A Brief History Of ChuChu Rocket! In Your Pocket

ChuChu Rocket! is a puzzle game that is undoubtedly a product of a struggling Sega. Imaginative, innovative, insane - one of the many one-of-a-kind experiments that was thrown at a wall in the Sega headquarters in the hopes that something would eventually stick and save the Dreamcast once and for all. Maybe this attempt to stand out was what led Sonic Team to create not just one of the most memorable puzzle games on the Sega Dreamcast, but one of the best and most memorable puzzle games ever made.
For the uninitiated, the premise of ChuChu Rocket! is simple. You place directional arrows on a checker board to guide mice (the titular ChuChus) to rocket ships, all whilst making sure they don't get eaten by giant orange cats that look like they are perpetually tripping on acid.
The guiding brainless animals to safety thing had been done eight years prior by DMA Design's Lemmings, but Sonic Team managed to take the concept and push it to the brink of madness whilst also throwing in a bonkers multiplayer mode and online play (that's still available today thanks to DreamPi). It serves as a high quality break for any Dreamcast fan who has sunk hours into deeper experiences like Shenmue or Phantasy Star Online who just wants to play something simple whilst also having an absolutely cracking time.

These days, with smart phones being in everyone's pockets, puzzle games that are easy to pick up and play function as perfect time wasters on a morning commute or even when we just can't be bothered to do anything else. Sadly, as I'm sure many of us can all agree, the vast majority of smartphone puzzlers are trite, micro-transaction ridden nonsense. But what if we could take a stellar puzzler like ChuChu Rocket! and play that in the palm of our hand instead? That would make perfect sense, right? Well it turns out that Sega did see ChuChu's portable potential...

Game Boy Advance
If you're ever at a pub quiz and the question you need to take your team to first place is "what was the first game published by Sega on a Nintendo console?", be sure to buy me a copy of Panzer Dragoon Saga as a means of thanks because now you know that the answer is ChuChu Rocket!.
ChuChu found itself a comfortable second home on the GBA. Its simple, short bursts of gameplay were perfect for a portable console, and it was the right amount of silly, colourful and addictive to stand proudly alongside other classic GBA puzzlers like Kuru Kuru Kururin and Mario vs. Donkey Kong. The graphics were significantly downgraded from those of the Dreamcast (the 3D polygons were traded for animated sprites), but it was a small price to pay for a portable ChuChu experience, and one that, with the exception of online multiplayer, was completely intact. 

All 100 original puzzle levels are here, as well as 2,500 levels chosen from the endless amounts of custom puzzles that users had submitted to the Dreamcast's online servers. This wasn't some lazy port - Sonic Team made sure that ChuChu Rocket! was jam packed with fun regardless of what console it appeared on. Players could edit their own player sprites, and share their own custom levels via link cable. A link cable was also what allowed up to four players to have a blast in the multiplayer modes, and the best part is, only a single game cartridge is needed to link up for multiplayer. Good job, Sonic Team.
A random factoid but still cool and Sega-related nonetheless (maybe it'll come up in that pub quiz): if you have ChuChu Rocket! inserted into the Game Boy Advance slot of a Nintendo DS while playing Sega's smutty silhouette mini game fest Project Rub (known as Feel the Magic: XY/XX in the USA), you will receive a NiGHTS hat that can be worn by the game's heroine. See it modelled below in this crap grainy screenshot I managed to procure from the depths of the internet. 

Other clothing items - including a Sonic hat and a Ulala (Space Channel 5) wig - can be unlocked in Project Rub by combining it with other Sega GBA titles. ChuChu can also be used with Project Rub's sequel to similar effects.

ChuChu on mobile was inevitable right? If it works on GBA, then it's bound to work on mobile, if not even better. Well Sega thought this too, and ports came to iOS and Android in 2010 and 2011, respectively. These were exciting ports, because for the first time ever, ChuChu Rocket! was now playable using touch controls. Whilst many quiver in fear at the idea of controlling their favourite games with a touch screen, ChuChu Rocket! fits this method of control perfectly. 
Instead of navigating through the checker board with an analog stick/D-Pad to get to the square where a direction needs to be placed, the user instead just needs to click on the square in question and move their finger up, down, left or right and release to put down a direction for the ChuChus to follow. Simple and intuitive, to the point where it's like the game was almost meant for touch screen controls. Look, I adore the Dreamcast, and I would be the first to tell you that porting any of the system's flagship titles onto any device with a touchscreen would be nothing short of sacrilege, but ChuChu Rocket! is one of, if not the only exception to this rule in my eye. When I first played this port I was absolutely blown away by how natural it felt to play with the touchscreen. If it wasn't for the lack of multiplayer on the Android version I played (it was available on iOS with a local wi-fi connection), I would honestly go as far as to say this is the definitive way to play this game, at least as far as the controls go.

If you aren't already outside my house brandishing a pitchfork, you might now have your interest piqued and want to grab ChuChu Rocket! for your iPhone or Android phone. There's one problem - Sega removed it from sale back in 2015. In a tirade of take downs of games across multiple platforms that "no longer [met its] standards", Sega took down ChuChu. Many were completely taken aback by this sudden action from Sega, confused as to why Sega would take down many perfectly decent games. 

The worst part was, some of these games - including ChuChu Rocket! mobile - never returned to these platforms, not even through the later Sega Forever collection (which, ironically, was a series of mobile ports of very dubious standards). This means anyone who wants to play it on their phone who didn't download the game previously will have to download the APK illegitimately for Android (not so complicated), or jailbreak their iPhone (more complicated).

The Future
So what does the future hold for portable ChuChu Rocket! ports? Well, hopefully in the future Sega might bring it back under the Sega Forever range. They've mentioned that they want to add more Dreamcast and Saturn games, and there was absolutely nothing wrong with the mobile port in the first place, so in theory it should be a simple one to resurrect. 

A Nintendo Switch port would be incredible - especially if they added options for controller and touchscreen play. In the meantime I've heard about a spiritual successor to ChuChu called BlobCat, so go check that out for now if you need a ChuChu-like fix on the Switch. You can find our review on it here.

Thanks for reading my pointless ramblings. My name is Lewis. I run the website Alt:Mag where I talk about gaming, anime and other geek culture-related gubbins. You can see me ramble more on Twitter, @LewisJFC. Let us know what you think about portable ChuChu Rocket! in the comments, on Twitter or in our Facebook group. Adiós!

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Jj said...

An interesting factoid: ChuChu was the first online game developed by Sonic Team for the Dreamcast, from there they got the experience for the big PSO project.
ChuChu was the first online game released in USA too.

tmjsuperspy3000 said...

I completely agree with you Lewis. I pretty much had the same conversation with my brother about how the game feels like it was made for touch screens, it really does fit like a glove! I finished all the puzzles and unlocked the Nightopians, something I've never managed before. Nothing like ChuChu Rocket in your pocket!

fatherkrishna said...

Great article