In the 1990’s the platform game was king, the jump from 8-bit limited colour sprites to what, at the time seemed like magic, 16-bit clarity opened an already slightly pried open floodgates. With Mario and Sonic leading the charge and with all this new power to exploit everyone and their mum was in a rush to have the next big hit, the next mascot character. Sega who very much helped create this mainstream culture were no slouch when it came to throwing as many balls at as many coconuts because every often they, and in turn us, won a prize. Not content with just speedy blue hedgehogs they were desperate to cash in on the emerging ‘dude’ pop culture that was mixing all sorts of media from TV shows and films to music and videogames. The 1990’s was truly the smelting pot of creativity and everything was up for grabs and while some creations fell by the wayside, some, like the game here, stuck.
Kid Chameleon, a 1992 Sega joint, hit the market just as the console was gaining traction on both sides of the Atlantic and was superbly positioned to take advantage of several things all gamers loved. Arcade experiences, comic book fantasies, Virtual Reality, science fiction and a few film references chucked in for good measure were the very cornerstones of any teenager of the 1990’s so with all of this plus Sega’s expertise in making platform games, how could this not be a brand new dawning of a future mascot character superstar?
The story is pure comic fantasy with a brand new game making waves in the town’s Arcade Hall. It’s called ‘Wild Side’ and it takes kids and projects them into a completely new virtual world where everything is tangible and can be interacted with. Sounds fantastic right? Of course it does silly fleshlings, it’s essentially Virtual Reality, the movie. All this sounds like the greatest thing ever and it’s popularity soon leads to a startling revelation that not all those who enter it ever come back out again. None of this is because it’s addictive, but because the games main villain, ‘Heady Metal’ has escaped the confines of it and is capturing children for his evil plans. What a complete tool eh? It’s almost like Sega were warning about the dangers of computer generated A.I. before it even became a real thing… again, tick the cool box next to story / psychic predictions.
Not taking any of this lying down, the hero of the game, Casey, dons his coolest black shades, leather jacket and blue jeans (turned up of course because 90’s!) and proceeds to head down to the local Arcade to rescue the children, kick some virtual villain ass and wherever possible look like every single child actor from the era. Like I said, this game is so 1990’s it’s ridiculous, if it was done by accident then bravo, if it was intentional then all I can say is… Genius! A short but to the point intro details the backstory with some snazzy animation and then it’s off into the computer generated world to save the day. Presentation wise at this point everything is very by the numbers and whilst it get’s the message across it’s a bit of a missed opportunity. Something like Comix Zone did a similar thing far better, however they did have several years to perfect this part of console gaming so I’m not gonna hold that against them.
In true tried and tested golden era gaming this is a platform game through and through, Casey… Or Kid Chameleon as he is now called has all the standard moves and actions such as walking, running and jumping etc, however on his own without any of his powers he is a little bit crap and weak. This is where the entire point and real masterstroke of the game comes into play as in order to progress through this adventure you are going to need to smash blocks in order to uncover the game’s levelling up and health system… Masks! Picking up one of these power-ups completely changes gameplay and creates various options as to how to attain access to an area previously un-reachable. With multiple bad guys to defeat, simply jumping on them won’t get the job all the time so more powerful moves or abilities are needed. From a Samurai mask that gives you a fast moving sword to a horror movie hockey mask that gives you the ability to throw axe’s Kid Chameleon somehow feels brand new every single time you play the same level. It’s not offensive masks either, several collectibles allow you to have better jumping power, protect you from things like lava and even allow you to climb walls to reach those previously un-explored areas.
The aim of the adventure is simply to reach the end of each level, touch a flag and then move on and at it’s base core that’s entirely formula driven and ultimately boring, with the mask system however the game ends up being purely about exploration based on power-up collection and it’s awesome. Short cuts are no longer about just one collectible power, sometimes in this game you will need several in sequence to reach somewhere then take advantage or warp zones. Considering Kid Chameleon is made up of 103 levels when I tell you that less than half will get you through the actual story from point A to B using the flags should really say something. Special areas, secret stages and all manner of exploration await you if you are after something a little more satisfying than a game to eventually speed run. As well as providing new powers for Casey, collecting a mask you are already wearing will give you a health boost so even when it looks like nothing, the game gives you something.
Graphically it’s gorgeous, with huge differences in stages. From lush countryside and forests to deep dark caves, deserts and massive spooky castles it’s a real visual treat and considering this is before people really got the most out of the console that’s saying something. A slight downer here though is the size of everything, sprite size wise. A lot of the really great MegaDrive platformers all have one thing in common, that being that they look like they could only have been done on a MegaDrive. Kid Chameleon very much has an Amiga 500 look and feel about it. Now that’s not to say this is bad, because the Amiga made the MegaDrive look like a Game Boy but it sit’s in the back of my mind gnawing at me, this could and should have been a bit more imposing graphically. Whilst not a deal breaker at all, it certainly is noticeable and could have been improved. It’s not just the look of it either, it’s the control of Casey himself; at times he feels extremely floaty and easily able to be knocked off ledges, almost like he has inertia to his walking. Whilst I appreciate the attention to detail here, it certainly does lead to cheap deaths and the losing of that prized mask. Whilst small, the enemies are very detailed and also include some quite strange creatures indeed. If large spinning faces with weird eyes are your thing then welcome to the best game you will ever play.
Music is a bit cool for the most part but sound effects are more about doing the job rather than creating long lasting memories. It somehow suits it all though. Shades of ToeJam & Earl style funk is present though and that's fantastic. In all it's a very upbeat soundtrack with heavy synth sounds mixing with very deep beats. In all honesty it's one of the games biggest selling points and is often overlooked.
Verdict:- A fun little game that simply needed either harder level design or twice the number of areas to explore.
It does the basics well and introduces some lovely unique gameplay mechanics but it’s got one flaw and that’s that it just feels like it’s trying to do everything ok, it needed a bit more graphical clout and maybe even some light RPG element to break up the gameplay a bit and really tip it over the edge from good to classic. Close... so damn close!
Second Opinion:- This is Sega being cool on a console that made the 1990’s so damn kick ass! Tons of character, loads of levels and genuine replay value just to muck around with the masks. Enemies are varied if slightly too small at times and the diamond power up system is pretty sweet too.
A sequel to this should have happened for sure but too many people didn’t see it because by the time it came out Sonic was so far in front that every other platform game never really stood a chance. A real system hidden gem for sure.
Transbot Scores:- 9 out of 10
Ultimately Kid Chameleon is a mixture of uniqueness, genius ideas, missed opportunities and hidden gem. Don’t ask me how but this is one game for Sega’s 16-bit console that manages to tick almost every box without ever really getting a gold star. It’s certainly better than the sum of it’s parts and don’t for one second think I’m ragging on this because it’s a superb game to play but there’s one or two things that stop it from being one of the greats. The story is great, the graphics are lovely to look at and it’s hard as hell to see everything although it‘s way too easy thanks to the warp zones. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the name of the game suits it perfectly, it does a really great impression of everything as it tries to blend in with the classics but when is all said and done it’s not got that seal of authenticity. It’s a solid game, you are gonna enjoy playing it but chances are you won’t put a poster of it on your wall and stand in line to petition Sega for a sequel.
One of the better non-famous mascot style character based games this sometimes walks along the line of greatness but just as you think it’s gonna step over and join the big league it turns the other way. Finding the masks and exploring the levels is a real joy, the control scheme however sometimes stands in the way. Maybe had they made a sequel Sega would have nailed it, they got real close first time round for sure. What is for sure though is that if you like fun games with plenty of character then this is for you, just be warned though, it’s not like good wine because that get’s better with age. It’s biggest cool factor, the masks, means that the game itself suffers from being too short, even with all those levels so you are in fact punished for using the main hook of the game. Better than average, not as good as great is about the best way I can sum up this adventure. I love the concept, the character himself and the design of the core gameplay mechanic, it looks nice and it’s great fun to play but even now as I sum it up there’s still that niggling in the back of my mind like I went out and maybe, just maybe left the cooker on. When I get home I better use that mask that protects me from heat…