Knuckles Chaotix is one of the few high profile exclusive titles for the Sega 32x and the only game to date where Knuckles the Echidna is the star. The game features a unique play mechanic where 2 characters are tethered together by "Ring" energy and it works like a bungee cord. The game's story takes place after the events of Sonic 3 and Knuckles. In addition to Knuckles, Knuckles Chaotix features Espio the Chameleon, Mighty the Armadillo, Vector the Crocodile, and Charmy Bee. Sonic and Tails do not make a meaningful appearance. The villains in the game are staples for the time, featuring Metal Sonic and Eggman.
You start Knuckles Chaotix playing as Knuckles through Isolated Island zone as you save Espio from Eggman's Combi machine. The Combi machine is what creates the ring energy that tethers 2 characters together. Following this brief zone are 4 training levels (which can be skipped) where you get to learn the tethering aspect of the game. In short, Pressing B will cause your partner to hold their position, when you let go, you both go flying, like a slingshot. You can also pick up your partner and throw them around. The other moves are mostly used to get your partner by you when they get stuck. At first Knuckles Chaotix feels a bit clumsy as being tethered to a partner is not very intuitive. But as you progress you begin to learn how to better use your partner and the slingshot mechanics to motor through the levels.
Most of the characters feature a bonus move like hovering and walking up walls. They also have differing speeds. I found using a character with the ability to walk up walls ruined the experience a bit as it bypasses the whole slingshot mechanic the game is based on. Instead of planning moves to launch yourself upward, you can just walk up a wall dragging your partner behind.
After completing Isolated Island and the training levels, the real game begins. There are 5 different zones, each with 5 acts. Instead of playing through them a linear fashion, you play through the 5 zones randomly. After completing an act, you are taken back to an Attraction Slot in which you randomly select your next act. The fifth act of each zone features a boss battle with Eggman. After completing all 5 acts of a zone, you are no longer able to play through that zone and must complete the remaining zones. I enjoyed the randomness because you never knew what zone/act was going to be next and playing though 5 acts from the same zone may have been repetitive.
The 5 zones are Botanic Base, the typical green and organic zone that begins most Sonic games. Speed Slider zone feels like a carnival. Marina Madness takes place at a Marina as the name would imply. In this zone, you must track down buttons which move the different boats up and down, unlocking new areas and allows you to progress through the acts. Techno Tower is the most vertical level requiring you and your partner new focus upwards to progress. Amazing Arena takes place in some type of machine. In this zone, you must first track down and destroy a large clock. After that, the level gets very colorful and the music upbeat. If you do not destroy the clock before beating the act, you must repeat it.
I found the level designs satisfactory, with Marina Madness and Amazing Arena's extra requirements encouraging exploring the expansive acts. The zones feel very much like a Sonic game, filled with pseudo 3D effects giving the illusion of depth.
Knuckles Chaotix also simulates time. You start off playing in the morning. After completing 2 acts, the time then progresses to day, sunset, and night. As the time changes, the colors of the zone change to match the time. While the time changing does not affect game play, like in Sonic CD, it is a nice tough and adds even more variety to the zones.
One thing lacking in Knuckles Chaotix are enemies. While there is a large variety of Eggman's creations, they are not a prevalent aspect to the game. Instead, the game focuses more on exploring the large acts and utilizing the slingshot mechanics to progress. The focus on exploring rather than racing through zones at breakneck speeds may be the reason Knuckles was featured in the game, rather than Sonic. A move that would be later implemented in Sonic Adventure on the Dreamcast.
Graphically speaking, Knuckles Chaotix is a gorgeous game. Clearly intent on dwarfing the Genesis's 64 on screen color limit, the game oozes with hundreds of colors on screen at once. The game's backgrounds are a bit soft/blurry giving the illusion of depth. Additionally, Knuckles Chaotix utilizes the 32x's sprite scaling capabilities. There are some item boxes the make your character larger or smaller, which rely completely on scaling. When you lose rings, they appear in different sizes as well, making them appear closer to the screen and deep into the background. Overall, Knuckles Chaotix is a very detailed and colorful game, demonstrating the 32x's sprite pushing power.
There are 2 bonus stages in Knuckles Chaotix. The first bonus stage is a free fall into and endless pit of item boxes. From here, you can collect bonus items like rings and points. As you fall, the various item boxes get bigger as they get closer to the screen, again showing off some smooth sprite scaling effects.
The second bonus stage actually utilizes flat shaded polygons. Your character progress through a hexagonal tube collecting blue balls to progress. If you make it to the end of the stage, you are rewarded with a chaos ring, similar to the chaos emeralds features in previous games. This bonus stage is a lot of fun and moves along quite smoothly. It must have been a treat back in 1995 before "real" 3D games on the Playstation and Saturn debuted.
Knuckles Chaotix features the usual poppy musical tracks from previous Sonic games. They don't sound any better than other 16-bit Sonic games, but don't distract from the game play either.
Overall, Knuckles Chaotix is a solid game. The game was one of the few titles on the 32x to show off the systems power, and a worth the price for owners of the system. Traditional Sonic fans may be turned off on the new emphasis on exploring rather than speed. The Combi ring game play mechanic is a bit gimmicky, and doesn't really do anything to add to the experience. But these annoyances aside, Knuckles Chaotix is worth a look.
Graphics - 9/10 Sharp and colorful
Sound - 7/10
Game play - 7/10 The Combi ring scheme is gimmicky, but still enjoyable
Overall - 8/10 Solid platforming title