Monday, February 11, 2008

Videogame Classics - Chip's Challenge

Chip's Challenge - Epyx, for Atari Lynx - 1989

Back to the Atari Lynx games for a short bit. Strange, isn't it, that when I get myself another Nintendo DS, it's only a matter of time before I start pining for my old Lynx. That was a cherished time waster for me back in my teenage years.

Here's one of the best games for the Lynx. Predictably, it's also one of the original Epyx titles, which, as a general rule, were leap years beyond what anyone else was doing. Chip's Challenge was Chuck Summerville's contribution to the puzzler genre, and it's become popular enough to migrate to the PC scene, where a fan community persists to this day. Summerville, also, continues to work on a new, updated version. I wouldn't expect it to be anything more than a glorious fan work, but coming from one of the classic game developers, that really says something.

Most puzzlers fell into the Tetris mold, where you manipulated moving pieces in a pit and matched various pairs. Chip's Challenge is a throwback to those older brain games from the home computer era; I'm thinking of classics like Boulderdash as much as the venerated Sokouban. It's also fiendishly hard. That also comes from the olden days.

You see, kids, way back when, video and computer games didn't care if you could keep up. No, the best games were the ones that challenged you the most, hit you the hardest, and basically didn't give a damn if you crumpled into a million pieces. No holding you by the hand here, no little cartoon characters practically telling you what to do every step of the way. You're dropped into a world of hurt. Think you're tough enough? You've been whining for transcendence all along? Eat this!

Okay, I stole that line from Terence McKenna. Whatever, you get the point.

The idea of Chip's is to collect a number of computer chips in order to complete a level. There are various hazards, following various degrees of the rediculous. But this is a videogame, after all, and there's really no point in trying to be logical, is there? You're trying to evade giant bugs, small tanks, a big set of teeth, some guy in a mask, and the usual elements, all in order to find those damned keys so you can get those last chips.

The first couple levels are somewhat easy, thankfully. They only serve to lull you into a sense of security, which will be smashed out of your brain by level eight. There are over 150 levels in total, and I don't think anyone but the most devout and mental will solve even a majority of them. It's a very brainy sort of game; levels require very precise solutions, very specific movements, like a maze game mashed up against a crossword puzzle.

Now, at the time, back in 1989, color graphics like this were something special. Chip's look was always functional at best, especially compared to the more visually intensive Lynx games like Electrocop and Blue Lightning. But we were fine with that; puzzle games were almost expected to look a little plain. It's as though prettier looks implied less intelligence. Maybe it's a high school nerd-clique thing, I dunno. I try not to think about high school too much. It's bad enough I had to attend my Democratic caucus at a high school; do all those places look so dark and dreary? Ugh.

Here is a perfect example of Inforgrames, or whoever owns the Atari name right now, not getting the picture. They're sitting on games like these that would fit perfectly on, say, Nintendo DS. The DS has proven a versatile home for puzzlers, but there's far too many of the Tetris kind. Chip's Challenge would really stand out. Heck, all of the best Lynx games would. I'd even be fine with a Lynx emulator in lieu of a newer, flashier version. If anyone were smart enough, they'd patiently bide their time, until the Atari library were up for sale. Don't let the coming bankruptcy fool you; there's gold in these vaults. Chip's Challenge is one of the clear standouts.

No comments: