Chip's Challenge is one of those games that you definitely would not buy just by looking at the box. A nerd runs away from a set of teeth, clutching a key. The 'story' on the back reads:
"Before Chip can join the Bit Busters computer club and hang out with the girl of his dreams Melinda the Mental Marvel he must solve all 144 challenging puzzles"
That has to be the lamest storyline for a game I've ever heard. Imagine seeing that box on a shelf next to similar Lynx puzzle games like Super Skweek or Crystal Mines II, with artwork sporting funky cartoons on cosmic dance floors or golems and robots, and talk of treasures and monsters. Who in their right mind would choose the one about a nerd after some 'Mental Marvel'?
Fortunately for those who did choose Chip's Challenge, looks can be deceiving, and they were treated to what is in my opinion one of the best, if not the best puzzle game for the Lynx, and also resides somewhere in my top 20 puzzle games of all time (I might do a blog post on that at some point).
Chip's Challenge was released in 1989 developed by Epyx originally exclusively for the Atari Lynx, which is the version I am reviewing. It was so popular that it was then ported to many home consoles and computers, and Microsoft even released it as part of the 'Microsoft Best of Entertainment Pack' in 1991.
Image from AtariAge.com
Before I get on to the gameplay, I feel I should mention the quality of the soundtrack. Some of the in game music can get a bit jarring, especially if you get stuck on the same level for a long time. However, the overall quality and range of the music is pretty impressive considering the age of the game, and also that it was a handheld cartridge game. The opening screen music is genuinely listenable and there are a few head bobbing chip tunes in there. I feel this really shows off how advanced the Lynx was for the time. Seriously, go and listen to it here.
The actual gameplay is every bit as good, if not better. The first few levels introduce you to the different game mechanics, from simply walking and collecting keys to avoiding bugs, making bridges, using shields and much more. These first levels have a very generous time limit, giving the player ample chance to complete the levels without too much hassle.The main point of each puzzle is to collect all the chips so you can reach the warp tile to get to the next level.
The sheer variety of the levels and music keep Chip's Challenge from becoming boring, instead it is enticing from start to end, which considering the length of the game is quite something. 144 puzzles were included in the original Lynx version and while some levels can be quite frustrating, I certainly enjoyed it from start to finish. Fortunately, there is no need to complete the entire game in one sitting, as a nice short password system is in place, allowing for multiple play sessions. This is great because the Lynx is a huge bulky machine, and you will probably need to give your hands a break after a while.
Yowzer! Image from AtariAge.com
Getting around obstacles and enemies in Chip's Challenge is very straightforward and simple to learn, not to say that the game is easy (hint: it's not). You use the D-pad to move Chip, and that's it. To collect items you just stand on the same tile as them. All items are used automatically once you have them. Once you pick up the water shield you can walk on water, once you pick up the fire shield you can walk through fire, once you have a key you can pass through a door etc.
Despite the simplicity there are a few obstacles that make the game significantly more interesting. You can push dirt tiles around to make bridges over water, or use teleport tiles to move from one space in the maze to another. Avoiding enemies and cherry bombs also adds a bit of action to the otherwise purely puzzle based fun.
I feel that Chip's Challenge on the Lynx is fairly overlooked. Most fans of the game remember it from the PC version (which was also very good). While my love of old consoles and cartridge games in general may skew my opinion slightly I think the Lynx version is actually better, and is a must have for any Lynx owner.
Cheers for reading,
Dusty Old Games.