|Series||Sonic the Hedgehog|
Knuckles' Chaotix[a] is a 1995 side-scrolling platform game developed by and published by Sega for the 32X. A spin-off to the Sonic the Hedgehog series, the game features Knuckles the Echidna and a collective of characters known as the Chaotix. The story follows the team in their efforts to prevent series antagonist Dr. Robotnik and his henchman Metal Sonic from obtaining the six Chaos Rings. Gameplay is similar to previous series installments; however, Knuckles' Chaotix introduces a partner system in which the player's character is tethered to another via a ring force bond with "rubber band" physics. The gameplay is based on using this mechanic to maneuver the characters through a series of levels.
Unlike many other Sonic games, Knuckles' Chaotix was not developed by Sonic Team, but rather another internal development team at Sega. Development on the game can be traced back to a 1994 internal prototype for the Sega Genesis titled Sonic Crackers. The game featured Sonic and Tails and experimented with the ring force bond physics. This core concept was carried over to the 32X, where development continued under the working title Knuckles' Ringstar. Sonic and Tails were removed from the game and replaced with Knuckles and four other characters. Among these characters was Mighty the Armadillo, who previously featured in SegaSonic the Hedgehog (1993).
Critical reception to Knuckles' Chaotix, both contemporary and in retrospect, has been mixed. Critics found the partner mechanic and tethering physics to be cumbersome, although many journalists appreciated Sega's attempt to innovate the series. The level design was also cited as poor by multiple publications. The game is remembered for its uniqueness, and has been considered the last classic game of the Sonic series and a declining point by some. Some of the characters and concepts introduced in Knuckles' Chaotix would later feature in other Sonic games and media. The game itself has not been re-released except for a brief period through GameTap in the 2000s, despite interest by fans.
Knuckles' Chaotix is a side-scrolling platform game and shares the same basic gameplay elements that defined earlier entries in the Sonic series. New to this game, however, is a partner mechanic which tethers the player to a computer or human-controlled partner. This tether behaves like a rubber band and requires the player(s) to utilize its physics to maneuver through the zones. Players can choose between playing as five different characters, each with their own unique set of moves. Knuckles the Echidna can glide and climb walls, Mighty the Armadillo can jump up and kick off walls, Espio the Chameleon can run along walls and ceilings, Vector the Crocodile can boost through the air and climb walls, and Charmy Bee can fly and hover in the air. There are two other partner characters, Heavy the Robot and Bomb, which hinder players' progress due to their slow and destructive nature, respectively.:7–9 The story follows the group's efforts to save a mysterious island from Doctor Robotnik and Metal Sonic, who are using its magical "Chaos Rings" for their evil plans.
The game takes place over six levels called attractions. Each attraction is divided into five acts; the fifth act ends in a boss fight with Robotnik. Like earlier Sonic games, the players collect rings, jump to perform a spin attack to defeat enemies, as well as perform a spin dash on the ground to gain speed.:10,15 Power-ups are placed throughout attractions providing players with rings, shields, and speed shows, among other boons.:18 The partner mechanic offers new actions never seen before in earlier Sonic games. Players can call their partner if they are separated, which reunites them with the main character, but this costs the player 10 rings. In addition, players can throw their partner, which can aid in reaching hard-to-reach platforms. If the partner is computer-controlled, the player is given the ability to stop and anchor the computer partner to perform special moves. Using this, the player can "snap up" to a partner on a higher ledge if they themselves are hanging below. Also, they can anchor the partner and build tension in the tether by moving away from them, then release them to gain a powerful speed boost.:10–11 The game also employs a "time of day" mechanic; each level changes to a specific time of day, which affects enemy placement and boss difficulty.
Before entering an attraction, the player begins in the Attraction Information Center, which acts as a hub world. Here, the player can choose a partner in and a attraction to enter, and also see which attractions they have completed. Bonus levels are hidden throughout the zones and can also be triggered by finishing a zone with 20 or more rings.:15 In the bonus levels, the player is free falling and can pick up power-ups as they fall.:19 Special stages can be entered if finishing a zone with 50 or more rings. In these, the player must collect blue spheres in a forward-scrolling platformer; players are rewarded with a Chaos Ring upon completion.:19 Collecting all Chaos Rings rewards the player with the best possible ending, in which Sonic and Tails make cameo appearances.
Development and release
Development of Knuckles' Chaotix began in 1994 as an internal Sega engine test called Sonic Crackers[b] for the Sega Genesis. Contrary to popular belief, this game (and ultimately Knuckles' Chaotix) were not developed by Sonic Team, but rather another internal development team at Sega. The team—which consisted of directors Masahide Kobayashi, Atsuhiko Nakamura, Naohisa Nakazawa, producers Hiroshi Aso, Makoto Oshitani, Mike Larsen, and artist Takumi Miyakewas—was assembled from young members of the staff who worked on Sonic CD (1993). Sonic Crackers featured Sonic and Tails joined together by a band of rings with an elastic nature. Although never released, the core tethering gameplay in the prototype provided the foundation for Knuckles' Chaotix. The prototype ROM image has since leaked on the internet and can be played with the use of emulators. Development was eventually transitioned to the 32X. Rather than featuring Sonic, the new game centered around a group of supporting characters led by Knuckles the Echidna, and the project was given the title Knuckles' Ringstar, later renamed Knuckles' Chaotix.
Along with Knuckles being given a starring role, the game includes Mighty the Armadillo, who had previously appeared in the arcade game SegaSonic the Hedgehog (1993). Vector the Crocodile was reintroduced after originally being designed to appear in the original Sonic the Hedgehog's scrapped sound test option. The game also features two new characters, Espio the Chameleon and Charmy Bee; the former's color subtly changes while he moves to demonstrate the technical capabilities of the 32X console. Together, these characters have been dubbed "The Chaotix" in retrospect. Tails was intended to appear as a playable character, but was eventually scrapped. A leaked prototype version of the game lists Espio's name as the featured character instead of Knuckles on the title screen, suggesting he was once featured more prominently and possibly intended to have a starring role.
With the enhanced features of the 32X, the developers were given more freedom in designing Knuckles' Chaotix compared to previous games. To take advantage of the more powerful hardware, several levels feature dynamic sprite-scaling effects, and the game's special stages were rendered with 3D polygons. A complex palette system was implemented as well, allowing each level to load its own unique palette.
The game's musical score was composed by Junko Siratsu and Mariko Nanba. Knuckles' Chaotix was first released in North America on April 20, 1995, and was released the following day in Japan as simply Chaotix. The game was released in Europe in June the same year. The game was made available briefly for a few years beginning in 2005, when it was distributed on macOS and Microsoft Windows digitally via GameTap.
The game's presentation was met with divided opinions. The four reviewers of Electronic Gaming Monthly praised the game's graphics and believed the game to be one of the best for the 32X up to that time, and GameFan considered Knuckles' Chaotix to be the best entry in the franchise since Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992). However, a reviewer for Next Generation claimed the graphics and backgrounds were too colorful and the game made "unimpressive attempts to show off". Both GamePro and IGN believed the game failed to push the 32X to its limits, citing the lack of graphical effects and Genesis quality audio; however, IGN felt certain elements of the game, such as certain boss fights and several of the game's musical tracks, were highlights. GamesRadar would retrospectively refer to Knuckles' Chaotix as the best game released for the system in its lifetime and felt it was underrated, though it still considered the game a "wasted opportunity".
The "rubber band" multiplayer mechanic was largely panned despite being acknowledged as an effort to innovate. IGN admired the attempt to both "breathe life into a series that was running out of steam" and fix the lopsided multiplayer aspect of Sonic 2 and Sonic 3 (1994) where Tails would always get lost off-screen, but ultimately disliked the clunky nature of the tethering physics and felt it took some time getting used to. Electronic Gaming Monthly felt the mechanic added originality, but noted it often slowed the gameplay down; this statement was echoed by GamesRadar. Next Generation, on the other hand, felt the bond was tiring and not truly innovative, and GamePro called the bond mechanic's controls Knuckles' Chaotix's biggest problem, finding them frustrating and choppy. The magazine also felt that the bond complicated gameplay and compared it to being handcuffed.
Negative attention was also brought to the game's level design and low difficulty. GamePro found the levels to be fairly large, but not populated with enough enemies and secrets. IGN called the level design simplistic, citing it as bland and seemingly unfinished and sharing the same sentiments about the low enemy population as GamePro. The game's large amount of acts in each level (five, compared to previous entries having two or three) and simple boss fights was also noted. Mean Machines Sega felt that enemies were almost missing entirely, opining that "without them, this is just not half the game it could have been." However, IGN, GameFan, and Electronic Gaming Monthly praised the amount of playable characters, and the former felt the game's fully 3D special stages were "marvelous", calling them the best of the Sonic series.
Regarding the game as a whole, IGN described Knuckles' Chaotix "a bad game with a good foundation", and in another article, concluded that the game was interesting, if flawed. Electronic Gaming Monthly felt the game, while the best game for the 32X, failed to live up to previous games in the Sonic series, while AllGame considered Knuckles' Chaotix to be the worst entry in the entire series. In retrospect, the game is remembered for its uniqueness and is considered the last classic game of the Sonic series, before newer games such as Sonic Adventure (1998) departed from the gameplay style seen in the original titles. Some journalists have referred to Knuckles' Chaotix as the series' declining point. GamesAreFun called it a "love it or hate it" type of game that would be fun for hardcore Sonic fans, but would likely scare off casual ones due to the hard-to-master tethering mechanic. Complex would retrospectively rank Knuckles' Chaotix among the bottom of the Sonic franchise in 2013.
Several concepts from Knuckles' Chaotix were re-used in later titles in the Sonic series. A similar partner concept was featured in the Game Boy Advance title Sonic Advance 3 (2004), and IGN noted similarities between the game's auto-running special stages and Sonic and the Secret Rings (2007). In Sonic Generations (2011), two tracks from Knuckles' Chaotix, "Tube Panic" and "Door Into Summer", were included in the game in the "EggRobo Rush" mission and the Collection Room, respectively. The "Hyper Ring" power-up from the title re-appeared in Sonic Mania (2017).
With the exception of Mighty, who has since been limited to cameo appearances, all the Chaotix members have become recurring characters in the Sonic series.[c] The group has also had several storylines in the Sonic the Hedgehog comic series produced by Archie Comics. GamesRadar considered the introduction of the Chaotix to be a turning point for the series, blaming the introduction of all of the Chaotix characters as something that "diluted the Sonic-verse by introducing tons of shitty characters."
In 2011, Sega noted that the game was frequently requested by fans as a title desired for re-release. The company has received criticism for their reluctance to do so; 1UP.com felt Sonic Gems Collection (2005) to be incomplete as it lacked the title. In 2010, head of Sonic Team, Takashi Iizuka, expressed interest in developing a sequel to the game. Also taking an interest was Christian Whitehead, the developer of the 2011 remaster of Sonic CD, stating that he would possibly be open to remaking the game using the Retro Engine in a 2014 interview.
- The game is titled on the title screen and in Japan as Chaotix (Japanese: カオティクス Hepburn: Kaotikusu)
- Sonic Crackers is sometimes referred to as Sonic Stadium due to the ROM header containing the title Sonic Studium [sic].
- Games featuring the Chaotix include Sonic Heroes (2003), Shadow the Hedgehog (2005), Sonic Rivals 2 (2007), the Nintendo DS version of Sonic Colors (2010), Sonic Generations, and Sonic Forces (2017); Espio is a playable character in the arcade game Sonic the Fighters (1996) and Vector is playable in Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games (2007) and its sequels.
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Also known as "Sonic Crackers," this simple prototype for the Genesis was an early version of what would eventually be released on Sega's 32X as Knuckles' Chaotix.
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