Chompy Chomp Chomp
May 28, 2012 12 Comments
The first arcade video game was a title called “Computer Space” by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney. A remake of the 1960s computer game Spacewar!, it featured an insanely cool looking cabinet and complex space dog-fights. It was a total flop, commercially speaking. It was more expensive than pinball machines, so most amusement route operators refused to take it. Among the ones that did, word quickly spread that Computer Space offered little or no return on their initial investment. Undeterred, Bushnell and Dabney founded Syzygy, then changed the name to Atari when they found out a bunch of hippies owned the name Syzygy and were using it to sell candles. They figured the problem with Computer Space was that it just wasn’t complex enough. That was wrong, of course. People didn’t play Computer Space because they were intimidated by it. Meanwhile, they had hired a young engineer named Al Alcorn and gave him an assignment to build his game building skills: an electronic version of table tennis. They didn’t intend to sell the game, but once they saw what he had made, they realized it was way more fun than Computer Space. They called it Pong, and the rest is history.
The lesson learned: keep it simple, stupid.
I was reminded of that story (which I got from Steven Kent’s Ultimate History of Video Games) while I played Chompy Chomp Chomp, the new benchmark for me when it comes to party-type Xbox Live Indie Games. Granted, I haven’t played a lot of games that specifically target four-player competitive play on the platform. With that in mind, allow me to say that Chompy Chomp Chomp’s gameplay holds as much appeal as many mainstream party games. It’s really well done. Oddly enough, the idea is just so simple that I’m honestly baffled that nobody has done it yet.
Think of Chompy Chomp Chomp as a game of cat and mouse where you are simultaneously the cat and the mouse. You play as an alien thingie that is either red, blue, purple, or orange. Under your feet is a ring that indicates what color opponent you can currently eat. All you have to do is touch that person and you eat them. Of course, the entire time you’re chasing that person, another person is on the map trying to eat you. It’s such a smart design that succeeds in creating an almost cartoon like sense of fun. Lots of rounds play out like that Looney Tunes short where Tweety drinks the Jekyll & Hyde potion and takes turns running from and chasing Sylvester. The person you are targeting changes at random, and that actually led to hilariously comical situations where someone was chasing someone else that was supposed to be trying to eat them. The best part about that? It never failed to crack up the entire room when it happened.
The previous high mark for me in the XBLIG party game department had been Hidden in Plain Sight. But there’s a stark difference between the two games. Hidden in Plain Sight is very much the Computer Space to Chompy’s Pong. The learning curve is steeper, play sessions are typically more serious, and the game is missing that feeling of almost contagious joy that the best party games carry. Chompy Chomp Chomp has that. Whether I was playing with my friends or with some casual associates, everyone smiled. Younger kids liked it, teens did, and my much older colleagues did too.
You know what? I did too. I never did shake the feeling that Chompy Chomp Chomp felt more like a really great multiplayer afterthought that was tacked on to a full-release at the last second, but it doesn’t matter. 80MSP for one of the best party games of this generation is a no-brainer. I don’t really have anything big to complain about. The game handles awesome, the power-ups work, and there are plenty of maps to play with. Thank God there’s enough little things to bitch about that I won’t lose my edge.
For starters, the spawning in this game can be incredibly cheap. You spawn randomly, and I swear to Christ the game can be downright vindictive about it. It can even spawn you right next to someone at the very moment the color changes to that person, leading to a no-chance kill. Or there are times that someone will activate a gas bomb that saps away your points if you linger in it. If we could have just turned off this specific item, we would have. Because, almost without fail, if there’s a gas cloud located in one of the corners and you die, you will spawn in it. You lose points every time you die (a concept I’m not in love with), so getting hit with the double whammy of dying and then spawning inside a gas cloud is so aggravating. Hell, this one time I spawned in a gas cloud WITH a sticky floor (another item), causing me to go from 1st place to 4th place with zero points in a matter of two seconds. Jolly laughs were had by my friends, while I sat there and stewed in my chair, contemplating how many Xbox controllers they could each fit up their asses.
Also, some of the levels are just not very well conceived. One stage had very narrow corridors, yet the spawns are still random. This led to situations where someone would get eaten, then spawn in a location where they were essentially cornered from the get go, with no hope (or room) to escape. This can happen several times in a row, before the roles get reversed. Mind you, this only happens in one or two stages, but when it does, it just totally kills the mood. It’s that dreaded “parents walking in on you having sex” buzzkill that games have desperately got to avoid.
But that stuff really is nit picky. Chompy Chomp Chomp is one of the best Xbox Live Indie Games for those of you with a social life. It has very good graphics, quirky music, pick-up-and-play design, and the best online menus I’ve seen on XBLIG so far. Actually, I really have to tip my hat to the developers for how well the online stuff worked. I played it for two hours and had only one single network glitch, where I got dropped from a game. It’s shocking because every single online XBLIG I’ve played up to this point has been riddled with game-killing bugs and various other annoyances. I can’t even say for sure if Chompy’s one and only fart was because of it or because of something on my end. Kudos. Yea, I know most of you come here to read me bust a game’s balls, but if you’re actually looking for something new to try with your friends, surprise them with Chompy Chomp Chomp. Sorry if I don’t have a good laugh line to go out on, but I think I blew up my cerebral cortex trying to decide if (well, actually where) it falls on the leaderboard.
80 Microsoft Points said their next game better be about a utopian world of sandwiches in the making of this review.
A review copy of Chompy Chomp Chomp was provided by Utopian World of Sandwiches to Indie Gamer Chick. The copy played by Kairi was purchased by her with her own Microsoft Points. The review code was given to someone else to provide her with a proper online experience. That person was not involved at all in the writing or editing of this review. For more information on this policy, please consult the Indie Gamer Chick FAQ.