The Nintendo DS has seen a whole slew of original experimental puzzle games, a suitable genre for the unorthodox handheld. Some of them are awesome, and revolutionize the genre, while others are travesties to the mind. Starfish's new anime-inspired puzzler, Chameleon, is neither. It's a brightly colored puzzle game that is so dull and forgettable it doesn't do its own rainbow title screen justice.
Chameleon is pretty simple. There's a large board covered in different colored tiles. Players start off controlling one of these tiles. The goal is to gain control over half of the board. Players gain spaces by choosing a color to turn all their tiles into. Any adjacent, like-colored tiles are assimilated into the collection. It has a similar feel to Reversi, but with a lot more colors. Powerups and traps litter the playing field to throw in some strategy elements.
Hosting the game is a quartet of generic anime chicks, ranging from busty, scantily clad women, to underage, bookish girls in ridiculously short dresses. They all have mini bios that tell important facts. Take Eboshi, the one with the biggest boobs, for instance. According to her bio, "she loves strawberries but hates insects." With that nugget of crucial information players can now relate to the character as they play a puzzle game that features neither strawberries nor insects.
Chameleon, as a puzzle is pretty solid. It's simple to learn, but is intricate enough to provide a challenge. The puzzles are randomly generated so it's always different, and the complexity of each round can be altered by how the colored tiles line up. Chameleon offers three different game modes, each with its own appeal. However, the game's presentation and controls are done so poorly that it makes the game too annoying to be truly worth playing.
For a game based around colored tiles, it's natural to have a bright layout, and Chameleon does so well. Everything is vibrant like one would expect from a game hosted by girls. The graphics as a whole are pretty basic, and the characters only have a couple poses, no animation whatsoever. It would have been nice to have them move a little, considering how often they pop up onto the screen. The music is upbeat and inoffensive, which conflicts with the absolutely terrible sound effects, especially in the menu screen. Every action is punctuated by a chimpanzee screech. It's like playing the game at the zoo.
When the game starts, the entire board is shown over both screens. However as the game progresses the board gets bigger and instead of zooming out to show the whole thing, the game just forces the player to scroll around. It's annoying, but not a huge deal, until you factor in the timer. Each turn is timed, and the default is a mere 10 seconds. Since the camera automatically goes to where the farthest piece is, it doesn't leave a lot of time to scroll back and pick a color. There is an option to change the amount of time for the turns, which is both a blessing and a curse. It's a relief to play the game without the sensation of panic caused by the countdown clock.
However, it quickly becomes apparent that the timer was where all the challenge came from. Chameleon becomes a cakewalk since the AI doesn't seem to be very smart. The computer opponent will regularly grab trap pieces, and will clearly not make the right decision, even in the later levels. The game isn't complicated, it's easy to see what the next move should be, and yet they'll do something else. It doesn't help that the player always gets to go first, putting them at an immediate advantage.
The only way to get a good challenge is to play Chameleon against other people. It's a saving grace that the developers put in a single card multiplayer mode into the title. It's doubtful anyone will go out to buy Chameleon after playing the multiplayer, though, since the single player is nowhere near as fun as defeating a friend with the power of hot anime chicks and rainbow colors.
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