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Games Time Forgot: Chameleon Twist

4:00 PM on 05.27.2009 // Ashley Davis

Every Wednesday, we highlight rarely-remembered but interesting games for our "Games Time Forgot" series.

Anthony Burch, whom I share this weekly article with, often tells me how he believes the Nintendo 64 is the ultimate home for forgotten games. At first, I didn't really think much of the remark. The N64 was the only console I owned during the 64-bit era, and I gave pretty much every game for the system a go at least once. For a long time, I just assumed that everyone had played all the same games as I did. But now that I really think about it, he may just be right.

The system does seem to have a lot more games that have been left to the past than most others. It's not that they're obscure per se, but they just don't turn up in conversation often anymore. It's not often that you hear someone proclaim that Buck Bumble is a great shooter, or recommend games like Iggy's Reckin' Balls or Tonic Trouble to anyone. There's just those few great N64 games -- Mario 64, Ocarina of Time, Banjo-Kazooie -- that still get any spotlight time.

Chameleon Twist is one of the best examples of what the abyss of forgotten games for the N64 contains. By some fluke, I picked up this game not long after it was released. While I was not completely dazzled by the game, I did enjoy it quite a lot, as children are want to do with mediocre things. But then I lost my entire childhood collection of games and consoles during a move to a new home around the year 2001. Without a physical copy of the game to remind me that it ever existed, all of my memories of Chameleon Twist escaped me, only to return just recently when reminded by the Destructoid community in some of my comments a while back.

This week, we'll take a look at this forgotten game, just one of many for the system.

Story: The story of Chameleon Twist borrows a few ideas from from Lewis Carroll's Alice books, particularly the plot point of following a white rabbit down a hole that is actually a portal into another world. But in this story, the small girl is replaced with one of four playable chameleons, who seem to retain Alice's curiosity, if nothing else. Once through the rabbit hole, the chameleon, whose body has warped into a larger, more humanoid form, must employ the help of the white rabbit to try and get back home to normalcy.

It's just too bad that the rabbit only shows up at the beginning of each level, gives you a very vague message, and then leaves for the next world. That means it is mostly up to you and Davy, Linda, Jack or Fred the chameleon to find the way out.

Gameplay: Chameleon Twist is a 3D platformer that has a pretty neat idea going for it: being a chameleon, your greatest tool is your tongue. Pressing and holding the B button extends the tongue until it hits a wall, pole, or reaches its maximum length. The tongue can move around somewhat freely with guidance from the control stick while it is still extending. Enemies are defeated by lapping them up with your tongue, as any foe in its path will get stuck to it. You can then spit them back out at other enemies. You can lick up a lot of enemies at once and shoot them back out one by one, or all at once.

The tongue is not just your means for attacking, but also plays a big part in how you get around. For example, if the tongue runs into a pole, it will automatically grab on and pull you forward. By using the control stick, you can swing around if you need to. These moves are useful for crossing large gaps that you cannot simply jump across. The tongue can also be used like a pole vault to make high jumps.

Add all of this tongue lashing, spitting, and spinning to a standard platformer, and you'd think that you would have something somewhat special.

Why you're probably not playing it: The tongue mechanics are pretty much all this game's got going for it. The levels of Chameleon Twist are very bare-boned and easy. There are some enemies to kill, a single item to collect, and a tiny sprinkling of puzzles. The bosses have nothing too special to offer. The game looked horrible, even compared to earlier N64 carts.

All of the different things the player could do with the chameleon tongue were something that had never been done before, but they are pretty much the only thing interesting about the game. A cool gimmick is never enough to save a game from mediocrity, especially if that idea is all the game has to fall back on. Something as cool as having an extendable, controllable tongue can only carry a game so far.

Insufficient advertising may also be to blame. After riding high during the NES era, publisher Sunsoft released Chameleon Twist near the end of their life outside of Japan. It would still be a few years before the company would have to pull back on publishing videogames, but they probably were already aware they were not doing so well at this point. They may have simply lacked the money to advertise the game well, or they may not have cared, knowing that their end would soon come no matter what they did.

Chameleon Twist pretty much deserves to be abandoned by time. Just like pretty much any other forgotten title for the Nintendo 64, the game is generally bad. However, it seems to be saved by nostalgia, if one happens to have it. Those who have just played the game in recent years tend to loathe it, while those who played the game during their youths have elevated the game to a sort of cultish status, despite all of its flaws and shortcomings.

Though it is just a tiny side feature, my personal favorite of the game is probably a gigantic pool table that is found in the last level of the game. The pool balls can only be moved by using your tongue as a cue. Playing and winning the game doesn't really do much of anything, nor is it required to complete the game, but it is still very fun. And no element of gameplay, not even anything offered today, feels quite like licking up a dozen baddies and spitting them back out like a machine gun.

Ashley Davis,
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