ChuChu Rocket Preview

With an excellent premise and simple but addictive gameplay, ChuChu Rocket could be one of the best titles available at the launch of the Japanese GBA.

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The first product to emerge from Sega's new full third-party stance doesn't star a blue hedgehog. Come March 21, a portable version of that underappreciated pioneer of Sega's worldwide online gaming plan, Chu Chu Rocket, will help Nintendo's Game Boy Advance usher in a new generation of portable gaming in Japan.

The game doesn't star Sonic, but it will bear the Sonic Team logo. ChuChu Rocket originated as a Dreamcast title from Sonic Team in late 1999. Gamers were shocked to find this simple puzzle game mentioned alongside the likes of Samba de Amigo, Sonic Adventure International, and Phantasy Star Online as one of the four big games in development by the team for the Dreamcast. But there was one particular element that set this puzzle game apart--online play. Producer and Sonic Team spokesperson Yuji Naka commented at one point that ChuChu helped the team attain the network know-how that would power Phantasy Star Online, and at the same time, the game served to mark the worldwide launch of online Dreamcast gaming.

The Game Boy Advance version loses the online play, but it keeps the basic premise of its Dreamcast counterpart. The game takes place on a large grid and is viewed from a top-down perspective. On the grid are a few mouse generators and anywhere from one to four rockets, depending on the number of players. In between are pitfalls, barriers, and mazes that will challenge players to get the simple-minded mice from the spawn points to the rockets.

The levels in ChuChu Rocket start off casually, but soon the mice generators are spewing mice at full speed, cats are roaming the grid, and power-ups are having a maddening effect on the flow and behavior of the mice. In ChuChu Rocket, mice and cats emerge from the spawn points sporadically throughout a timed round of play and proceed to move in a straight line until they strike a wall, which causes them to take a 90-degree turn to the right. The mice, which far outnumber the cats, are attempting to board a rocket that will blast them off to safety at the round's end. The cats, which behave exactly like the mice, are not only eating any mice they come across as they meander over the grid, but they're also making their way to the rockets to chow down on mass quantities of gathered mice.

Your job is to direct as many mice as possible into your rocket while keeping the cats far away or directing them into pitfalls, which removes them from play. To do this, you'll move a pointer about the screen and lay down arrow plates that point in one of four directions. If a group of mice or a cat strikes the arrow, it turns in that direction. Of course, actually steering the mice into your rocket can be a bit tricky, as you can only lay down three arrow plates at any one time, and you still have to contend with barriers, pitfalls, cats, and other players.

The real fun comes when taking on a group of friends or the CPU in the game's battle mode. The winner of these battles is determined by whoever has the most mice in his or her rocket at the end of the round. As in any good puzzle game, the strategies are endless. Some players concentrate on precision plate-laying to guide as many mice into their rocket as possible, while other players skillfully lure cats toward the flow of mice and even into other players' rockets.

There's one additional complication. To make sure that all opponents are kept in the game throughout the match no matter how far behind they are in mice count, Sonic Team has placed numerous randomly occurring events in the game. Certain mice will be generated pink and will yield a randomly determined power-up when they enter any player's rocket. The effects of these power-ups range from switching the position of each player's rocket or generating a slew of cats on the screen to drastically increasing the mouse output for a brief period of time.

Thanks to its online play and simple yet addictive gameplay, ChuChu Rocket was considered by many to be one of the Dreamcast's best multiplayer games. Four-player support made ChuChu Rocket a fantastic party game, while online play made it an excellent game for single players. The GBA version of the game should make up for a lack of online play with link-cable capability. Four players will be able to link their GBAs together and play ChuChu Rocket with only one actual game cartridge, letting friends play the game with one another without having to buy four actual games.

Like its Dreamcast counterpart, the GBA game is being equipped with various single- and multiplayer modes of play. The game promises to feature the addictive four-player battle mode, along with a team battle mode and a stage challenge mode. This latter mode involves single-player puzzles in which you attempt to set up a fixed number of arrows in advance and guide all the mice into a rocket without interference from any cats. For the GBA version, Sonic Team has selected 2,500 of the 17,000 puzzles crafted by Dreamcast players from all over the world using the game's puzzle-edit feature. All these features in one little package means that there's plenty to do even when you're not among friends.

And if 2,500 of the best puzzles aren't enough, how about making your very own puzzles? You can create puzzles, stages, and characters for use in the four-player battle, team battle, and stage challenge modes of play, and these original creations can be exchanged with friends. Details are scarce on the exact function of the character creation mode, although it's possible you could replace mice with your own creations.

Though the GBA version of ChuChu Rocket looks like it will be comparable to the Dreamcast version, the game is definitely getting an overhaul in the graphical department. The polygonal mice and cats of the Dreamcast version are being replaced with sprites, and the animations are being entirely revamped.

Sonic Team is hard at work ensuring that ChuChu Rocket will be every bit as complete on the GBA as it was on the Dreamcast. With an excellent premise and simple but addictive gameplay, ChuChu Rocket could be one of the best titles available at the launch of the Japanese GBA.

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