Like a lot of kids who were born in the 1980s and grew up in the '90s, most of my formative gaming experiences were on early home PCs. My introduction to gaming came on various Atari, Nintendo, and Sega consoles, but DOS and Windows were where I spent most of my early gaming time. By the time I got hooked on the SNES and Genesis, I’d already logged hundreds of hours in Doom, Dark Forces, and various Windows 95 Entertainment Pack games like Rodent’s Revenge and Chip’s Challenge.
Chip’s Challenge in particular was a unique kind of addiction — puzzles instead of guns, gibs and one-liners. I missed its initial release on the obscure Atari Lynx handheld, but once I played the weird, janky Win95 port I got sucked into this bizarre little tile-based game that none of my friends had heard of. In the primordial days of dial-up internet, there was no YouTube or GameFAQs; just me, my hyperactive gradeschool mind, and the puzzles. Apparently there were a lot of other kids like me because Chip’s Challenge spawned a healthy cult following that goes all the way back to the Lynx version.
For years fans pleaded for a sequel, but that proved to be a distant fantasy. Chuck Sommerville, the game’s original creator, lost the rights to his creation after Atari imploded and its IP was divided up among various companies. Sommerville has been trying to publish a Chip’s Challenge sequel for years, but gave up when the current rights holder demanded over $100,000 up front just to negotiate.
Chuck Sommerville didn’t go away. Undeterred, he rounded up some old friends and started a new studio called Niffler, and soon they released a spiritual sequel: Chuck’s Challenge. Initially releasing their new puzzle creation on mobile devices, Niffler has been busy updating the game for more powerful hardware, under the title Chuck’s Challenge 3D. With the help of indie publisher Nkidu, Niffler has brought the game to Steam. The result of Niffler’s hard work is a game that’s just as brain-teasing and nostalgic as Chip’s Challenge, but in many ways might be even better.
The game’s plot is charmingly self-referential. Chuck Sommerville is sipping an umbrella drink, enjoying a seaside vacation, when he is abducted by an adorable purple alien named Woop. Apparently Woop really loved Chip’s Challenge, as he commissions Chuck to build him a whole new puzzle game using interdimensional machines and creatures onboard Woop’s spaceship. What follows is a set of 125 brand new levels of increasingly difficult mazes, traps, and environmental brain-teasers.
Anyone who has even tentatively played Chip’s Challenge will feel right at home in this new game. The art style, graphics, and sound effects might be brand new but the gameplay is unmistakable tile-based environment puzzles. Chuck’s Challenge is very similar to Chip’s, with a few modern refinements and a brand new art style and engine. It’s no surprise that the games are so similar — tile-based puzzlers age very well and the gameplay you can squeeze out of them goes a long way.
Several years back I reviewed a licensed game from German studio Shin’En called Pet Alien. That game is practically a spiritual predecessor to Chuck’s Challenge, adapting Chip’s classic tile puzzle gameplay to a new art style and mechanics; the basic concept is essentially timeless. All it takes is a keen mind to manufacture new puzzles, and Sommerville still has the skills.
As Woop you’ll still be pushing blocks, dodging creatures, flipping switches, and collecting helpful items. Most of the items take on cute or humorous new forms. Instead of skates to traverse ice, Woop busts out a little toothed wheel. Rather than collecting suction cup boots like Chip, Woop uses two big magnets to overcome conveyor belts. The trusty hint button is, amusingly, an image of Chuck’s red Hawaiian shirt. Sometimes it’s worth it to read the hint even if you don’t need it, as the dialogue between Chuck and Woop is pretty clever and funny.
The best new feature is the ability to rewind time. Chip’s Challenge had a rather unforgiving logic to it. If you messed up a crucial step late in a level you were screwed and had to restart from the beginning. This was pretty discouraging on those later, incredibly complex levels. Chuck’s Challenge however records every move and step Woop makes, letting you essentially frame-by-frame the level in reverse. This is one of the huge advantages of a tile-based system, as movement is strictly grid-based. Maybe Woop has been hanging out with the Prince of Persia and picked up a few tips?
The game has 125 stock levels, which are split up into ascending difficulty tiers. This is useful if you’re just starting out and want to learn the ropes, or if you’re an expert player and want to jump straight into the hardest courses. The level design shares many of the elements of Chip’s: teleporters, spatial block puzzles, environmental hazards like water, ice, and lava, and an obligatory collectible item you must accumulate to power up the level’s exit. While many of the game mechanics are almost identical to Chip’s, the levels themselves are tighter and smaller. It was pretty easy to get lost in a Chip’s level and run out of time, but most of the levels in Chuck’s Challenge are only a few screens big, if that. This keeps the action focused on the puzzle solving, and naturally makes the game friendlier for mobile platforms.
Once you exhaust the main puzzles — which, trust me, are no joke — you can always try levels submitted by the community. Perhaps the coolest new aspect of Chuck’s Challenge is a fully featured but extremely user-friendly level editor. You can lay down a simple map in a matter of minutes, and playtest it in between so you can tweak it on the fly. Every item, obstacle and creature is available from the get-go, so you don’t have to unlock anything to make a nearly impossible puzzle as well.
Of course it will take time to construct a truly head-snapping level, but the ease of the editor’s use means that fans will be putting their brainpower towards making devious mazes instead of figuring out the interface. I’ve already beat my head against some especially mean fan creations, so, just a week after the game’s release, the community is delivering crazy levels. Chip’s fans have been coding map makers and building epic level packs for Chip’s Challenge for years, so it’s very cool that the option is available in Chuck’s Challenge right out of the box, so to speak.
In addition to being a meaty puzzle game, Chuck’s Challenge is no slouch in the graphics department either. Clearly built in the Unity engine, the game is scalable to a wide range of systems. While you can get it looking very pretty with rippling, pixel-shaded water and soft depth-of-field blur, the game is easy on the eyes at its lowest graphical setting too. The game’s audio isn’t quite as impressive, but serviceable nonetheless. Chuck’s eccentric, upbeat music is highly conducive to thinking your way through a puzzle, but like Chip’s music before it, there just isn’t enough of it. There are only a few tracks that loop on the levels. Hopefully we’ll get some musical variety in future updates.
Chuck’s Challenge has been out for a few years, but now that it’s finally made it to Steam, one of the biggest gaming communities in existence can enjoy it, and, even better, they can contribute. It may have taken small steps from that initial iOS release to Steam, but Chuck Sommerville and his team at Niffler have delivered — on all fronts — the Chip’s Challenge followup that fans have wanted since the '80s. I look forward to many more years of head-scratching puzzles and lazy afternoons lost amid mazes and traps.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Sean Colleli has been gaming off and on since he was about two, although there have been considerable gaps in the time since. He cut his gaming teeth on the “one stick, one button” pad of the Atari 800, taking it to the pirates in Star Raiders before space shooter games were cool. Sean’s Doom addiction came around the same time as fourth grade, but scared him too much to become a serious player until at least sixth grade. It was then that GoldenEye 007 and the N64 swept him off his feet, and he’s been hardcore ever since.
Currently Sean enjoys a good shooter, but is far more interested in solid adventure titles like The Legend of Zelda or the beautiful Prince of Persia trilogy, and he holds the Metroid series as a personal favorite. Sean prefers deep, profound characters like Deus Ex’s JC Denton, or ones that break clichés like Samus Aran, over one dimensional heroes such as the vacuous Master Chief. Sean will game on any platform but he has a fondness for Nintendo, Sega and their franchises. He has also become a portable buff in recent years. Sean’s other hobbies include classic science fiction such as Asimov and P.K. Dick, and Sean regularly writes down his own fiction and aimless ramblings. He practices Aikido and has a BA in English from the Ohio State University. He is in his mid twenties. View Profile