Get more girls Chip! That’s just one phrase you may find yourself screaming in frustration at this re-release of the retro classic Chip’s Challenge 1.
The story here – not that it’s really needed – is that before Chip can join the Bit Busters Computer Club and get the girl of his dreams, Melinda the Mental Marvel, he has to solve no less than 149 challenging puzzles. Whether or not Melinda deserves Chip’s efforts is quite another matter but what I can say is that this is a fun, pick up and play (and at times fiendishly difficult) puzzle platformer.
You take a bird’s eye view of the action and have to navigate Chip around a world filled with monsters, fires, traps and all manner of obstacles. As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also a time limit. The objective is to collect all the computer chips hidden throughout the level so you can get to the exit and on to the next challenge. It may sound simple enough, but you’ll also need to collect keys to unlock doors, and make use of a range of various types of footwear, such as flippers, to ensure you’re able to swim, ice skate and firefight as needed. In short, Chip’s world is so hostile that even Bear Grylls would struggle.
There isn’t much of a honeymoon period either; it gets quite difficult quite quickly. You have a bit of help in that at the start of most levels there is a yellow square with a question mark on it. Walk over it and a message flashes across the screen to give you clues and explain new gameplay elements. In level one you’re told “Collect chips to get past the chip socket. Use keys to open doors”. As the game got tougher I was hoping that I might be told where I could find a rocket launcher, or a jet pack or send out a bat-signal. Sadly, there’s no modern weaponry in Chip’s Challenge or any superheroes to rescue you. You’re on your own.
The retro elements make this game stand out. The soundtrack is particularly memorable and is composed entirely of ragtime piano pieces. It provides a light-hearted, carnival atmosphere. The sound-effects in general are quite funny and you’ll hear the word “bummer” sound out every time you die. In general the tone is quite tongue-in-cheek. For example, I replayed one level at least 20 times before beating it. Recognising my efforts, the end level screen flashed sarcastically with “at last you did it”. The graphics have been given a lick of paint in comparison to the 1989 version originally released on Atari Lynx – but don’t expect jaw-dropping realism. The game runs in a window with black borders either side but this didn’t bother me and just adds to the retro feel. It actually looks quite like a SNES game, with lots of primary colours. Chip himself is suitably geeky with a little backpack and big glasses (Melinda sure knows how to pick them).
Faithfully remaking the original is all well and good, but it also reminds you how frustrating old school games can be. Lots of the puzzles don’t require skill or mental agility. The solution in most instances is just knowing the routine. You’ll need to proceed by trial and error, learning what works and what doesn’t in order to identify what path you should be taking around the level. In addition, there is no quick save button so every time you die you go right back to the start of the level. That can be really irritating considering some levels can take upwards of 10 minutes to finish. However, one neat feature is that you can skip a level if it’s all just getting too much. You’re also given the freedom of level selection. meaning you skip straight to a given level if it’s one you particularly enjoy.
Chip’s Challenge does what it says on the tin. You want retro puzzle platform action? You’ve got it here by the bucket load. The game provides a lot of bang for your buck. Completing it won’t be easy or quick but you’ll be kept occupied for quite some time. I can hear you asking: “Does Chip get Melinda in the end?” I dare you to complete level 149 without skipping and find out.