Chakan: The Punishment Man – Part 1 – Nic Nancarrow

Hello Retro readers, I’m Nic and I make very bad decisions sometimes.

In writing my first piece for Retro Domination I’ve decided that, rather than simply do a review of a game that holds so much infamy, I would instead resume the hunt for the white whale of my young gaming life. Think of this as a Captain’s Log as I row my tiny canoe made out of nostalgic whimsy into the cavernous, eviscerating maw of Chakan: The Forever Man for Mega Drive (or Genesis for those of you who have never known the joy of kangaroo-based mass transit). I loved this game as a kid, and it rewarded my love with one crushingly cheap defeat after another. No matter how many times both my brother and I tried and tried, we simply could not beat this game. Now as a grown man with no particular plans on a Saturday afternoon I’ve mustered up all my ignorant bravado and decided to answer a question I’ve been asking myself lately; “Was Chakan really THAT hard?”

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I suspect I already know the answer to this question and you probably do too, sensible reader that you are. My attitude is tantamount to the jock in a slasher film goading the silent murder enthusiast into a one-on-one showdown, and while the resultant hedge trimmers to the face in that situation will only be metaphorical here, they will be no less painful. Sometimes however, you just have to make the obvious mistake to find out just how bad it’s really going to be.

As I said this isn’t really a review, so if you haven’t played the game I would suggest doing so, not just to have a better understanding of what I’m ranting about, but also because it’s a really interesting game. It’s unusually dark in tone for a game of this generation, and is something of a flawed gem in the Mega Drive library. Then when that conversation about hard-as-nails retro games comes up, you’ll be armed and ready to name-drop Chakan and make a game of guessing who’s played it by watching for the resulting PTSD.

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The Game:

Chakan: The Forever Man is comprised of two sets of four worlds (Earth, Air, Fire, Water), each with a number of levels each. These are spread about the game’s main hub and while I would like to go through each level and talk about what I see and experience, this game hates me, you and every living creature on the planet, so the chances of me getting into the second set of levels (where the difficulty punches you in the tender bits and steals your bike) is slim as I have a very tight budget for replacing shattered game controllers. With that out of the way, I’ll begin my journey.

The Hub.

Ah that music, calming, serene and completely at odds with the memories of torturous death that have come flooding back to me. It also serves as a hilarious juxtaposition to watching Chakan spasm and breakdance as I try to get a grip on these controls after years of absence. This is a fantastic piece of level design that is in no way demeaned by Chakan hopping up and down on the spot like a frenzied cartoon character. The worlds are accessed through four different portals laid out in different areas of the hub, so there is some small amount of exploration required to find them, however I quite enjoy just wandering around enjoying the visuals and the soundtrack. I don’t suppose I can just talk about this area for a while without having to go into some of retro gaming’s most difficult platforming environments can I?

Air World 1.

Why did I think the fucking air world would be a good place to start? Three seconds into the level and I had already walked straight off a platform because I didn’t time my jump properly. This would be a recurring theme as I struggled to figure out the confusing and very unforgiving double-jump mechanic. There is no room for error on this, either you nail it at the right time of the jump arc, or plummet to your death in a powerfully undignified fashion. The entire bottom of this level leads to death, all you can do is jump and hope to god that an enemy doesn’t just fly right into your jump arc as taking damage stops you dead in your mid-air tracks. Thanks to this level, I hate bees so much more than I did before I started this article, to say nothing of purple, mace-wielding demons that take ridiculous amounts of hits to kill (these aren’t as prevalent in day to day life however). There’s probably an easier plan to tackling these levels than just jumping in and screaming at them until success happens but I’m not aware of it. I did however get a hammer weapon for my troubles. It allows you to break down specific walls to find secrets and such at the dire cost of removing your double jump ability. Luckily you can switch between the various weapons at a button press so your double jump ability is never far away, unless of course you’ve forgotten to switch back just as you press the jump button…again.

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Water World 1.

Water levels are awesome. The aesthetics here are great, creepy ruins, mouldy pillars and…OOOH INVINCIBLE OCTOPUS! Sarcasm aside (the level does actually look quite good though), I probably should have started on this level, there’s no death pits to be found, just a bunch of weird leaping fish, buzzing insects and aforementioned octopus who serves as the level’s boss (I should mention that he’s not actually invincible, it’s just very difficult to get a read on whether you are damaging him or not due to the water effects). Plus there’s a whole bunch of different potions lying around which you can combine in various ways to get various effects, few of which can be deciphered from the confusing hieroglyphics that represent the spell menu in the pause screen. Luckily you are only presented with the options that you have the correct potion combinations for. I had an eyeball, a cross, and a boot with wings or something at this point. If memory serves they are invisibility, health and high jump respectively. What advantage there is to using invisibility, when the core aspects of gameplay rely on your being able to see where you are, I can’t figure out. I can only assume that the designers were making some kind of veiled PSA on the dangers of alchemy. “Chakan was a happy, healthy, all-American boy. Then his friends pressured him to try alchemy, now he has no visual reference for where he is in the world and is doomed to wander into spikes, monsters and bottomless pits for the rest of his eternal life. Alchemy, not even once”.

The weapon on this level is what appears to be a skeletal umbrella (or several grappling hooks attached to a wooden pole). I remember what this is for and I’m unhappy.

Earth World 1.

The intro text here identifies the world boss as “the Spider Queen”. It’s quite fitting since everything on this level is made out of spiders in some way. Spiders drop out of the ceiling only inches in front of you leaving you very little time to react (you will invariably spasm and attack in the wrong direction, also I hate spiders a lot so I was very unhappy at this point). The Spider Queen is clearly pumping out children to abuse the welfare system, she probably has two brand new cars while I’m driving around in a ten year old Subaru with an oil leak. The boss of this level is a giant spider (that’s just magnificent really) that doesn’t really have a pattern, meaning your best strategy goes something like “attack, leap wildly into the air and hope for the best, repeat”, luckily my desperate guess at a good spell turned out to be spaghetti laser swords (more likely lightning I guess but it’s more fun my way), so this was a lot less difficult than it could have been. At the end of this level you receive the axe, another double jump killer that will get you killed as you test weapons on possibly breakable walls amidst the rain of spiders.

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Fire World 1.

As soon as I was dropped into this level I was instantly molested by weird flying things in robes, and I lost half my health before I’d killed them both. I made a sigh of relief and promptly jumped into a fire pit, failing to execute one of those crucifying “try not to hit the ceiling jumping to the next platform” jumps. I died instantly. My second run through this level was a straight shot through creepy flying sex pests in robes, bats (oh so many bats) and fire traps that are sometimes avoidable and other times just not. At the end I found a scythe, which is very satisfying to wield given that Chakan looks like a zombie pilgrim (there’s a million dollar idea, I’ll accept nothing less than Executive Producer) but infinitely less useful for anything but cutting whatever the hell this is supposed to cut through. The end boss for this world is a corrupt healer called ‘Elkenrod’ who, given that I’ve just received a scythe, is either a Lovecraft imagined Amish priestess or some kind of demonic corn overlord. Given that I’ve never made it to the final boss of this world and more than likely won’t now, I’ll just pick one of those options and give myself a pat on the back.