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SummaryA slip of the tongue
The GoodAside from my unquenchable thirst for collecting game cartridges that I’ve yet to play, my only motivation for picking up Chameleon Twist was memories of playing it alongside my mother when I was a youngster. Upon starting the game, I found this to be confusing because although some images from the game neatly fit my memory, such as the cookie enemies and the ant queen boss, the only two player mode is the battle mode, which means I couldn’t have played through the game with my mother. It sort of makes me wonder what other memories from my childhood are complete fabrications.
The transition from 2D to 3D was a painful one for video games. No precedence had really been set, so developers were forced to experiment with different control schemes and mechanics to make use of the extra dimension. Experimentation may sound fabulous in today’s world of mass-produced sequels, but it wasn’t much fun at the time. Chameleon Twist came out one year after the N64 and the seminal 3D entry in the Mario series and shares many of the growing pains of the platforming genre, but at least on the surface it has an infectiously cheerful disposition.
You’re given a choice between 4 round-headed characters that don’t look anything like chameleons who, aside from their goofy expressions and colour scheme, are completely identical. Gameplay centers around the use of the chameleon’s extendable tongue, which is used to vault them up to higher places or stick to enemies and conveniently placed posts. It’s certainly an interesting gimmick with some neat usage, but it’s unfortunately weighed down by extremely sluggish controls and somewhat frustrating level design.
It’s not all bad. The game is ridiculously charming. Each of the levels focus on different mechanics, so it’s certainly not hurting for variety. The soundtrack is somewhat grating, but most of the tracks are lighthearted and chirpy in a way that seemed to live and die during the early 3D era of games. Likewise, the graphics are extremely cute, or at least, the enemy designs are. The enemies in Kids Land are especially adorable, such as the aforementioned cookie enemies.
The BadI’ll admit that the game’s personality carried me through to the end, but I can’t say it was a comfortable journey. There were certain moments where I was almost ready to call it quits, and those moments always came down to the platforming demanding more precision than the controls are capable of.
The chameleon is a sluggish and twitchy animal with extremely poor eyesight. Movement is just so unresponsive and sticky that even the most basic actions are made difficult. None of the game’s challenges are particularly cumbersome and are always presented in bite-sized portions, but it can take multiple tries just to get your tongue wagging in the right direction. Part of the problem may be related to the N64’s stiff and inaccurate analogue stick. Most of the chameleon’s abilities rely on it being pointed in the right direction, whether it’s trying to latch onto a post or spit enemies at other enemies, and the precision is just not there. You can lock your character in place with the R button, which gives you a dotted line as guidance, but even then, simply lining it up with your target is difficult.
Then there’s the camera. To the game’s credit, you can control it, but only barely. There are two separate view modes to choose from: one that looks down at a fixed angle, and another that freely floats around your chameleon. Forget about the free camera, since it has a nasty habit of getting stuck behind scenery and rarely offers a useful angle. The locked camera is more usable, but just barely. It greatly limits your field of vision and tends to sway around under its own influence. This can lead to bumping into enemies obscured off-screen or running off a cliff because the camera realigned itself at an inopportune moment.
There’s one level, the desert castle, which features a camera different from the other levels. This one chases your character throughout the whole sequence, giving the game a pseudo-sidescroller feel. I wish they used it for the other levels, because for a few glorious minutes I was actually able to muster some appreciation for the game’s mechanics instead of wrestling with a problematic camera.
Even with all these problems in mind, it’s at least an endurable experience, but only because it’s over in about 2 hours. It consists of only 6 levels clocking in at about 20 minutes each. As far as I can tell, there’s absolutely no penalty for death, so having to continue repeatedly at a particularly difficult section isn’t much of a hindrance. Every obstacle can be overcome with perseverance and patience, so there’s not much to get slowed down by. It also ends rather abruptly. I’m not even certain that every level needs to be completed, since the 6th level is unlocked simply by beating the 4th or 5th. Once you complete the sixth level, the game unceremoniously ends without anything resembling a climax.
Afterwards, you can go back to previous stages to try and collect any crowns that you may have missed. This allegedly unlocks special areas and some sort of boss attack mode, but I wasn’t willing to replay the game to see it.