Chip’s Challenge 1 & 2 Review

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Chip’s Challenge is one of the hidden treasures of the late ‘80s (or early ‘90s, depending on which version you played). It’s a game with a very simple objective – navigate a maze and step on the exit tile – but through clever use of tricky obstacles, it presented a serious, engaging challenge that has remained close to the hearts of many of its original players. And, indeed, the Chip’s Challenge internet community remains vibrant and prolific to this day, working on speedruns of individual puzzles as well as creating and sharing homemade levels. It was for these people that series creator Chuck Sommerville developed Chip’s Challenge 2 a whopping 25 years ago. After its two-year development time, Chuck found out that the trademark to his game had been sold, and the new owner wasn’t interested in publishing the game. Now, after the success of spiritual successor Chuck’s Challenge 3D (and five years of negotiation with the rights holders), the unreleased sequel has finally arrived on Steam, along with an updated version of the original title. These games have a legacy, but have they aged well?

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The story of Chip’s Challenge follows typical high-school nerd Chip McCallahan, who has a serious crush on classmate Melinda the Mental Marvel. He wants to impress her by joining her extracurricular club, the Bit Busters, but in order to be initiated, he has to pass an examination called the Challenge: 149 tricky mazes intended to test both the mind and the reflexes. That’s about all there is to the plot, but Chip’s Challenge 2 mixes it up a bit by pitting both Chip and Melinda against a new set of challenges created by Vladimir Gerajkee the Puzzle Master.

In effect, the story is almost identical to the first game, though I did enjoy the character of Vladimir: he starts with the same warm, encouraging demeanor as Melinda had in the original, but as you get closer to clearing his Challenge, he starts to become more spiteful. He’s proud of his supposedly-unbeatable Challenge, and so he begins offering more insults and fewer hints as the game goes on. It’s a simple touch, but I appreciated it.

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In terms of presentation, it’s clear that Chip’s Challenge 2 is ancient. The game is filled with the kind of flat, goofy sprites characteristic of PC games twenty years ago, and the effect is sealed by the kitschy ragtime MIDI music playing in the background. It’s very much of its time, and it’s actually kind of charming because of it. It looks pretty good in motion, and there’s enough variety in the music that you don’t get sick of it. The Chip’s Challenge re-release has been updated with the same graphics and sound as the sequel, which is a good thing, because the original Windows release was ugly as sin.

The gameplay, again, is simple – you can move up, down, left, and right, and your objective is to find the exit tile. Most levels are also littered with computer chips that can be collected; once you do, you can open “chip sockets” that are usually found blocking the way to the exit. The idea may be simple, but the game definitely isn’t easy: the Challenge is chock-full of obstacles such as bonfires, deep water, slippery ice, locked doors, and magnetic conveyor belts, each designed to make your life difficult as you hunt for the way out. Each level arranges these obstacles in very different, creative ways, and you’ll have to puzzle out how to avoid them, go through them, or use them to your advantage.

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Chip’s Challenge 2 adds a lot of new puzzle elements that weren’t in the original. Some of them you might recognize if you’ve played Chuck’s Challenge 3D, such as the player-controllable Yellow Tanks or the deadly green slime that disappears if you slide a block over it. Others are completely new, such as railroad tracks that can’t be crossed from the side, a Ghost enemy that can pass through most walls (but won’t cross water), or flame jets that can be toggled on and off by finding and pressing a nearby button. All the new elements work well and, for the most part, fit right in among the relatively small set of elements introduced in the first game. I was worried that the sheer volume of new things in the game might get overwhelming, but the tutorial levels are wisely spaced out over the first half of the game rather than all bunched up at the beginning (as they were in Chip’s Challenge), allowing the player to digest all the new information in manageable chunks.

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In fact, the whole of Chip’s Challenge 2 seems to have learned a lot of lessons from the original game. For example, in Chip’s Challenge, all the levels were the same sprawling size. This created an obligation to fill the space, causing some simple levels to cross the line into tedium as you have to do the same thing over and over again without screwing up. (Level 23, “Blobnet”, is a particularly egregious example, forcing you to weave between randomly-moving lethal green blobs. I’ve played and beaten Chip’s Challenge on many platforms, and Blobnet still fills me with seething rage.) Chip’s Challenge 2 fixes this by having a variety of different level sizes, allowing the puzzle designers to distill each level down to the parts that are interesting. This creates a smoother, more well-considered experience, and a game that’s much more about puzzles than it is about execution. Chip’s Challenge 2 remains challenging the whole way through, and never gets maddeningly frustrating the way Chip’s Challenge often did.

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If the 200 puzzles in Chip’s Challenge 2 aren’t enough for you, the game offers a level editor sold separately as DLC. I wouldn’t be surprised if this tool was the same one used to create the main game’s puzzles, as it’s 100% fully featured and comes with all the pieces used in the main game. I tested it out by creating a fully-functioning level shaped like our logo, pictured above! The interface was quick and easy, though I really wish the editing pane could be resized – it’s tiny. Regardless, it’s very much usable, and I’m really looking forward to what the Chip’s Challenge community will do once they have their hands on all these new toys.

The Verdict: 8.4 out of 10

More than just an intellectual curiosity from an earlier era of PC gaming, Chip’s Challenge and Chip’s Challenge 2 are clever games with strong mechanics that hold up to this day. They both offer an engaging, challenging experience that lures you in with its easy rules before keeping you up at night, repeating the old mantra of “just one more level.” If you’re only going to get one, get Chip’s Challenge 2, as it’s the better title overall (and more accessible to modern gamers). Both are very, very good games, however — their cult following is there for a reason, after all. And now that we have the definitive version of Chip’s Challenge along with its previously-unreleased sequel on the world’s biggest PC gaming marketplace, it’s a safe bet that the fanbase will only grow from here.

For more information about what the score means, check out our official review scale.


Aaron Dobbe is an Associate Writer at MONG specializing in Nintendo but playing a bit of everything else too. Follow him on Facebook and pester him to get a Twitter.

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