a host of new and original items that make great use of the capabilities of the 32X. These include Swap, Change, Grow and Shrink (that along with the Bonus Stage) show some real neat sprite-scaling. Others are more familiar, including Shield, etc. Not to mention Super Ring, which gives you ten regulars in an instant. Nice.
Now you may be sitting there thinking: “Okay Olly, you’ve banged on for a bit now, but who the heck are these other characters you’ve been ever so carefully avoiding giving any proper reference” – well, yeah. There’s new characters here, most of whom have barely made an impact in Sonic canon outside of Chaotix. But, I shall oblige with a nice little run down…
First off, Knuckles should need no introduction! But as for the rest of The Chaotix Crew? Vector the Crocodile is a ‘cool croc’ who can Power Boost, which allows him to blast through the air in short bursts in lieu of a double jump, but he also has Knuckles’ Climb ability. Interestingly he was initially designed for the scrapped sound test in the original Sonic the Hedgehog! Mighty the Armadillo, who Sonic fanatics will recognise from SegaSonic The Hedgehog arcade, is mostly the Sonic replacement in the game. He Kick Off and Jump Off Walls as his specific abilities. Charmy Bee who is an original character built for the game, is the smallest of the lot and thus weighs the least and was only on the island to find some new flowers. Charmy can both Fly and Hover, pretty much negating the need for Tails in this particular outing.
The final member of The Chaotix Crew and the one you’ll meet first is Espio the Chameleon, a hot-tempered bruiser who can run up walls and ceilings and will, as well as having a sweet spin attack. Joining the main playable characters are Heavy the Robot and Bomb, two characters known via the manual as Robotnik’s Mechanix, who claim to have broken from Ivo’s evil and want to help the heroes in their quest to put an end to the Eggman.
Many of the overall concepts of Knuckles’ biggest outing have failed to translate overall, yet Chaotix maintains its own legacy and has a certain cult appeal to fans of the series. Since the games release in 1995, the core characters have had a mixed stay. Espio was instantly featured in Sonic The Fighters and almost a decade later Vector and Charmy Bee finally rocked up again as they were featured as Team Chaotix alongside Espio in Sonic Heroes. Mighty however has not been seen since, barring the fanservice cameo in Sonic Generations.
Basically, the characters almost got the Black Cauldron treatment. By that I mean, Sega certainly saw the game as a failure and took it out on the characters themselves, in much a way that the Walt Disney Company see The Black Cauldron as the black sheep of the animated classics line and have since given the film and its characters very little recognition in its wake.
However, it almost should’ve been expected. Knuckles' Chaotix ultimately failed due to the system for which it was released. The 32X was an expensive bomb commercially speaking, so the game alone was hardly going to walk itself into homes, not to mention the simple fact that it was a Sonic game without Sonic being the central character, which arguably reduced risk of damage to the brand, but was it ever a risk worth taking? Whatever the case, that’s all-in retrospect and hindsight is, after all, 20/20!
As far as I am personally concerned, Knuckles' Chaotix is quite simply one of the most unique, visually appealing and quite frankly downright awesome moments in the Sonic franchise’s long and storied history. For all the bombs over the years (hello Sonic ’06), this is one that doesn’t deserve even a fraction of the flak it gets. What makes this more worse is just how the game has been left to sit dormant for so long, with only a GameTap rerelease in the mid-00’s being the only time that the game has featured anywhere outside its original release! This is shocking and desperately needs to be rectified. Chaotix has formed its own legend, but it’s time the legend is unleashed. With Sonic Mania on the horizon, one must wonder if Chaotix will get any more references. After all, Christian Whitehead has previously commented on having interest in remaking the game with the acclaimed Retro engine, so who knows what the future holds?
One of the most strikingly beautiful games ever made, with an incredible colour palette that pops all over the place and a typically fantastic soundtrack that you’d come to expect from Sega’s flagship series. Sure, there’s lots of showing off, to the point you could literally call it a tech demo. But Chaotix is so, so much more than just that. It’s an experience, one that once you get to grips with you will fall in love with, leaving you salivating for more.
At the end of the day, deciding to feature Knuckles' Chaotix with the highest honour we possibly can at RetroGameGeeks is hopefully inspiration to those of you out there who perhaps have yet to give this Sonic title some well-deserved attention.
As the world falls back in love with everyone’s favourite hedgehog, spend some time with and get to know the echidna and his crew with this fantastic little gem. CV&G magazine may have equated it to a British Rail Pie (no, seriously), but in my honest opinion? You won’t regret it!