In light of the discontinuation of the Dreamcast, ChuChu Rocket--one of the first games available for the Game Boy Advance--is the first result of Sega's decision to focus on developing and publishing software for other platforms. It's a fairly unassuming puzzle game and, as such, perhaps not what you'd expect from Sega's first venture onto a Nintendo console. Nevertheless, even though it's basically a direct port of the original game for the Dreamcast, ChuChu Rocket is actually very well suited for the Game Boy Advance--it's the closest thing to Tetris that's currently available in the US. It'll take you a little while to get used to the controls, but once you do, you'll find that ChuChu Rocket offers a lot of value and a lot of fun for moments or hours at a time, for one to four players.
Essentially, in ChuChu Rocket, your goal is to help guide packs of mice to escape a level as quickly as possible before patrolling cats can gobble them up. It's a simple premise, and the game has simple but appealing graphics to match. You view the action from above, which is an ideal perspective for planning how to best approach each stage. Mice move in predictably linear patterns and won't head for stage exits on their own. To assist them, your job is to place tiles that make the mice change direction. These tiles can also be used to foil the cats, which are slower than mice but follow the same patterns.
This basic set of rules is used for two distinctly different modes of play in ChuChu Rocket: the single-player puzzle mode, as well as the action-packed battle mode, which can be played by up to four human players and with four linked Game Boy Advance units--but just one game cartridge. The puzzle mode is challenging and features more than 2,000 different puzzles of varying difficulty, many of which were designed by fans of ChuChu Rocket for the Dreamcast. Each puzzle gives you a limited allocation of directional tiles that you'll have to drop precisely to let the mice escape. You can easily reset a puzzle so that the tougher ones invariably boil down to a process of trial and error. Still, they're fun to figure out, and if you get stuck on one, you can usually just skip over to another. There's no shortage of puzzles in the game--there's a stage challenge mode that offers some variations on the basic rules, and there's even an option to build your own with a simple set of building blocks. You can then exchange these puzzles with your friends.
The puzzle mode can be enjoyable, but ChuChu Rocket is best known for its extremely fast-paced battle mode: Mice pour from stage entrances, and you can drop as many directional tiles onscreen as you like, all with the intent to get as many mice into your goal as you can within a limited space of time. Meanwhile, three opponents (either human or computer-controlled) are trying to do the same. The game also supports a two-on-two battle mode. Either way, part of the strategy lies in foiling your opponents, as cats will scour the playing fields and will take away from your opponents' scores if you can lure the cats into their goal areas. Random power-ups will mix up the action, and all together, this mode can be a blast to play, though its pacing can be overwhelming at first.
Furthermore, the Game Boy Advance's digital pad isn't perfectly suited for controlling the onscreen pointer--you can't move your pointer with the same precision you could using the Dreamcast's analog stick. There are three button control schemes available to choose from for use with dropping tiles--the Game Boy Advance has fewer buttons than the Dreamcast, so the designers thought up several solutions to the problem of translating the controls of the game. Only one of these control schemes, which uses both the portable unit's face buttons and also its shoulder buttons to drop corresponding directional tiles, is suitable for the battle mode, but it's still slightly awkward and requires practice.
ChuChu Rocket has a lot to offer. It even lets you redraw and animate your very own replacements for the mice and cats in the game. It has simple graphics that, while not technically impressive, still look appropriate. Likewise, the game's upbeat soundtrack is catchy, though it gets repetitive in short order. Of course, the addictive gameplay is what really sets ChuChu Rocket apart. The game is essentially identical to the Dreamcast version, so it's perfect if you want a copy of it on the go. ChuChu Rocket is the first puzzle game and also the first party game for the Game Boy Advance, and it's successful in both respects.