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Born for Wii: ChuChu Rocket!

Wesley Fenlon

In spite of its untimely demise, the Dreamcast still lives on in gamers' hearts due to a small library of now-classic titles, ranging from the grandiose, such as Shenmue, to the bizarre, like Space Channel 5. Falling closer to the latter on the weirdness scale is ChuChu Rocket!, a unique Dreamcast puzzler that's noteworthy for being one of the last great games to come out of Sega's Sonic Team (I mean, really -- Shadow the Hedgehog?), and for taking the Dreamcast online with four-player multiplayer -- no small feat in 2000. Just like Katamari Damacy, ChuChu Rocket! succeeds on the strengths of simple-but-addictive gameplay and irresistible charm.

ChuChu Rocket! makes no attempt to hide what it is -- a pure puzzler, free of all frivolities and unnecessary dead weight like a story. The concept is quite straightforward -- your only goal is to guide a group of mice (or, in some levels, just one mouse) into a rocket. In many cases, this involves avoiding cats who are roaming the puzzle terrain, waiting to make a mouse sandwich out of your little ChuChus. Both the mice and the cats move in the exact same fashion -- they head in a straight line until they hit a wall, which will cause them to turn right. It's a little like watching a group of lemmings, but, thankfully, the mice move just a bit faster.


Of course, if the mice and cats did all the moving on their own, there wouldn't be much of a game in ChuChu Rocket!. In the single-player mode, you solve a series of puzzles by placing a set number of arrows on the game board. Both the mice and cats will respond to touching these arrows by turning in whatever direction they point. If a single mouse touches a cat or falls in a hole, it's game over; likewise, if a cat happens to run into one of the escape rockets before all the mice are safely away, you'll have to try, try again. To further complicate matters, the mice and cats move at radically different speeds, and you're generally given a small number of arrows to complete each individual level. The arrows will even disappear if the same cat walks over them too many times in a row, making it impossible to simply trap them in a never-ending cycle for more than a few seconds.

The single-player puzzle mode is comprised of a total of 100 puzzles, although only 25 are available from the start. By beating the 25 Normal puzzles, the Hard set is unlocked, and those are followed by the Special and Mania puzzles. Overall, the single-player puzzles offer a few hours of relaxing gameplay. They can certainly be challenging, but the laid-back pace contrasts considerably with the multiplayer, which is where the real meat of ChuChu Rocket! lies.

ChuChu Rocket!'s multiplayer moves at a far more frenetic pace than the single-player, and the puzzle-solving aspect is basically thrown out the window. In the puzzle mode, you have all the time in the world to place your arrows, and a single click of the right trigger starts the mice moving. Multiplayer is a different story -- each of up to four players (or bots, if you're friendless) can place up to three arrows on the board at a time, and the pace of the game is in constant upheaval, as a roulette wheel frequently pops up to speed up or slow down the mice and cats littering the board. Guiding mice into your own rocket is only part of the challenge, because it's just as important to keep the cats away -- or to try to guide them into your opponents' rockets. The roulette wheel also occasionally causes a huge swarm of mice or cats to dominate the map, once again changing up the situation on the fly.

The multiplayer offers a surprising number of options, including score and time limits, gameplay speed, and 24 unique stages. The AI's difficulty level can also be selected, and a Team Battle mode lets players work two-on-two for the best combined score. In addition to the multiplayer variety, ChuChu Rocket! offers something far too many games lack -- the option of customization. The game includes a fully-featured puzzle editor, and user-created puzzles could be uploaded to the Dreamcast's online service, providing a virtually limitless number of puzzles to be available at any given time.

But how would the game play on the Wii? Being a puzzle title, ChuChu Rocket! has a pretty simplistic control scheme that would translate smoothly onto the Wii Remote. Instead of using the analog stick to move a cursor around the screen, you'd simply point. In the Dreamcast version, the direction of the arrow placed on the map corresponds to one of the four face buttons: A=Down, B=Right, X=Left, Y=Up. While the Wiimote doesn't have the same array, it does have a conveniently-placed D-pad. And what could be better for directional arrows?

The past eight years have brought about many changes in the online gaming scene -- the Dreamcast's dial-up port was, unfortunately, responsible for laggy online multiplayer. A Wii release would allow Sonic Team to overhaul ChuChu Rocket!'s online system, which could be modified to support matchmaking and the dreaded friend codes. Thanks to the Wii's internal memory, the ability to upload custom puzzles would certainly remain. And, hopefully, a broadband connection would altogether eliminate the lag problem -- though if some Wii titles are any indication, faster internet doesn't always guarantee perfection.

ChuChu Rocket! certainly shows its age on the Dreamcast, and a Wii port could certainly use a fresh coat of paint. Widescreen support would be a must, and the original's fairly meager customization options could easily be supplemented. Alternate stage colors and designs would make great unlockables -- any game that's played over and over online is well served by a bevy of options to keep the experience fresh. The original game's soundtrack, though catchy and upbeat, is extremely bare-bones. An expanded soundtrack, enhanced character models, and some HD-generation spit and polish would be a cinch to incorporate in such a simple game. Even though ChuChu Rocket! was once given away with Dreamcast systems, a Wiimake would still be a great deal at a budget price.

Every week, Born for Wii digs into gaming's sordid past to unearth a new treasure fit for revival on the Nintendo Wii. Be sure to check out last week's entry in the series, Katamari Damacy, and for more great titles that deserve your attention, take a look at Virtually Overlooked.

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