Chameleon Twist 1 & 2 – Awesome N64 Platormers / MY LIFE IN GAMING

[ GAME AUDIO ] When you think of Sunsoft, I’m willing to
bet that the first things that comes to mind are some of the best tunes on the NES. As was the case for many game companies in
the late 90s, Sunsoft paid more attention to Sony’s PlayStation than the more business-risky
N64. But Sunsoft did publish two interesting games
for Nintendo’s platform, both from the same series. Let’s take a look at Chameleon Twist and
Chameleon Twist 2. [ MUSIC: “Principle” by Matt McCheskey
] [ GAME AUDIO ] Sunsoft seems to have actually not had a ton
to do with the Chameleon Twist series, simply serving as publisher for the west. In Japan, the games were developed and published
by Japan System Supply. Aww isn’t that the best? Aside from the Chameleon Twist series and
a Japan-exclusive Game Boy game, it’s hard to find much evidence of Japan System Supply’s
time in the game business. Which is a shame, because that’s one pre-title
logo that I actually enjoy seeing. Chameleon Twist was released early on in the
N64’s life, in late ‘97, and features some pretty interesting ideas. You play as a curious chameleon who follows
an Alice-in-Wonderland-type rabbit into a magical land where you’re transformed into…
well, something that doesn’t look very much like a chameleon, that’s for sure. I can’t decide if he’s more of an anthropomorphized
billiards ball or Lolo with a body. The default Chameleon is Davy, but you can
also choose three others who play identically. The goal is pretty much just to have a fun
adventure. There’s no one to save, no villain out to
destroy the world – this game is nothing more than a vacation from Davy’s everyday chameleon
life. But he IS still a chameleon, which is the
foundation for the game’s main twist. Chameleon Twist is a 3D platformer in which
your primary tool is a long tongue that you control with the analog stick. Sure, plenty of games are built around characters
that eat their enemies, but the way that Davy and friends use their tongues still feels
fairly unique. As you’d expect, any small enemy that comes
in contact with Davy’s tongue gets eaten. The more enemies you grab with a single slurp,
the more “shots” you can fire with your next attack. What’s interesting is that all regular enemies
are sprites, so there can be quite a lot of them on screen. By holding Z, you can stand on your tongue
to do a high jump. The timing is kind of a bit tricky. For some reason, the camera angles can make
it difficult for me to judge when high jumps are required. I died so many times in this room because
I thought the platforms were much farther apart and higher up than they actually are. The last two moves have to do with attaching
your tongue to poles in the environment. Once attached, you can do one of two things…
simply continue holding B and wait a moment for Davy to pull himself over… or hold A
and a direction to rotate. This is a pretty clever mechanic, but is also
by far the most awkward move in the game. I like the idea, but it never felt quite right
to me. Chameleon Twist was released in the age of
3D platformers, but I think it deserves special recognition for really living up to the “platformer”
monicker. The most famous “platformers” on the N64
aren’t really platformers in the traditional sense if you think about it – while they do
have a lot of jumping and plenty of challenge in their own way, games like Banjo-Kazooie
and such are really more about exploration and discovering things in the environment. Chameleon Twist is something of an oddity
in its generation for being designed around linear levels and more traditional sorts of
platforming challenges. [ GAME AUDIO ] Despite some frustrating moments, Chameleon
Twist is overall a super easy game that can be finished in 2 to 3 hours. Checkpoints are extremely frequent, and every
checkpoint is forever. Even if you Game Over, you always continue
just a bit behind where you died. The biggest challenge is collecting the optional
crowns in every level, many of which are located in very tricky places. There are only 6 levels in this fantasy world
– Jungle Land, Ant Land, Bomb Land, Desert Castle, Kid’s Land – which is mostly all
about sweet foods and I personally take a lot of offense at the implication of delicious
sweets being for kids. And lastly, Ghost Castle. The Ant Queen battle deserves special mention
for being a bit annoying, but overall the boss fights are pretty fun. [ GAME AUDIO ] Even if it’s not perfect and is really short,
Chameleon Twist is a good game with good ideas that any N64 fan should give a fair shot. Back in the day, this is what we called a
“good rental,” and that’s exactly what Chameleon Twist was to me. Since I finished it so fast back then, it
didn’t seem worth buying at the time, but I did have fond memories of it and grabbed
a copy for cheap in more recent years. Thankfully, it’s not hard to find at all,
but I always tended to forget that there’s another game you don’t quite see as often,
and it doesn’t tend to be priced quite as fairly. But I finally got a copy of Chameleon Twist
2. [ GAME AUDIO ] First things first, yes, you transform into
something that actually looks like an anthropomorphic chameleon. And…wh…High… Voltage… Screaming… what? OK, so, what I think is going on here, you
know the whole Tactical Espionage Action thing, right? Well, in Japan, that sort of fake genre is
actually very commonly attached to games to make them sound… unique, I guess. Somehow it carried over to the title screen
in the western release. But how it actually connects to the game? [ CHAMELEON TWIST 2!!! HIGH-VOLTAGE SCREAMING
ACTION!!! ] …your guess is as good as mine. At any rate, the setup is pretty much exactly
the same as before – the rabbit leads your chameleon to a new fantasy world with another
6 stages. In the western version, Davy is actually now
the green chameleon. I guess they were trying to go for something
a bit “cooler” and less abstract, but here’s the interesting thing – the Japanese
version retains the cuter and weirder original designs, including Davy being the blue one. Honestly I like both in their own way. The sequel introduces three new moves. First up, the chameleons’ backpacks now
deploy a parachute with a press of the Z button at any time. This is a decent idea, but unfortunately the
level design leads to it not being very necessary for most of the game. Second, an obvious addition to the horizontal
tongue rotation of the first game, is vertical rotation. It’s similarly awkward to perform, and the
few areas of the game that require it are among the most difficult, at least for me. It’s really tough to get the timing and
momentum just right, but I have to respect it as good use of a tongue in a platforming
game. The last new move is a bit more subtle, but
also potentially the most interesting. In the first game, if your tongue hits a wall,
you immediately pull it back in. But now, your tongue doesn’t only stick
to posts and enemies, it attaches to ANY surface, and you can pull yourself right up to it. I love how this really integrates your main
ability with the environment, and it would be a killer move for grappling, platforming,
and exploring in almost any game. Unfortunately, again, it’s a bit under-utilized
in Chameleon Twist 2. I’m sure it could lead to some fancy platforming
in a speed run, but it’s rarely necessary outside of the final level. Speaking of under-utilized, Chameleon Twist
2 in many ways feels like it relies on the tongue mechanics a bit less in general when
compared to the first game. A lot of times I found myself just doing everyday
running and jumping, which is by no means a bad thing, but with the characters making
for some unique possibilities, it feels like there are some missed opportunities due to
the level design just being pretty average. One odd addition is a powerup system – collect
a star, and a roulette chooses an outcome, which could be something like invincibility,
but most of the time it’s either pointless or kind of bad… something benign like your
character getting a big head, or something worse like slower speed. Or super fast speed, which I imagine is supposed
to be a good thing, but it just makes me feel out of control, so I started avoiding the
stars altogether. It might not sound like it, but despite these
misfires, Chameleon Twist 2 feels, in some ways, slightly more polished than the first
game. It’s a solid platformer and moves along
at a bit of a quicker pace than the original… generally favoring level design that keeps
the action moving. It’s also got a pretty good set of bosses,
like a walrus on spiked wheels, which is pretty rad, and he’s fairly challenging, as are
some of the other bosses, like this giant robot toy. Chameleon Twist 2 also features as a boss
one of the best-looking hamburgers I’ve ever seen in a video game. [ GAME AUDIO ] Despite some tough moments, Chameleon Twist
2 only took me about 3 hours to play through. Both games are short and mostly easy, but
also full of good ideas and overall decent design. In addition to being Sunsoft’s only involvement
with the N64, these games are also the biggest mark that Japan System Supply and their adorable
animated cat logo left on the world of gaming. And while back in the day, these games may
have not been much more than a “good rental,” I think looking at them now, they stand out
as enjoyable and unique examples of more traditional platforming sensibilities brought into the
realm of early 3D gameplay.


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