Chuck’s Challenge 3D is a puzzle game that can trace back its lineage quite clearly thanks to its designer Chuck Sommerville. Chuck is the creator of Chip’s Challenge, a 1989 Atari Lynx release that eventually spread out to Windows, Amiga, ZX Spectrum and all the other notable computer platforms of the day. In both games, the main character must navigate a variety of obstacle filled mazes one block at a time, with the skill coming from completing levels quickly and without error or death. It’s a game with simplistic goals, which makes sense considering that it first debuted on mobile platforms a few months ago. Now, with a bit of polish, Chuck and his alien compatriots are challenging the Steam marketplace as well.
As I alluded to, the game does have a story, albeit a paper-thin one. Chuck Sommerville is chilling on a beach with a drink, as I imagine all retired game developers do on a daily basis. Suddenly, a purple alien named Woop abducts him out of boredom. They strike a deal that Chuck will create puzzles for Woop to complete in exchange for his freedom, and that’s where the game comes in. It’s not much and it doesn’t get in the way of the game itself. Players can safely ignore it after the very beginning of the game if they’re only in it for the puzzles, although some of the writing did make me chuckle. I would recommend turning off story in the options for certain levels however, since dialogue is activated every time Woop steps over a block bearing a Hawaiian shirt in the game, and those shirts are sometimes placed in such a way that it’s unavoidable to activate story scenes three or four times while completing a puzzle.
Chuck’s Challenge 3D (PC [Reviewed], Android, iOS)
Developer: Niffler Ltd.
Publisher: Nikidu Games Inc.
Release: February 28, 2014
I must admit that I have little experience with games in this particular genre of puzzlers. I can only remember playing a game of this style on the Original Xbox’s arcade service, but the Internet seems to have no recollection of its existence. Anyway, even if you’ve spent a lot of time with games of its ilk, Chuck’s Challenge has a ton of variety which makes every stage feel fresh. There are ice blocks to push, transformation power ups for traversal, enemies to maneuver around, conveyor belts to ride and lava to avoid. Your skills don’t necessarily carry over from level to level due to all this variety, which can be a bit frustrating. After all, it’s hard to get in the groove of these puzzles when each one expects the player to use different mechanics and new strategies to complete it.
That doesn’t mean that the game doesn’t flow however. It feels like a video gaming version of one of those giant books of crossword puzzles one might find at a grocery store. You’re buying a giant collection of over 100 different puzzles to solve in Chuck’s main campaign, and if you have trouble with any one of them, the game doesn’t penalize you for going on to the next one. Some might enjoy the puzzles where you have to push your way out of a cluster of blocks, others might enjoy the races where you have to rush past a wall of alien dogs to get to the exit, but it’s very likely that everyone will find something to enjoy here. It’s very easy to reset puzzles or take a few steps back and experiment with different solutions, which is needed considering how fragile Woop is and how often you’ll end up sending a block careening into your face by accident. I’d even count that in its favor, as finding new and unexpected ways to die always gave me a chuckle.
After you’re done traversing all those mazes, Chuck’s Challenge invites you to make your own. The game features a robust level editor and an array of custom levels from the mobile version ready to be played from the get-go. The mode seems like the same tools that were used in the creation of the main game, and one of the most exciting things about this release will be seeing what puzzles the broader PC community comes up with in the coming months. This will be harder than it needs to be considering the game lacks Steam Workshop support and instead relies on a lacking in-game search feature, but one hopes that it can be patched in at a later date if there is enough demand.
In spite of myself, I had quite a bit of fun with Chuck’s Challenge 3D. It feels like a game that would live in the Games menu in Windows along with that space pinball game and solitaire, which fits since Chip’s Challenge was sold in that capacity for a time. I ran into quite a few levels that I couldn’t even begin to wrap my head around, which means that even veterans of this genre should find something here to enjoy. Chuck’s Challenge shines in short bursts, and the mobile version of the game might be more worth a look if you’re on the go and have a phone that can handle its full graphics. The PC version is a harder sell considering the stiff competition on the platform, but with a bit of post release support it could become a great value. Either way, in the days of Dungeon Keeper on iOS, it’s heartening to see any game from the distant past come back on phones AND PC, and then improve upon its gameplay effortlessly on top of it. This is how you bring back an old franchise, and bigger companies should take notes from it the next time they get it in their head that a game from the ’80s needs microtransactions and energy timers.