Imagine yourself in this little scenario: You're the president of Sega in the early 1990's. You just launched this incredible, technologically advanced new video game system called the Genesis that has the power to handle your invincible arcade library. And although it seems to be catching on, it still isn't enough to topple the behemoth home console, Nintendo. You need to find a true killer app to help sell the system so it doesn't go the way of your last home console endevour, the Master System. What do you do?
You pace around your nice little corner office, perhaps stopping to stare blankly at the artwork you may have on your walls. The one thing on your mind is Nintendo's technologically inferior 8-bit system is selling and the 16-bit Genesis isn't. What do they have that we don't? Well, they have cute mascot characters like Mario and Link and name brand recognition. And that cocky Miyamoto kid. Then it hits you: Kidnap Miyamoto!
For awhile, you wallow in the genius of your new plan like a pig wallows in the mud. Alas, it's soon brought to an abrupt halt after a quick check with the federal law officials reveals that kidnapping is illegal. So you say screw it and resort to the next best thing: Ripping him off. Nintendo has a mascot that, when in posession of certain items, can fly and throw fireballs. So you think up a new mascot that will also be able to fly and throw.. ... Skulls!.. Er, no, axes! No, both! Both! When Mario gets hit, he goes back to his old self. So will your mascot... No, give him three hits before reverting! Mario becomes small after getting hit. Your new mascot will become small after grabbing some kind of item! Mario can find warp zones that take him to higher levels in the game. Your boy will be able to find warp platforms that can transport him backwards, forwards, all over the game! Mario has bouncy, catchy music. You wallow in the genius of this idea before realising that you've done it before. Mario has a brother named Luigi that a second player can take control of when the first player dies. Yeah; NO! You'll stop it right here; Nintendo might begin to suspect something and start giving you legal woes.
And so you take your brilliant new Mario rip-off to your developers, who give him a curly hairdo, a few extra powers, a James Dean wannabe attire and a pair of sunglasses. Meet Sega's new mascot, Kid Chameleon!
Right. It didn't quite work that way. Despite this effort, Sega would remain mascot-less until the recruiting of Yuji Naka, who gave them Sonic.
Personally, I'm glad it didn't. Kid Chameleon is a great, inventive game, but it's still a Mario rip-off, and one that I can't see myself playing sequel after sequel to. Kid Chameleon is very long and involved, and if you don't perform everything just right, you can fully expect to trap yourself in a little corner of the game where the only way out will be death, or worse, reseting the game. There are several points where you will narrowly get by and think Thank God I don't have to do that again!
The object of Kid Chameleon is ridiculous. There's this amazing new virtual reality game in the arcades called The Wild Side. But when kids play the game, it gets a little too real and swallows them up. Enter video game extrordiaire Kid Chameleon who, with a fist on his chest and a hammy, over-acted voice, nobly vows to enter The Wild Side and bring back all the kids who have been swallowed up. As he's about to take that final step into the virtual world, he turns back to the crowd of teary-eyed onlookers and well-wishers and shouts They may take our lives, but they'll never take our FREEDOM!!! He turns back and enters the machine admist the programmers in the crowd who could have easily gotten them out by switching a few circuits around. Okay, Kid's an idiot.
Who's more foolish: The fool or the fool who follows? You, dear gamer, are the one who gets to guide this idiot through this game's vast array of levels and warp zones. Kid Chameleon really does play a lot like a Mario game, from its level engines to the run button that helps you run faster to make longer jumps. The game's strenght and uniqueness lies in the various helmets Kid grabs that give him essential powers. The ones I mentioned above, respectively, were Cyclone, who flies by spinning; Juggernaut, an extra-wide tank that shoots skull heads; Maniaxe, a Jason Voorhies wannabe who throws axes; and Micromax, a little fly who can cling to ledges. The other powers available are Berserker, who damages enemies by charging at them; Iron Knight, with two extra hit points and the ability to climb walls; Eyeclops, who can find blocks with a light beam; Red Stealth, a ninja who jumps extra-high and carries a sword; and Skycutter, who glides along on a rocketboard.
Unlike Mario, in which you can play through without power-ups if you're good enough, in Kid Chameleon your powers are essential for any kind of advancement beyond the second level. This is the games biggest flaw. If you lose whatever power you have before you reach the area where you need to use it, find a pit and perform a swan dive 'cause there ain't no way you're gettin' any further. And if you run out of lives late in the game, you have to endure the whole thing over again since there's no save feature. If you die after making it very far, I'll suggest shutting off the machine, getting your eyes back in focus, going to bed and trying again in the morning, because it will be long past the midnight hour if you live to see the Final Marathon level. I swear I'm not exaggerating. The game is that long and complex.
I rarely ever say this, but if you ever want to have any hope of beating the game, save yourself a lot of anger, frustration and eye problems by getting a Game Genie. Not only will it allow you to willy-nilly your way through the game, it will also allow you to perform all kinds of experiments throughout the game's 100+ levels. The game is actually more fun if you cheat. Start on a level, any anonymous level, and see where it takes you. The timer is another fierce obstacle, so give yourself unlimited time to find out what every level is hiding.
The scope of Kid Chameleon almost rivals the scope of Super Mario World. Kid Chameleon runs through mountains, flies over pits, charges through brick walls and storms through sewers. Occaisionally, he'll have to charge through some of the hardest and most frustrating levels ever invented for video games: The scrolling 'chase' levels. You know the ones-the ones where you keep running to the right, not only trying to avoid enemies but trying to stay in front of some gigantic thing coming at you from the other side of the screen that will kill you in one shot if it touches you. Very frustrating. Most of the levels, though, range in difficulty from comically easy to insane. In four levels the game pits you against bosses in the forms of three oversized heads. The first three boss levels are pretty easy, but the fourth, Plethora, the final boss level, will give you fits. And there are only a couple of helmets in his room, neither of which is very useful.
Then there are the helmets. Ecah one gives you some kind of transformation that lasts for three hits. After the third hit, you revert back to neighborhood vid gamer and nice guy Kid Chameleon. Two more shots as KC, there goes a life. Each helmet comes with a different king of handling. On some, for example, you have to press the action button to activate its power. Some guises move slower or jump higher than others, and there's a lot of fun in learning to handle each one. The Skycutter guise is tricky to learn because it moves along all by itself, but once you figure out how he works, you'll shred up the skies like a veteran snowboarder flying down Death Peak or The Widowmaker or whatever your favorite name for an extra-dangerous snowboarding mountain is.
Finally, the prevalant item up for collection in the game is the diamond, which is used to activate powers by pressing A and start. Differant powers use differant amounts of diamonds, and more powerful powers use larger amounts of diamonds. Make sense? And the kinds of blocks play a more important role in Kid Chameleon than they do in any other game I've played. Some blocks disappear, some mushroom out to create a bigger platform, and sometimes you have to use blocks strategically to get to where you're supposed to be going.
Kid Chameleon has a weird, big and horrendously ugly hairdo. But that's a good thing, becuse without it a posing wimp like him would probably only be able to take one hit before going down, not two. My point here is that the graphics are good enough to pick out little things like that. Unfortunately, there just aren't a whole lot of little details to pick out. Every enemy, every transformation is remarkebly simple. The artists didn't try to make your eyes pop out and go ga-ga in any way. Even the big bosses and the big chainsaw that chases you through the scrolling levels are just a trio of giant heads and a big deadly-looking... Thing. Although the boss heads do turn into skulls in sickening ways when you defeat them. Their eyes pop out and they lose their skin, which is the coolest feature these grapics can boast.
The sound tries to be catchy and upbeat like Mario, and to a point it is, but it also plods along like the Iron Knight at some points. It has a scope that ranges from upbeat to adventurous to desperate and it fits nicely into each level, but there are only a few tracks. Whether or not it's listenable is entirely up to you.
Well, I've said it before: Every game has tried to rip-off Mario. Kid Chameleon is ultimately an effort to do that, but it's such a thickly disguised effort that most gamers probably won't notice. Typical of Sega. But, all things considered, it's still a fun game. My four star rating is for those who don't own Game Genies. If you don't own a Game Genie but you own Kid Chameleon, go out, buy a Game Genie if you can find one, and really let the fun you can have with the game soar!