Back To The 90s
With the launch of the Sega Genesis Classic/Mini on the horizon, it has made me wistful of the early days of the system. The iconic grid pattern on those black plastic boxes speaks of a time in gaming when we thought it could never any better.
Back when Sega was still trying to carve out an identity.
From what I can recall in those early days, Sega was trying to market itself as the cool alternative to the stuffy old NES. Who would want to play as a fat-ass plumber when they could be a svelte blue hedgehog, whirling through the forest at breakneck speed.
In fact, the earliest commercial I can remember for the Genesis was some dude in drag talking about how extreme Sonic was and wondering what happened to that “nice boy Mario.”
Like the WWE would find out a few years later, attitude would help push their product. With Sonic’s wagging finger leading the way, a host of backward baseball cap, sunglass wearing protagonists would soon make their way to the system. Chances are, if you didn’t want to be a Major Gay Lord, then you’d best damn pick up a Sega Genesis.
Our Product Is Attitude!
Enter Kid Chameleon, somewhat of an oddity in Sega lore. Making his first and only video game appearance in 1992, although it would be released across numerous systems and compilations, it would be a game held in high esteem, as well as forgotten to the annals of history. Most gamers I’ve talked with, who were there for that era, all say:
“It was pretty good,”
But never have much else to elaborate on.
The story is perfect 90s cheese. There’s a new arcade game in town that’s trapping the kids who play it. So instead of calling in the police or some Government agency to investigate this phenomenon, the video game world does what it does best by putting all of its hope on a single bad-ass, wearing sunglasses.
So finish drinking that can of Crystal Pepsi, but be sure to recycle it, and pump up your sneakers, as we dive into Kid Chameleon, motherfucker!
A Natural Evolution?
One of the games selling points is there are over 100 levels in the game, and I admit this peaked my interest as a child. Seeing as I suck at the game, though, I have never seen more than the first dozen or so. A little research also shows the 100+ level boast as being slightly inflated.
For its time, the game’s graphics were fine. While they don’t pop with the same luster of Sonic The Hedgehog, there are some nice effects that were even more impressive after staring at 8-bit graphics for the five previous years.
I rented the game once when I was a kid, but that was enough for it to make an impact on me. Being in third grade at the time, the game looked like the doodles I made on pieces of scrap paper. From a gallant knight who could climb walls, a Jason Voorhees rip-off, and a tank that shoots skulls, the game was very much attuned with the desires of young boys.
And that appears to be the greatest feature of the game. Some of the bizarre creatures in the game, juxtaposed with the outlandish costumes the player gains access to make the game a memorable outing. If not a particularly enjoyable one.
Too Many Cracks
Kid Chameleon is basically just another 2D platformer, which has been one of the most saturated genres since the NES. While it does enough to be considered more than a simple Mario-clone, it feels like the genre trying to evolve with its players. However, there’s edgy and then there’s pandering.
The whole game feels like Nelson Muntz’s drawing of a plane made of guns shooting bullets made of guns.
Along with the various outfits the player gains access to, there are diamonds, which give the player certain context sensitive powers. The input to activate these is so non-intuitive, though, that I didn’t realize this was an option until many years the game’s release.
Players often complain about the controls being slippery. While I can see where they are coming from, it’s not too big of a drawback in my eyes and feels similar to comparable games from that era.
Rather, the biggest pain point for me is the lack of vision when traversing the landscapes of the levels. Too many times I took a jump and hit an unseen enemy or fell into a trap that was off-screen. A couple of times is forgivable, but it seems like all my life was lost on this bullshit instead of genuinely challenging enemies. This cheapness factor completely hinders the game.
One And Done
It’s not hard to see why Sega put all of their eggs in the Sonic basket, and the cartoon, comics, toys, and other merchandise only reinforce that fact. However, if handled better, Kid Chameleon could have claimed the Crown for himself. As I mentioned, Sega was looking for the differentiator between themselves and Nintendo, but ultimately, they ended up becoming just a lesser Nintendo.
While appealing to as wide an audience as possible, they ultimately set themselves up to fail. Instead, if they had focused their efforts on the teen/young adult market, the majority of hardcore video game players, the company might have a more positive looking future.
I’m not sure if Kid Chameleon would be the perfect mascot for this direction, but he should have been given at least one more chance to shine on a Sega platform. If Alex Kidd can get multiple games across various Sega machines, Kid Chameleon should get a little more love.
While the game hasn’t been completely forgotten, getting re-released on the Virtual Console, Steam, and numerous Genesis compilations, the concept hasn’t really been revisited. Some of this could be chalked up to the decline of arcades. With the rise of VR gaming though, it seems like the time could be right for a return from a beloved if flawed, character.