9/9/99 is a date that will be committed to memory for every long time SEGA fan as it was the day that SEGA’s last ever home console was released onto the market in America (we here in Europe had to wait till the far less catchy 14th of October before we were able to get our grubby mitts on the console). Seeing as we only just recently passed the 20-year milestone of the Dreamcast hitting American shelves, I decided that this week I would look at a Dreamcast game. After an unusual series of events, I eventually settled on the fun action puzzle game ChuChu Rocket! (although I’ll concede it wasn’t my first choice).
Originally, I was all set to right about Quarterback Club 2000 for the console as I’ve had it sat amongst my Dreamcast collection for a while and have never actually gotten around to playing it. However, what I hadn’t realised is that the copy of the game I got was actually from Germany and not England (I bought it online with a couple of other games and just didn’t notice it was the German version), which means that the entire instruction manual is in German with nary a word of English to be found. Normally, this wouldn’t matter, but most older NFL games weren’t as user friendly back in the day as the current Madden series is, so the lack of instruction manual hampered my ability to understand what the heck the buttons were.
As a result of this, I decided to put Quarterback Club 2000 to the side for now and have a bash at ChuChu Rocket! instead, mainly because by comparison it’s an imminently easier game to work out once you get the hang of it. I actually picked ChuChu up for free a while back from the now sadly departed Retro Reload store in Stockport (shame on Stockport Council for pricing the owner out, by the way. That was a great retro video game store, and it will be sorely missed). Sometimes the owner of the store would let you have a game or two for free if they were cluttering the place up.
These were usually games that he had a large quantity of or were ones where he just had the disc and the game itself had no real selling value when unpackaged. Seeing as ChuChu was actually a game you could get for free in Europe provided you signed up to SEGA’s online service, there is a plentiful number of copies of the game knocking around all over the place, so I was essentially given the game along with a few unboxed sports games as well (the owner never really cared for sports games in general and would be happy to get rid of them if he just had the disc knocking about, especially as most sports games essentially lose most of their value once a new game in the series comes along to make the previous one outdated).
One of the other games passed onto me along with ChuChu was the officially licensed release for the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, which I might cover next year at some point, seeing as 2020 will be an Olympic year and all. Anyway, enough prattling on my part, what’s ChuChu Rocket! like as a game? For those not au fait, ChuChu is a game all about mice, cats and rockets. Essentially, your goal is to get as many mice (named “ChuChus” in the game) as you can into your rocket before the time limit runs down whilst also hindering either CPU or human-controlled players from doing the same. The person with the most mice in their rocket once the time limit elapses will see said rocket blast off victoriously into the sky, whilst the other rockets remain forlorn upon the ground.
You direct the mice in question by putting arrows doing on the arena floor, with each face button on the Dreamcast controller representing a different direction. Along the way, special mice will enter the playing arena, which if collected will result in the gameplay being momentarily altered for a brief while, such as everything slowing down or more mice being added to the playing arena. However, you can’t focus solely on collecting mice as big cats (known as “KapuKapus” in the game) will also be patrolling the arena looking for delicious mice to fill their bellies. The last thing you want is for one of the cats to find its way into your rocket because if it does, it will eat a third of the mice you have collected, which will seriously impact your score.
Ultimately then, the gameplay becomes a mixture of trying to lead the mice into your rocket whilst also finding ways to avert the cats from munching down on your hard-earned points total. Canny players will not only try to avoid getting a cat in their rocket, but they will also look to try and guide the cats into the rockets of their rivals should the opportunity rise. You can play up to three arrows on the arena floor at any time, which means you will have to choose where you put your arrows carefully as the last thing you want is for a key arrow to disappear at an inopportune time, thus leading to a bounty of mice ambling on by or, worse still, into another player’s rocket.
ChuChu Rocket! isn’t just about wild multiplayer fun though as the game not only has a single-player puzzle mode but also a co-op mode if you decide you want to call a truce between your warring mates and actually start working together for a change. The multiplayer is definitely the main draw here in my eyes though, and if you can enlist three friends to come over and play the game with you, then you’re in for some wild fun and maybe the odd argument to boot! The game actually has an online mode as well, something which was very much a novelty for a home console back in the 90s (although I believe you could play some games online on the SEGA Saturn thanks to NET Link, and the N64DD in Japan also had online capabilities).
Overall, I really enjoyed playing ChuChu Rocket! It is a game not without sizeable charm and also one that is a lot of fun to play. Considering I got it for free, it would almost seem churlish for me to complain, but even if you were to decide to try and pick a copy of the game up, you can buy it for as little as 50 pence plus packaging on Amazon, so it’s hardly going to wreck your bank balance if you want to give it a try. My Dreamcast game collection is running a bit dry at the moment, so I might try and hunt a few more games down for it so that I can provide more Dreamcast content in the future.
In case you were wondering though, ChuChu Rocket! gets a hearty recommendation from yours truly, and you should certainly play it!