Knuckles' Chaotix
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • 32X
  • Developer:
    • Sonic Team
  • Publisher:
    • Sega
  • Released:
    • JP 04/20/1995
    • US 04/21/1995
    • UK May 1995
Score: 70%

This review was published on 07/10/2013.

Knuckles' Chaotix is a side-scrolling platform game released for the Sega 32X in 1995. In case you don't know, the 32X was an add-on released for the aging Sega Genesis console in an attempt to bring new life to it. This was around the time that many 32-bit, 3D capable systems were starting to come out, making the 16-bit systems of the time seem outdated. Sega wanted to keep the Genesis competitive with the newer systems by enhancing its power with the 32X, which was supposed to transform the Genesis from a 16-bit console into a 32-bit powerhouse. It didn't exactly do that, and the 32X was a colossal failure. Knuckles' Chaotix is the only game related to Sonic released for the 32X, despite the fact that Sonic isn't even in the game. Knuckles the Echidna was first introduced in Sonic the Hedgehog 3 as a rival of sorts to the blue hedgehog, Sonic. Knuckles' Chaotix is his very own game, a spin-off of the main Sonic the Hedgehog series. It's nowhere near as good as the Sonic the Hedgehog games on the Genesis, but it's probably the best game on the 32X. That's not saying much, though.

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Even though it's highly unnecessary to do so, I want to go over the story to Knuckles' Chaotix. The story actually differs between the Japanese and English versions of the game. As far as I can tell, you only glean the story from the instruction booklet, but it's possible the game itself makes mention of it somewhere. In the English manual, Knuckles is guarding a futuristic amusement park known as Carnival Island. Dr. Robotnik, the nefarious mad scientist who is the main antagonist of all the Sonic games, decides to steal the Power Emerald that powers Carnival Island. Robotnik kidnaps a bunch of animal folk from the island and imprisons them in a strange device called the Combi Confiner. Knuckles manages to rescue one of them, and then tries to rescue the others, so they can all help each other stop Robotnik's malicious intentions. The Japanese version's story is that a mysterious island rises out of the sea one day, and Dr. Eggman, Robotnik's Japanese name, goes there to investigate. He discovers magical doodads of power, so he builds a base there to take advantage of it. Knuckles the Echidna then goes to the island to ruin Eggman's plans. Yeah, it's not too different from the English version. I'm not sure why they bothered changing it. The story really doesn't matter in a game like this, which is why it's hidden away in the manual.

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"Chaotix" in the game's title refers to a bunch of other playable characters, most of whom make their debut in this game. Besides being able to play as Knuckles, you also play as Vector the Crocodile, Espio the Chameleon, Charmy Bee, and Mighty the Armadillo. Each character has unique special moves and abilities. Almost all characters can perform the basic Sonic the Hedgehog maneuvers of running, jumping, and Spin Dashing. Like in Sonic and Knuckles, Knuckles can glide in the air and climb walls. Mighty runs the fastest and can perform wall jumps. Vector can do a short midair dash and... climb on walls. Espio can walk on walls, which is very different from climbing on walls, I'll have you know! In all seriousness, Espio can actually do something different; he can walk on ceilings. Now that's the very definition of awesome. The most overpowered character, however, is Charmy. The charming bee is the only character in the game that can't Spin Dash or even jump, but he can fly. Unlike Tails from Sonic the Hedgehog 3, there is no limit to Charmy's flight ability. He can fly in any direction endlessly. Not only that, but he can defeat enemies by flying into them. Unlimited mobility and near invincibility makes Charmy the de facto best character in the game. There is literally nothing he can't do, and there's no reason to ever use anyone else. This obviously creates a huge imbalance, because Charmy totally breaks the game. If you want to breeze through the game with ease, then Charmy is your man, or rather, bee. It's not all that fun doing that, though, so it's probably better to use other characters instead, especially on your first time through the game. The large cast of playable characters with different abilities is a good thing, but Knuckles' Chaotix could have balanced them better.

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The big gimmick of Knuckles' Chaotix is that you're forced to have an extra character tag along with you, whether it's a second human player or the computer AI. These two characters are tethered to each other with an ethereal rope tied to two rings. Two players cooperatively playing together is nothing new in the Sonic series; the first main game to feature it was Sonic 2. However, the main problem in those games was that the first player would run too fast, leaving the second player behind. As a result of that, the second player would spend the majority of the game off screen, nowhere to be seen. Knuckles' Chaotix fixes that problem by chaining the two players together with a chain, preventing the two players from ever separating. This forces both players to be on screen at all times. Even though it sounds annoying, it's actually a fairly good solution to the co-op problem seen in other Sonics. The magical chain can actually be used to your advantage, too. Players can grab and throw each other around, Super Mario 2 style, allowing one player to get to a high platform and then pull the remaining player up. It's better to refer to this as a magical rope, because it's elastic. You can make both players run in opposite directions to pull the rope as far as it can go, then release it to get a rubber band effect that propels you to new heights. The issue is that almost every character can climb, glide, or fly anywhere as is, so these wonderful ring rope mechanics aren't that useful. Charmy, in particular, renders all of these mechanics completely useless. At least they look cool, right? And while two players with a friend is fun, it's not fun to drag around the CPU player, due to the horrid AI. Most people stop playing the game once they see this rope business, and you can probably see why. It's not an entirely bad mechanic, but it does have major flaws.

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After beating the tutorial stages, you're taken to the main hub area of the game. This is a small area that only serves two purposes: for you to select a partner, and to select a stage. Both of these relatively simple activities are made annoyingly complex. In order to pick a partner, you have to play a crane game, which is easy to fumble. If you pick a partner you didn't want, then tough luck. You aren't given more than one chance, unless you reset the game and go back to the title screen. Selecting stages is arguably even worse, because you have to play a roulette mini-game that randomly picks a stage for you. I don't see why the game doesn't just let you pick whatever partner and stage you want without turning it into a stupid mini-game. As for the stages themselves, there are five stages, with five levels or acts in each stage. The final act in a stage has a boss at the end of it, though the bosses in this game barely count as bosses. It's here where the game starts to feel funky. For some reason, the levels in the game have an eerily empty feel to them. There are hardly any enemies, objects, hazards, or anything to interact with in these levels, and the boss fights end so quickly, it's almost like they never even began. The game actually feels like an alpha or beta, as if it's in an incomplete state where things like enemy placement and boss patterns have yet to be finalized. I wouldn't be surprised if that were the case. The feeling of incompleteness pervades the whole game. As far as graphics and sound go, the stages all have great visuals and cool music. One nice touch is how the time of day changes as you play stages; it starts off at dawn, then slowly becomes dusk. If only the stages themselves were a bit better designed.

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Instead of collecting seven Chaos Emeralds, Knuckles' Chaotix has you collecting seven Chaos Rings. It's pretty much the same deal; grab fifty rings and keep them until the end of the act, then jump through the giant ring. Doing this transports you to the Special Stage, where you have a shot at winning a Chaos Ring. Get rings to jump into a ring to get more rings? I'd say that's a case of ringception. The Special Stages use the amazing, 32-bit powers of the 32X to render incredible 3D graphics. Okay, they're not that incredible. In fact, they're quite bad. The objective of these stages is simple: grab the aforementioned amount of blue spheres without falling off. You're constantly running forward with a behind-the-back perspective and you have to jump over obstacles like pits. If you get to the end without the necessary spheres, then the stage loops all over again, allowing you to get whatever you missed. I like that. What I don't like is that these Special Stages are boring. They're bland and uninspired. It feels like the only purpose behind them was to demonstrate the 32X's 3D capabilities. So what happens when you successfully collect all seven Chaos Rings? Not a whole lot. You don't get a Super Knuckles or anything like that. The only reward is a slightly different ending, the coveted "good ending." A lot of Sonic the Hedgehog games do that. It's not really worth it to collect these Chaos Rings if you're only doing it for the ending. The Special Stages in Knuckles' Chaotix aren't very special.

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Knuckles' Chaotix is a pretty strange game. It looks a lot like a Sonic the Hedgehog game, but it doesn't really feel like one. I mean, there are various elements of the Sonic games here, like Knuckles and the Spin Dash, but everything feels a bit off. The tethered ring mechanic is great for co-op, but really annoying in single player, and as cool as the many playable characters are, they're way too imbalanced. All of that aside, the real big problem with the game is in the level design department. It just doesn't have the great level and boss design from the main Sonic games, and that's really what matters here. Knuckles' Chaotix isn't terrible, but it's definitely on the mediocre side. The fact that this is the best 32X game is quite worrisome.

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