|Series||Sonic the Hedgehog|
Knuckles' Chaotix[a] is a 1995 side-scrolling platform game developed and published by Sega for the 32X. A spin-off of the Sonic the Hedgehog series, the game features Knuckles the Echidna, who leads four other characters collectively known as the Chaotix. The story follows the team in their efforts to prevent series antagonists Doctor Robotnik and Metal Sonic from obtaining six magical rings and taking over a mysterious island. Gameplay is similar to earlier Sonic games; players must complete each level, while collecting rings and defeating enemies. Knuckles' Chaotix, however, introduces a partner system whereby the player character is tethered to another with "ring force", producing rubber band-like physics. Players use this to maneuver the characters through levels.
Unlike many other Sonic games, Knuckles' Chaotix was not developed by Sonic Team, but another internal development team at Sega. Development can be traced back to Sonic Crackers, a 1994 prototype for the Sega Genesis featuring Sonic and Tails, with which the developers experimented with the ring force tether. The concept was retained when development transitioned to the 32X, where development continued under the working title Knuckles' Ringstar. Sonic and Tails were removed from the game and replaced by Knuckles and four other characters, including Mighty the Armadillo, who first appeared in the arcade game SegaSonic the Hedgehog (1993).
Critical reception to Knuckles' Chaotix has been mixed. Critics found the tethering physics cumbersome, although some appreciated Sega's attempt to innovate in the series. The game has been considered the last classic game of the Sonic series and a declining point. Some characters and concepts introduced in the game were featured in later Sonic games and media. Despite interest from fans, it has not been re-released beyond a brief period through GameTap in the mid-2000s.
Knuckles' Chaotix is a side-scrolling platform game that uses the basic gameplay elements of earlier entries in the Sonic series. However, unlike other Sonic games, players are tethered to a computer or human-controlled partner; the tether behaves like a rubber band, and players use its physics to maneuver through stages. There are five playable characters, each with their own unique moves: Knuckles the Echidna can glide and climb walls, Mighty the Armadillo can jump up and kick off walls, Espio the Chameleon can run along walls and ceilings, Vector the Crocodile can boost through the air and climb walls, and Charmy Bee can fly and hover. There are two other partner characters, Heavy the Robot and Bomb, who hinder players' progress due to their slow or destructive nature, respectively.:7–9 The story takes place on a mysterious island and follows the group's efforts to stop Doctor Robotnik and Metal Sonic from harnessing the power of the island's mythical Chaos Rings to satisfy their evil deeds.:2
The game takes place over six levels called attractions. Each attraction is divided into five acts (compared to previous Sonic games' two or three); the fifth ends in a boss fight with Robotnik and one of his large robots. Each act has a different time of day decor, such as morning, noon, evening, and night. Like earlier Sonic games, players collect rings, jump to perform a spin attack to defeat enemies, and can perform a spin dash on the ground to gain speed.:10,15 Power-ups include rings, shields, and and speed shoes.:18 The partner mechanic offers actions not seen in earlier Sonic games: players can call their partner if they are separated, which reunites them with the main character but costs 10 rings, or throw their partner to reach platforms. If the partner is computer-controlled, the player can stop and anchor the partner to perform special moves, such as "snapping" to a partner on a higher ledge, or build tension by moving away and releasing to gain a boost.:10–11
Before entering a stage, the player begins in the Attraction Information Center, a hub world where they choose a partner and level and see which attractions they have completed. Bonus levels are hidden throughout the levels, and can also be triggered by finishing with 20 or more rings.:15 In the bonus levels, the player attempts to pick up power-ups while falling.:19 In the special stages, entered by finishing a level with 50 or more rings, the player must collect blue spheres in a forward-scrolling platformer to earn a Chaos Ring.:22 Collecting all Chaos Rings unlocks the best ending, in which Sonic and Tails are seen with the Chaotix, who have freed the island from Robotnik.
Development and release
Development of Knuckles' Chaotix began in early 1994 as an engine test, Sonic Crackers,[b] for the Sega Genesis. Contrary to popular belief, Crackers and Knuckles' Chaotix were not developed by Sonic Team, but another internal development team including directors Masahide Kobayashi, Atsuhiko Nakamura, Naohisa Nakazawa; producers Hiroshi Aso, Makoto Oshitani, Mike Larsen; artist Takumi Miyakewas; and young members of the staff who had worked on Sonic CD (1993). The prototype featured Sonic and Tails joined together by an elastic band of rings, and its core tethering gameplay provided the foundation for Knuckles' Chaotix. The prototype ROM image can be downloaded and played with emulators. Development eventually moved to the 32X add-on for the Genesis, which made the system more powerful. Rather than featuring Sonic, the game was reworked around a group of supporting characters led by Knuckles the Echidna, and the project was titled Knuckles' Ringstar, and was later renamed Knuckles' Chaotix.
Along with Knuckles being given a starring role, the game includes Mighty the Armadillo, who had previously appeared in the arcade game SegaSonic the Hedgehog (1993). Vector the Crocodile made his debut; he was originally designed to appear in the original Sonic the Hedgehog (1991) but was scrapped before its release. The game also features two other new characters: Espio the Chameleon and Charmy Bee, the latter who originally appeared in the Sonic the Hedgehog manga. These four characters have been dubbed "The Chaotix" in retrospect. Tails was intended to appear as a playable character, but was scrapped. A leaked prototype version of the game lists Espio's name as the featured character on the title screen instead of Knuckles, suggesting he was once featured more prominently, possibly in a starring role. The 32X's processing power allowed the implementation dynamic sprite-scaling effects, and the special stages were rendered with 3D polygons. A complex palette system was implemented, allowing each level to load its own unique colors. The music was composed by Junko Siratsu and Mariko Nanba.
Knuckles' Chaotix was released in North America on April 20, 1995, in Japan on April 21, 1995, and in Europe in June 1995. Considered a valuable collector's item due to the 32X's commercial failure, the game's only re-release was in 2005, when it was made available for macOS and Microsoft Windows via the subscription service GameTap.
The game's presentation divided critics. The four reviewers of Electronic Gaming Monthly (EGM) praised its graphics and believed the game was one of the best for the 32X, and GameFan considered it the best entry in the franchise since Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992). However, a reviewer from Next Generation found the graphics garish, and felt that the game made "unimpressive attempts to show off". Both GamePro and IGN believed the game failed to push the 32X to its limits, citing the lack of graphical effects and Genesis-quality audio, though IGN felt some elements, such as several musical tracks, were highlights. In 2008, GamesRadar wrote that Knuckles' Chaotix was the best game for the 32X and was underrated, though it still considered it a "wasted opportunity".
The "rubber band" multiplayer mechanic was largely panned, despite being acknowledged as an effort to innovate. Though IGN admired the attempt to "breathe life into a series that was running out of steam" and fix the lopsided multiplayer of Sonic 2 and Sonic 3 (1994), whereby Tails would get lost off-screen, they felt the physics were "clunky" and unorthodox. EGM felt the mechanic was original, but slowed down the gameplay, as did GamesRadar. Next Generation felt the bond was tiring and not truly innovative, and GamePro called it Knuckles' Chaotix's biggest flaw, finding it frustrating and choppy. The reviewer also found that the bond complicated gameplay and compared it to being handcuffed.
The level design and low difficulty were also criticized. GamePro wrote that the levels, while fairly large, were not populated with enough enemies or secrets, a sentiment echoed by IGN and Mean Machines Sega. IGN considered the boss design simplistic and the level design bland and seemingly unfinished. However, IGN, GameFan, and EGM praised the number of playable characters, and IGN felt the game's "marvelous" fully 3D special stages were the best of the Sonic series.
IGN described Knuckles' Chaotix as "a bad game with a good foundation," and in another article, concluded that the game was interesting, if flawed. EGM felt the game was the best for the 32X but failed to live up to previous games in the Sonic series. Some journalists have referred to Knuckles' Chaotix as the series' declining point, and AllGame and Complex both wrote that it was among the worst games in the series.
Knuckles' Chaotix has been considered the last in the "classic" series of Sonic games before the 3D game Sonic Adventure (1998) took the series in new gameplay directions. Several of its concepts were re-used in later Sonic games. A similar partner mechanic features in the Game Boy Advance game Sonic Advance 3 (2004), and IGN noted similarities between the game's auto-running special stages and Sonic and the Secret Rings (2007). Two tracks from Knuckles' Chaotix, "Tube Panic" and "Door Into Summer", appear in Sonic Generations (2011), and the "Hyper Ring" power-up re-appeared in Sonic Mania (2017).
With the exception of Mighty, who has made only cameo appearances, all the Chaotix members have become recurring characters in the Sonic series.[c] The group had storylines in the Sonic the Hedgehog comic series produced by Archie Comics and Sonic the Comic by Fleetway Publications. GamesRadar considered the introduction of the Chaotix a turning point for the series, as it "diluted the Sonic-verse by introducing tons of shitty characters".
In 2011, Sega stated that fans frequently requested Knuckles' Chaotix for re-release. 1UP.com felt the 2005 compilation game Sonic Gems Collection was incomplete without the game. In 2010, the head of Sonic Team, Takashi Iizuka, expressed interest in developing a sequel. Christian Whitehead, the developer of the mobile versions of Sonic CD, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Sonic the Hedgehog 2, said in 2014 that he would be open to remaking Knuckles' Chaotix using the Retro Engine.
- The game is titled on the title screen and in regions outside North America as Chaotix (Japanese: カオティクス Hepburn: Kaotikusu)
- Sonic Crackers is sometimes referred to as Sonic Stadium because of the ROM header containing the title Sonic Studium [sic].
- Games featuring the Chaotix include Sonic Heroes (2003), Shadow the Hedgehog (2005), Sonic Rivals 2 (2007), the Nintendo DS version of Sonic Colors (2010), Sonic Generations, and Sonic Forces (2017); Espio is a playable character in the arcade game Sonic the Fighters (1996) and Vector is playable in Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games (2007) and its sequels.
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Also known as "Sonic Crackers," this simple prototype for the Genesis was an early version of what would eventually be released on Sega's 32X as Knuckles' Chaotix.
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