Anyone who owned a Windows PC in the mid-1990s is surely familiar with Chip's Challenge. The game was (and still is) easy to grasp, difficult to master, and seemingly endless. The game, along with its brothers Ski Free and Jezzball, has probably wasted more time than Solitaire, Hearts, and Minesweeper combined. What a lot of people weren't aware of, however, was that Chip's Challenge for PC was in fact a remake of an earlier game of the same name which appeared on - as well as other systems - the Lynx; Atari's doomed handheld. And surprisingly, the original is a lot better than the remake.
The main difference between the two versions of Chip's Challenge is the graphics. One was made in 1989 for a second tier handheld; the other was made three years later for a computer giant. You do the math. Of course this game won't look the same as the Chip we all know and love, but considering the graphics for most other Lynx games out there, it looks pretty damn good. When you first turn on the game, you are greeted by a smooth animation of computer chips falling onto a background made to look like a motherboard. The chips spell out the word "CH_P'S", with the I in the middle represented by an animation of Chip himself (in color!) that are way ahead of anything that came out on Nintendo's black and white Game Boy (the primary factor for the Lynx's extinction) that year.
In game, the graphics are simple. Chip is a small, black-haired blob with glasses that moves around a playing area made up of solid grey squares. Keys, doors, and other obstacles litter the floors, but even though they aren't the clearest things around, they are clear enough for anyone to see - which is no small feat with the Lynx's eye-murdering LCD screen.
Any true Chip's Challenge fan knows that the graphics are not where it's at, though. For the very small few out there who have never played Chip's Challenge (or had a proper childhood), the game is based on a relatively simple premise: Chip McCallahan, a nerd, is told one day at lunch by Melinda the Mental Marvel that if he finishes "the challenge," he will be allowed to join the school computer club, the Bit Busters. The story is minimal, but it also isn't crucial in any way, shape or form, which is probably why it was scrapped for the PC edition.
One aspect of Chip's Challenge that really took me by surprise was the music. The music in Chip's Challenge for PC was great, and even though the music on the Lynx version is completely different, it is almost just as good. None of it really stuck in my head, but it had me tapping my foot for as long as I was playing.
The main object of Chip's Challenge is to navigate each level and find every chip. The number of chips left in a level is indicated by a counter on the right side of the screen, as well as the level you are on and how much time you have left, in seconds. At first, finding chips is a relatively simple matter. Often they will be behind doors with colored keys or out in the open. As the game progresses, though, keys become harder and harder to find, and both the level sizes and amount of keys increase. You will have to avoid monsters, move blocks, walk on ice, and swim - including a number of other activities - in order to move on in Chip's Challenge. The variety introduced in each level keeps the game from getting stale, and the seemingly endless number of levels is likely to keep anyone on the toilet for at least another half hour (unless your legs go numb ...).
Chip's Challenge for Atari Lynx, level design-wise, is identical to its PC counterpart, even though the graphics may not look as crisp. It's all there, every key, every chip, and every pesky bug (enemy bugs, not problems with the game). Even the passwords are the same, so you can start from whatever level you were up to on your computer and take it with you. Those of you who have played the original will feel right at home from the start.
On a handheld that offered very little in the way of quality games, Chip's Challenge is probably one of the best Lynx games that I've played. It's addicting, simple, and will keep you busy for however long you're willing to be kept, and will allow you to waste time on those boring business trips, instead of just in the office. If you're a fan of the PC version, as every good human should be, and you've got a lonely Atari Lynx sitting in your closet, hunt this one down.