Retro Profile: Kid Chameleon (Virtual Console – Sega Genesis)


kidc_screen2The folks at Sega were no strangers to offbeat games. A look at some of their earliest examples on the Sega Master System like Alex Kidd, Space Harrier, and Fantasy Zone reveal that the arcade game developing powerhouse of years past had a knack for creating games that were based on familiar gameplay elements, but adding their own twist to the genre. That tradition carried over to the Genesis console with games like Alien Storm and Sonic the Hedgehog hitting the scene in the early 90’s. It was during this period year that Kid Chameleon was released for the Genesis. It turned out to be a game that wasn’t your run-of-the-mill platformer.

While it did borrow trademark elements of Super Mario Brothers (smashing bricks, discovering “secret” blocks), the game still had one unique aspect that separated it from the vast number of similar games available at the time. It was enough to strike a chord with my older brother back then after he had come home from spending a weekend over his friend’s house. He excitedly began telling me about this neat Genesis game featuring a boy who was sure to end up having some sort of multiple personality disorder by the time his adventures came to a finish.

The story opens with a new virtual reality arcade machine (“Wild Side”, according to the intro scenes) getting attention from every kid in town, due its ability to create true-to-life holographic worlds and surreal challenges. The problem is that once folks go in, they never come out. It turns out that the sinister Heady Metal boss is defeating everyone who tried to go up against him; and when that happens, that’s it – Game Over man. It’s your job as Kid Chameleon to step into the arcade and give him a taste of his own medicine.
Starting out, you have the default set of moves-walk/run, jump on enemies (or avoid them completely), so on and so forth. There’s also only two hit points available to you as well as a timer that is constantly counting down, indicating that you’ve got somewhere to be or else it’ll be curtains for our hero sporting the sun shades.

Common as these elements were back in the day, you can also make use of eight different helmets or masks that grants him unique abilities with a persona to match. You’ll first discover the knight helmet which turns him into Iron Knight–a sturdy character that can scale walls, stomp bricks and foes, and has the most hit points of all the various personas. The samurai helmet turns Kid into the warrior Red Stealth. This samurai has an enhanced ability to jump and can use his sword to defeat enemies that can’t be defeated by jumping on them. He can also break down certain floors with his sword. One of my favorites is the hockey mask which turns him into Maniaxe–an axe-wielding Jason Voorhees look alike. The varied powers and personas of each helmet/mask helped to set this game apart from the other Mario clones that were out there. I always enjoyed finding a new mask deeper into the game and seeing what I could do with it. It’s that kind of intrigue that kept me coming back.

Weighing in at a hefty 100 levels (plus bonus areas), Kid Chameleon is an unusually long game for its genre. As can be expected, things don’t get any easier as you go further along. Enemies become trickier to destroy without (and sometimes even with) the help of your enhanced abilities. In addition to this, some the levels have their own hazards to deal with, such as a rushing wall of spikes forcing you to quickly navigate the area or get crushed. One of the most annoying parts for me was The Crystal Crags stage where you have to traverse through a snowstorm while dodging ice particles. As I progressed through the game, I also noticed that the helmets and masks play a more significant roll in the success or failure of getting through an area. The good news is that you have diamond powers that can be used depending on how many diamonds you have.

Jamie Alston is somewhat of an unusual gamer. While most people crave the visual delights that can be found in many of the current generation consoles of today, he actually prefers the 8-bit & “super 8-bit” (SNES) glory days of yesteryear. This is probably due in part to the fact that his brother chose the Nintendo Entertainment System over the Sega Genesis back in 1989…or maybe it had more to do with that time when he fell and hit his head on the blacktop in elementary school. Whatever the reason might be, Jamie has an undying love for those unnecessarily big cartridges he spent so many summer afternoons playing. When he’s not raiding trucks that “have started to move” for rations and key cards, he stays busy supporting his gaming hobby by working as a Policies & Procedures Analyst for a financial company in Baltimore, Maryland. And when he’s not working for “the man”, he’s working on the next retro review for the week. And when he’s not fighting off writer’s block and much needed sleep, he’s raiding trucks that “have started to”—well, you get the idea. Currently living in Randallstown, MD, Jamie sums up his life long dream this way: “If I one day find myself driving on the highway in a 2004 Honda Accord with an NES directional pad for a steering wheel, you can bet that I’ll be holding the up direction for that turbo boost on the straight-aways. That’s when I’ll know that I’ve finally made it in life”.