For gamers of a certain age, the original Chips Challenge holds a special place in the annals of puzzle game history. Created for the Atari Lynx in 1989, the top down tile-based puzzler became an instance hit, being ported to pretty much every personal computing platform of the generation.
Developed single-handedly by Chuck Sommerville, the frothy backstory of a nerdy high-schooler trying to woo the girl of his dreams took a back seat to addictive and innovative puzzle mechanics that made the game so enjoyable. A follow-up, Chip’s Challenge 2, was created two years later, but licencing issues and legal wrangling with the title’s copyright holders meant that the sequel never saw the light of day.
20 years later, Sommerville and his studio, Niffler, revisited the idea of developing a spiritual successor to Chips Challenge. After probing market appetite with a mobile release of Chuck’s Challenge for iOS, and buoyed by a successful Kickstarter campaign, they have now released Chucks Challenge 3D for PC and Mac.
Fully reimagined in the Unity engine, it is clear that Niffler produced a worthy successor to the much loved classic; no mean feat when you consider how much the industry has evolved in the intervening two decades. The top down view remains unchanged, only now the levels have been imbued with a wonderful tilt-shift perspective that emphasises the cell-shaded artwork, allowing you to zoom all the way out and get an overall view of the playing grid.
With Sommerville at the helm, there was never any doubt that the puzzles wouldn't be inventive and the gameplay compelling, but maintaining its high production standards throughout is testament to the studio’s unflinching determination. Reading through the comments and interactions of other users on the game's Kickstarter page shows just how stoked fans of the franchise were for its return. Niffler kept their four hundred backers updated throughout the development process; sending them test builds and early access codes, listening to end user feedback and consulting on their consumers want.
The core gameplay follows the successful formula of its predecessor closely, in what Niffler has described as ‘a walk through the evolution of gaming.’ The first stages act as rudimentary tutorials, interspersed with some trademark nonsensical dialogue from the eponymous Chuck and a friendly alien called Woop, who has kidnapped our protagonist in the hope that he will create some wild and wacky puzzles to solve. As with Chip’s Challenge, it’s advisable to skip any attempts at storytelling and jump straight from level to level.
The fundamentals of movement and physics are briefly explained as you negotiate and manoeuvre your way from the starting point to the exit portal. It’s all very inviting and sets appropriate pacing for what to expect in later levels.
Progressing through the game, the deceptively simple puzzles soon become more and more complex, in part because certain mechanics are never fully explained. Most functions are self-explanatory - you’ll find magnets that allows you to stick to a moving walkway, or special power-ups to cross ice or fire - but it’s left to players to work out that collecting a certain number of coloured objects will lower a corresponding barrier, or pushing moveable blocks into a certain configuration will allow access to new areas.
Niffler has attempted to mitigate the potential frustration factor, however, with the addition of a real-time rewind function. This comes in handy when accidental keystrokes land you in trouble, but it also functions as a necessary undo feature when you realise mistakes made earlier in a level that may not become immediately apparent. In later levels it is certainly preferable to favour rewinds over restarts, as some maps are very complex and unforgiving in the exact sequences required to solve them.
Once you have mastered Sommerville’s 125 stages – which will certainly test your puzzle solving abilities – you can head online and work your way through Niffler's weekly challenges. You can even try your hand at creating some of your own levels, thanks to a baked-in editor. The paint-style interface is clean and intuitive, allowing you to publish your creations to the cloud and also download user generated levels from the community. This feature seems rather hit and miss, as the rating system doesn’t do a very job of filtering the masses of content available – every level seems to have been rated five stars, so finding the hidden gems takes a bit of digging
As with most puzzle games, Chucks Challenge 3D won't necessarily appeal to the hard-core demographic, but there's no doubt that Niffler has succeeded in rebooting a much loved classic of yesteryear, proving that the concept of crowd funded gaming is here to stay.