Aside from my unquenchable thirst for collecting game cartridges that I’ve yet to play, my only motivation for picking up Chameleon Twist was memories of playing it alongside my mother when I was a youngster. Upon starting the game, I found this to be confusing because, although some images from the game neatly fit my memory such as the cookie enemies and the ant queen boss, the only two player mode is the battle mode, which means I couldn’t have played through the game with my mother. It sort of makes me wonder what other memories from my childhood are complete fabrications.
The transition from 2D to 3D was a painful one for video games. No precedence had really been set, so developers were forced to experiment with different control schemes and mechanics to make use of the extra dimension. Experimentation may sound fabulous in today’s world of mass-produced sequels and formulaic open world games, but it wasn’t always much fun at the time. Chameleon Twist came out one year after the N64 and the seminal 3D entry in the Mario series and shares many of the growing pains of the platforming genre, but at least on the surface it has an infectiously cheerful disposition.
A SLIP OF THE TONGUE
Chameleon Twist is the story of a chameleon who is just lazing around one day when a white rabbit comes tearing by. The chameleon follows the rabbit into a hole and is immediately morphed into a marshmallow-headed monstrosity. Your goal is to… return home, I guess? There’s no actual story development here, so I honestly can’t think of what else you’d be trying to accomplish.
You’re given a choice between four round-headed characters that don’t look anything like chameleons and, aside from their goofy expressions and colour scheme, are completely identical. Gameplay centers around the use of the chameleon’s extendable tongue, which is used to vault them up to higher places or stick to enemies and conveniently placed posts. It’s certainly an interesting gimmick with some neat usage, but it’s unfortunately weighed down by extremely sluggish controls and somewhat frustrating level design.
It’s not all bad. The game is ridiculously charming. Each of the levels
Really, it was the game’s personality that carried me through to the end, but I wouldn’t say it was a comfortable journey. There were certain moments where I was almost ready to call it quits, and those moments always came down to the platforming demanding more precision than the controls are capable of.
The chameleon is a sluggish and twitchy animal with extremely poor eyesight. Movement is just so unresponsive and sticky that even the most basic actions are made difficult. None of the game’s challenges are particularly unreasonable and are always presented in bite-sized portions, but it can take multiple tries just to get your tongue wagging the intended direction. The responsibility may lie, at least in part, at the feet of the N64’s stiff and unwieldy analog stick. Most of the chameleon’s abilities simply rely on it being pointed in the right direction, whether you’re trying to latch onto a post or spit enemies at other enemies, but the precision is just not there. You can lock your character in place with the R button, which gives you a dotted line as guidance, but even then, trying to line it up with your target is difficult.
A CHAMELEON EYE VIEW
Then there’s the camera. To the game’s credit, you can control it like a proper 3D camera, but only barely. There are two separate view modes to choose from: one that looks down at a fixed angle, and another that freely floats around your chameleon. It’s best to forget about the free camera since it has a nasty habit of getting stuck behind scenery and rarely offers a useful angle. The locked camera is more usable, but just barely. It greatly limits your field of vision and tends to sway around under its own influence. This can lead to bumping into enemies obscured off-screen or running off a cliff because the camera realigned itself at an inopportune moment.
There’s one level, the desert castle, which features a camera different from the other levels. This one chases your character throughout the whole sequence, giving the game an almost pseudo-sidescroller feel. I wish they used it for the other levels because for a few glorious minutes I was actually able to muster some appreciation for the game’s mechanics instead of constantly wrestling with a problematic camera.
A TONGUE LASHING
Even with all these problems in mind, Chameleon Twist is at least an endurable experience, but only because it’s over in about 2 hours. It consists of only 6 levels clocking in at about 20 minutes each. As far as I can tell, there’s absolutely no penalty for death, so having to continue repeatedly at a particularly difficult section isn’t much of a hindrance. Every obstacle can be overcome with perseverance and patience, so there’s not much to get slowed down by. It also ends rather abruptly. I can’t even say for certain that every level needs to be completed since the 6th level is unlocked simply by beating the 4th or 5th. Once you complete the sixth level, the game unceremoniously ends without anything resembling a climax.
Afterward you can go back to previous stages to try and collect any crowns that you may have missed. This allegedly unlocks special areas and some sort of boss attack mode, but I wasn’t willing to replay the game to see it.
Even still, it’s hard to completely hate Chameleon Twist, but it’s equally difficult to actually like it. With its cute art style, clever mechanics, and decent assortment of challenges, it seems to have at least been made with love. It’s because of its infectiously light-hearted personality that I stuck with it, even when it demanded far too much from its own clumsy controls. It’s unique enough, but while it’s unlikely that I’ll ever pick it up again for another playthrough, at least can always cherish the wonderful falsified memories I have of it.
This review was conducted on a Nintendo 64 console using a cartridge copy of the game. It was paid for by the author. Portions of this review were original posted on mobygames.com.