Saturday 4 August 2012

Kid Chaos

Sound the alarm, it's another Sonic the Hedgehog clone.

Kid Chaos for the Commodore Amiga (and CD32!), developed by Magnetic Fields and published by Ocean Software in 1994. That's one stunning title screen there - appeal to the kids of the 90s with a reject from The Beano. Give that man a medal.

I've stumbled across dozens of Sonic clones in my time, but this one of the "purest" attempts I've run into thus far. Most of the anthropomorphic animals of the 90s merely borrow "elements" from the Sonic franchise, but Kid Chaos steals the whole formula, differentiating itself only through graphics, audio and slightly different gameplay goals. Don't fix what isn't broken I suppose.

I always take an interest in platformers which attempt to evolve on success stories like Sonic (particularly those on systems like the Amiga - Sonic was due to be ported to that platform once), but most tend to fail due to one key design flaw - moving at high speeds leaves you vulnerable. Hirokazu Yasuhara knew this when planning Sonic, and so forced Yuji Naka to give the character protection while jumping and rolling. When Sonic spins, he can collide with most enemies without taking damage - a handy tool if you can't see what lies ahead and makes up for the limitations of the system.

But the Bubsys, Sockets, Awesome Possoms, James Ponds, Jazz Jackrabbits, Mr. Nutzes and Skunnys of this world failed to take note of this. Most guarantee you cheap hits (leading to possible deaths), as you're flung defenseless at high speeds into often unavoidable foes. These games force you to memorise levels to survive, but Kid Chaos, like Sonic, does not. When you jump, you spin, and thus damage is reserved for bad players, not unlucky ones.

Unfortunately, there isn't much else to say about Kid Chaos. Rather than running simply from left to right, each level tasks you with destroying a specified number of objects before opening up an exit, and combined with the often complex level design, it's a game that encourages exploration more than the hedgehog's endeavours. The side effects to this approach, however, are that you're more likely to notice the often bland and repetitive level environments. Kid spends a lot of time in each world - the music changes but the graphics stay the same, and it lacks the ability to captivate.

Whereas in Sonic 2, the number of acts was dropped to two for each stage in an effort to keep things varied (a clear indication that three acts were too many), Kid Chaos has four "acts" per world, each significantly longer than those in Sonic games. Blatant design issues means your character has exceptionally poor acceleration exploited by the dodgy level layouts - it all works together to make the game far more frustrating than it needs to be, and you soon grow tired of what's on offer.

In 1994 the story would likely be different, particularly if you were an Amiga fan oblivious to the world of Sega. Aside from the timed backtracking quests the game is essentially Sonic the Hedgehog with a new coat of paint (even the controls are the same), and though it doesn't feature any loops, the speedy nature of play is retained for the most part through springs and half-pipes. There are, however, many awkward platforming segments, and the regenerating health mechanism for keeping you alive often forces you to stop playing as you recover from injury. There's a lot of stopping and starting in Kid Chaos - it lacks the flowing nature of play you get from Sega's classics.

From a graphical perspective the game isn't that bad, but due to its structure, you soon grow tired of the peachy browns in the first two stages. The character also lacks visual appeal, as do the enemies, and you never get to fight any bosses, only odd "challenge" stages. The music suffers from similar faults - it too is unmemorable (points for the filter it applies when you're underwater though) and simply can't keep pace with Sonic the Hedgehog's set of tracks. The Amiga version also has you juggle four floppy disks which isn't ideal, so it's the Amiga CD32 version which seems to be on top.

In conclusion, Kid Chaos is a decent but not mind boggling Sonic clone. Though not a scratch on Sonics of old, it's perhaps more satisfying than some of the Sonics of new, and is worth checking out if these games are up your street. Don't expect wonders though.

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