Saturday, January 30, 2016

Chameleon DS comments

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Kurukuru Chameleon, 2005, Star-Fish
"Kurukuru" in Japanese is a sound effect for a small, spinning object. The game came out in Japan originally in 2005, was ported to the Nintendo DS in 2006, and was released in the U.S. in 2007 under the title Chameleon: To Dye For (with really crappy cover art, if I may add). The GameFAQs stats indicate that there have been 31 registered users of the game, but very few of them rated the game play, perceived play level or identified how long they played it.

In the U.S., the game was $18 new; I got it used for 250 yen ($2.10 USD) just because I felt like expanding my collection. Chameleon builds on the match the colors/match the shapes concept first explored with Tetris, and expanded on by Puyo Puyo and just about every other table top-style game released ever since. It's 2-player, on a long rectangular field. You start out in opposite corners, and the hexes between you either have colored tiles, rocks or bombs. Rocks are barriers, and bombs cause the neighboring tiles to become unclaimed and turn random colors. The players take turns selecting one of four available colors from the menu palette. There are actually 6 colors, but the two used by the players in the previous turn are disabled for the next turn. Choosing the color of a neighboring set of tiles makes them part of your collection, and expands your influence in the map.

(Typical starting positions for all of the modes.)

You can choose to play as one of 4 chameleon girl characters, and you then go up against the other three in either Normal, Story or Continuous modes. Each girl has a special attack (turn one group of tiles to stone, turn one group of stones to active tiles, etc.), but otherwise there's no difference in strategies between them. The only real reason to pick one over the other is in story mode, to find out what the stories are. Then, there are three possible goals to each round. One goal is to capture 50% or more of the tiles before your opponent does. Next is to race to a flag in the center of the field. Third is to capture the "kings" (super tiles placed on the field in odd numbers; you have to get 6 tiles surrounding the edge of the king to claim it). There's no score to the games, either you win or you lose, and it doesn't matter how elegantly you capture tiles. Taking the full board one tile at a time, or racing up to the middle of the board and sealing off your half for 50 tiles in one stroke makes no difference in the long run. All that's important is that your strategy allows you to achieve the requirements for that game, or it doesn't.

(Capture the Kings round.)

The normal and story modes only have 9 or so rounds, and the last 3 are up against the story boss - Mama Chameleon. Defeat her and the game is finished for the character you chose. In continuous mode, you randomly face any one of the other three girls, or mama, and there's no upper limit on the number of rounds. However, if you go into options, you can set 1, best 2 of 3, or best 3 of 5 modes for the games to make things more challenging. The artwork and character designs are good, the game play is simple if occasionally frustrating, and I guess the music is ok (I kept it and the character voices turned off most of the time). The game AI is very rudimentary - I occasionally won simply because my opponent made bad choices. There's no real replay value though. After finishing all the different modes with each of the 4 girls, I got bored and put the game away, which represented maybe 6-8 hours of play time. The English cheats on GameFAQs say that you can unlock mama as a playable character if you finish the story mode with any of the girls, but I couldn't get that to work on my version. Sigh.

(Your character is happy if she wins.)

Summary: Chameleon is a simple matching game that you can either play against the computer or a friend, as one of 4 characters, up against the other three or boss mama, in either story, normal, or continuous modes, You can easily master most of the strategy in a few minutes, and beat every aspect of the game in a few hours. I only took 6-8 hours to explore everything. It stands up against most smartphone table-style games, but is recommended only if you can find it really cheap, used. (Comment: The Star Fish website shows the PSP version, which looks much more powerful than the DS port. If you have a PSP, that might be the better version of the game.)

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