Mark Cerny began working in the video game industry at the tender age of 17. In the early 1980s, he joined Atari and worked on titles like Major Havoc and Marble Madness. Over the course of his career, his name has been connected to some of the industry’s most iconic titles: California Games, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon, Ratchet & Clank and Knack, among many others. He was the primary architect of the PlayStation 4 console. It’s a staggering list of career credits, but one title holds special significance in my personal gaming history: Kid Chameleon.
In May of 1992, Sega released Kid Chameleon. I had only just turned 10 when the game was released and my Sega Genesis was my prized possession. I fell in love with it immediately and spent every Saturday morning fighting through the levels. I never even came close to beating it. There were 103 total levels and, in the original release, no way to save the game. If you didn’t beat it in one sitting, you had to start all over again. I don’t think I ever made it past the Skull Mountain levels. It should be noted that a number of those levels (32 of them) were smaller areas known as “Elsewhere” that served as transition points. There were also a number of levels that took you away from the main path.
I was captivated by the premise of the game. In it, the local arcade has acquired a new game called Wild Side. Kids who play the game go missing. The boss of the game has gone rogue, and discovered a way to capture anyone who plays. Only one person can save them: Casey. He wore a pair of blue jeans, a white t-shirt, and a leather jacket. A pair of dark sunglasses completed the ensemble. When you first meet him, he’s leaning against the outside of the arcade. I thought he was awesome, especially when the game described him as “too tough to beat.”
As Casey, you enter the game Wild Side and assumed the role of Kid Chameleon. The game was a platformer and you acquired powers by finding and wearing different masks. There were nine in total: Iron Knight, Red Stealth (a samurai), Berzerker (a bit like a rhino), Maniaxe (a riff on Jason from Friday the 13th), Juggernaut (a skull wearing a spiked helmet in a tank), MicroMax (a fly), Eyeclops (who had a beam that could reveal hidden blocks), Skycutter (who rode a hoverboard), and Cyclone (who flew by spinning like a tornado). Each identity had special powers that could help you complete certain portions of a level. For instance, Berzerker could smash through blocks and Iron Knight could scale walls. If you found a mask that you were already wearing, it would restore your health.
You collected diamonds as you moved through each level. The diamonds gave you access to powers that were activated by pressing A + start (a fact I somehow never learned when playing the game as a kid). Each level had a variety of different enemies with different strengths and weaknesses. They included things like sentient blobs of slime, bouncing skulls, dragons, crystals, robots, disembodied hands, and something called an Emo Rock (a large chomping skull). Some enemies could be defeated by jumping on them, or you could use the weapons acquired in Kid Chameleon’s various forms.
The levels made up stages, and there were four stages in total. Each of the four stages contained a boss, with all bosses being some variation on the main boss Heady Metal. The first boss you encounter is in the Shishkaboss level. He appears as three bald heads on a spear that spit goo. In stage two, the heads have seperated and shoot boomerangs in addition to the goo. The third boss was essentially the same, with the final boss being Heady Medal himself, a twelve eyed, four mouthed monstrosity.
The game has been re-released several times and even gained its own comic strip for a time. It has been placed on a number of lists as one of the best games ever created for the Sega Genesis, but for me it will always be the game that consumed my Saturday mornings.