Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, roll up, roll up and prepare to feast your eyes on a capering cavalcade of clown carnage as we seek an answer to the eternal question: just how much punishment can one young clown take before he’s physically and mentally destroyed? Only by playing today’s game can we find out – it’s Kemco’s 1994 SNES scurry-em-up Kid Klown in Krazy Khase! Hang on, sorry, it’s Kid Klown in Crazy Chase. Got a bit carried away with the Ks there.
Wow, that’s a really nice title screen. The pixel work on the typography is especially impressive, really crisp and satisfyingly solid – although I think the best thing about it is that you can see Kid Klown reflected in the surface of the bomb he’s chasing. Running towards a bomb? Now that’s what I call a crazy chase, ha ha, thanks, I’ll be here all week. Anyway, I do hope this title screen is an indication of the rest of the game’s quality.
The game’s opening cutscene provides some plot to drive the clown-chase action, and what do you know, it involves a villain kidnapping a princess. Hold your barely-stifled yawning, however, because closer inspection reveals that the villain is a space pirate called Blackjack, so this is a game about spacefaring clowns in a galaxy that includes an entire planet of clowns. Why did no-one tell me that this was a horror game?
Did the humanoid inhabitants of Klown Planet evolve naturally into loons, hatching in their hundreds from egg sacs shaped like tiny cars with their red noses and baggy trousers being biological parts of their anatomy? Or did pratfalling and slapstick somehow become the guiding principles of society to the point where the planet was renamed to reflect the global clowning hegemony? Are there counter-cultural rebels who refuse to wear greasepaint, hunted by the Kooky Sekurity Korps for blasphemously using seltzer bottles to make drinks rather than squirting their fellow man? Perhaps we will find some clues during the game, but for now I’d just like to reiterate that these are interstellar clowns with the capacity for spaceflight who are ruled by a monarchy.
The monarch is, of course, the Klown King. I’ve talked about him before. He still creeps me out, and I still refuse to believe there’s anything under his robe but writhing primordial chaos. He hires the young Kid Klown to rescue his kidnapped daughter, on the basis that Kid Klown is the klutziest clown they’ve got. So… do you want the princess back or not, King Klown? I’m getting mixed signals.
Being a klutz, Kid Klown manages to press the wrong button on his spaceship’s control panel, causing him to crash-land on a nearby planet. Not Klown Planet, thank god, but he’s still in for a rough time as Blackjack decides to take this opportunity to murder Kid Klown with bombs. Of course he does, he is a clown. After the game offers a few words of encouragement directly to the player, it’s on to the gameplay and Kid Klown’s seemingly unending stream of torment.
Poor old Kid Klown can't do anything right, and he lands head-first at the beginning of the game’s opening stage. It is merely a prelude to the relentless agony he’ll soon be suffering, but while he’s hauling his head out of the dirt I’ll explain the gameplay premise. Blackjack, who you can see at the top of the screen, has placed a bomb at the exit to the stage. Then he runs all the way back up to the start of the stage and lights the fuse. It’s Kid’s job to run through the stage, avoiding hazards that both drain his health and slow him down, in an effort to beat the fuse and reach the bomb before it explodes. If you get there in time, he kicks the bomb aside and moves on to the next stage. If you fail, the bomb explodes and it’s game over, time to use a continue if you’ve got any.
And so, Kid Klown runs. He runs and runs and runs, because everything is out to get him. Some of the hazards were installed by Blackjack to slow him down – the evil space pirate clown kicked these rolling logs down the hill, surely – and others are simply parts of the existing scenery that become dangerous obstacles when they fall within Kid’s aura of extreme klutziness. You can jump over obstacles, run around them, or in the case of some timed traps, wait for them to deactivate and then dash through when the coast is clear. Down and up on the d-pad increase and decrease Kid’s running speed respectively, left and right move him left and right – although because of the isometric perspective I suppose you’re technically moving him diagonally – and B is jump. It’s a very simple premise with very simple controls, which is good for me, a man who forgot how his own washing machine worked the other day.
The first thing that I (and I assume most other people) noticed when I started playing KKiCC is that it looks fantastic. Lots of extremely well-drawn detail, bright colours, and smooth and very characterful animations abound. For example, Kid has a unique animation for almost every type of hazard in the game, like in the screenshot above where you can see he’s been crushed flat by the rolling logs I failed to avoid. During the course of the game he’s burned, frozen, licked, tripped and shoved, each with their own accompanying animations that are so charming they successfully distract you from the fact that you’re losing valuable seconds while Kid’s trying to re-inflate himself or what have you. To say a game’s graphics make it “look like a cartoon” is something that’s bandied about fairly regularly, but in Kid Klown’s chase it’s rarely been more literally true, and the entire game’s visuals are essentially one long Road Runner cartoon.
What else is there to do while running towards the bomb? Not much, honestly – simple beating the time limit is the biggest objective – but there are balloons floating around each stage. If you can jump up and grab them, Kid will pull them down to reveal what’s inside. Usually it’s a points-giving coin or a health refill. Sometimes they’re traps – traps that are annoyingly indistinguishable from regular balloons – and they’ll have bombs inside or they’ll turn out to be solid weights that fall down and flatten Kid when he tugs on them. Then there are these special balloon, again indistinguishable from the rest, that contain playing card symbols. As there’s a special meter on the HUD that shows how many of these you’ve collected, I’m going to assume they’re fairly important.
An early example of the kind of suffering Kid Klown must endure is unfolding in the screenshot above. In my desperation to avoid more rolling logs, I jumped straight into a pit full of spikes that was presumably left there by retreating Viet Cong forces. This caused Kid to leap up, howling in pain, out of the pit and directly onto a banana peel. Well, this is a game about a clown running a gauntlet of punishing traps, there was bound to be a banana peel in there somewhere – although I am disappointed that I didn’t manage to get a custard pie in the face at any point. On a related note, I once saw a friend of mine genuinely slip on a discarded banana peel and it might be the funniest thing I’ve ever been witness to.
As the tempo increases and a barrage of battle-axes are thrown onto the screen by an unseen bastard, I must admit it’s nice to see a clown running, screaming and terrified for their life, for a change. Turnabout is fair play, after all.
At certain points during each stage, Blackjack will realise that planting his bomb really far away from Kid Klown might not have been the best way to defeat his nemesis, so he gets more directly involved in the action. Here, he’s stretching out a rope to try and leg Kid Klown up. It’s one of the easier traps in the stage to avoid, which sets Blackjack up as a Dick Dastardly sort of character. Dick Dastardly with a mohawk, shoulder-pads and high-heeled pirate boots, sure, but you get the impression things would be going a lot better for him if he’d just get on with kidnapping the princess and taking over Planet Klown rather than stopping every five minutes to harass Kid.
Eventually, after much slapstick violence and getting Kid’s britches caught on the foliage, I reached the end-of-stage explosives. Kid’s response to the bomb is to punt the thing into the stratosphere, so maybe that kind of no-nonsense attitude to danger is why King Klown hired him in the first place. So, on to stage two, then? Ha ha ha, no. No no no. You remember those card suits hiding in the balloons I mentioned earlier? It turns out you have to collect all of them before you’re allowed to move on. I did not do that, so it’s back to the beginning of the stage for me. Actually, it’s not the beginning of the stage – you’re send back to a point near the first card symbol you didn’t miss, if you get me. I think that's how it works, anyway. This is a rare act of clemency on Kid Klown’s part.
An example of Kid Klown’s ruthless attitude towards difficulty comes when you’re trying to collect the right balloons. Not only are some of them actively harmful, but if you miss a balloon by running past it or messing up your jump then tough luck. Kid can slow down and even come to a stop, but he can’t travel backwards, so if you go past a balloon you need to collect then you only options are to die or reach the end of the stage so you can have another crack at it.
I managed to get all the icons on my second try. It’s not so bad on this first stage, where you can take things a bit more slowly, but later on it will become a real issue. For now, though, let’s see what stage two has in store.
Stage two takes place on the boulevards of the big city, and the urban setting offers a whole host of new ways for Kid Klown to get horribly mangled. Cars rush across busy intersections, jets of water from vicious fire hydrants slam Kid into walls and flowerpot are thrown at your head from great heights. It’s never occurred to me before, but “flowerpot thrown from a high window” is an extremely common method of attack in retro videogames. Why the hell is that? I understand where the concept comes from, and that people decorate the outside of their houses with window boxes, but what I don’t understand is why people are so willing to inflict catastrophic brain trauma on any videogame character that wanders past via the medium of terracotta pottery. Is this what people mean when they talk about the mean streets of the city? Because yes, I’d classify giving someone a concussion with a pot of geraniums as “mean.”
Even villains can have a tough time on the city’s grim streets, as Blackjack finds out when he’s pulled over by the police for driving a dangerously unroadworthy vehicle. I’d love to imagine the cop asking him for some ID and saying “oh, looks like we’ve got a real comedian here” as Blackjack rummages through his pockets, pulling out whoopee cushions and strings of handkerchiefs instead of his driver’s license.
Overall, I’d say this is probably my favourite stage in the game. I like the setting, I like the little set-pieces like Blackjack’s run-in with the law and Kid Klown wading through wet concrete and I like that it strikes a good balance between (literal) breakneck speed and slower, more considered obstacle-dodging. Plus, there’s something inherently amusing about seeing a clown get hit by a car.
After this stage – I think I activated it by clearing the level in one try – I got to play a minigame. A rather confusing minigame. Not in concept, because even such a shut-in loner as I can recognise air hockey, but because I smashed the puck into the opposite goal only for the game to say “Out of Tries!” and immediately end. I was expecting… something? Anything? At least a word of congratulation or something. As it turns out, you get some health back for every “goal” you score, but because I happened to have full health I didn’t notice. Well, that was a brief and decidedly uninteresting interlude, where to next?
It’s a volcano. I think. It’s definitely some kind of mountain with extra fire, but these flame jets seem pretty man-(or clown-)made to me, so perhaps Blackjack spent some time thinking up ways to make the volcano more dangerous. That sounds like something a clown would do.
As well as fire, there are rolling boulders to avoid and lava to fall in to. Don’t worry, as a clown Kid is impervious to all damage and even complete immersion in molten rock won’t stop him. On the face of it, this makes him more powerful than the Terminator, but he can still hurt himself by stubbing his toe – so basically Kid Klown can’t die, but he feels the full agony of every horrible thing that happens to him, which is a real “Greek God” level of eternal punishment.
About halfway through the stage, Blackjack gives up any pretence of subtlety and resorts to trying to crack Kid’s head open with a hammer. That’s fine by me, one mallet-wielding clown is a lot easier to avoid than an entire volcano.
It was as I raced across a collapsing bridge perilously placed over a pool of lava, with no timer left on the fuse and a bed of metal spike jammed into Kid Klown’s soles, that I had to concede that Kid Klown in Crazy Chase is a hard game. You might not expect it from the colourful, cutesy graphics, but this is a game that expects a lot from the player, at least if they want to see anything beyond the second stage. It difficult for a mixture of reasons, some intentional and others presumably less so: hazards and traps are laid out in some really fiendish configurations and the constant ticking of the timer means the action is utterly relentless. On top of that are the brutally tight requirements for success – having to re-do a stage because you overshot a card-suit balloon by mere pixels is definitely strict, and we’ll get to the ending requirements soon enough. Then there are the gameplay quirks, and the one that caused most of my failures was that I never felt I was lining myself up correctly along the left-right axis. It might simply have been a side-effect of the isometric viewpoint and something I could buff out of my gameplay with practise, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that Kid wasn’t quite moving where I was telling him to.
As surely as night follows day, after the fire stage comes the ice level. If there was ever a videogame that really didn’t need a slippery, frozen stage it’s Kid Klown, but here we are. It’s still got some fun set pieces, like this demonic face that pulls you backwards using its icy “tongue” while simultaneously trying to set you on fire with its eye beams. Still, in a game where every stage has potential frustration lurking around every corner, the ice stage felt especially unforgiving. Moving ice blocks require careful timing to navigate, icicles are constantly dropping on your head and because of KKiCC’s “camera” angle it’s hard to see what’s coming up in front of you until Kid’s run face-first into it.
Once again, the bit where you’re chased by Blackjack himself ends up being the most enjoyable part of the stage, probably because you’ve got one clear source of danger to avoid but also because Blackjack’s freeze-ray appears to be a Super Scope.
Then Blackjack manages to crash his snowmobile, probably because using the awkward, cumbersome Super Scope made his arms so tired he could no longer control his vehicle.
Stage five is the game’s final stage. This might make Kid Klown in Crazy Chase seem like a very short game, but don’t underestimate the amount of repetition and practise you’d have to put in to reach this stage. Unless you’re cheating, of course.
Anyway, the theme of this stage is an appropriate-for-clowns hellish underworld sort of vibe. Demonic hands punch through the earth and grab at Kid’s ankles, tridents cast down by Satan himself fall down to block the path ahead and you spend the entire stage being chased by a big dopey ghost.
And what a wonderful ghost it is, with an ectoplasmic body in a shape that suggests it was looking for a bedsheet to inhabit but had to settle for a discarded sock, and an almost jack o’lantern-ish face complete with mad, staring eyes. I would score this spectre very highly on the Cartoon Ghost Quality Index that I’ve just invented – eight out of ten, would hang a cardboard cut-out of this ghost on my front door during the Halloween season.
If the ghost catches Kid, it doesn’t possess him or anything like that. No, the ghost licks our hero with its comically oversized tongue. Ghosts licking people is a thing in Japanese pop culture – just think of Gastly and Haunter using it in Pokemon. Maybe when this ghost originally died the unfinished business it left behind in the mortal realm was that it hadn’t tasted enough things. I’ve said before that by and large Japanese ghosts don’t seem particularly scary – really, who’s going to be frightened by a haunted umbrella? - but I will concede the spookiness of the licking thing. Rattling chains and wailing are far less upsetting than some unseen force sneaking up behind you and licking the back of your head.
Aside from the ghost, who is wonderful and precious, the rest of the stage is dishearteningly dull. If you’ve read VGJunk for any amount of time you’ll know that ghostly hell-worlds are very much my cup of tea, so it’s a shame that this final level is ninety percent boring grey surfaces and the occasional set of metal bars. The only other interesting obstacle are these tongues that stretch over the spike pit – you can use them as hand-hold to clamber across, but if you hold on for too long they’ll retract and the mouths will start chewing Kid’s head. In the rest of the stages, the endearing graphics and unique animations do a good job of distracting you from your constant mistakes, but that’s not the case here and as a result the action becomes laboured and unrewarding.
But of course I persevered, finally reaching the end of the game only to be thrown into one final test of nerve. There’s Princess Honey, trapped inside her cage. Not to worry, I have the key. Five keys, in fact! Unfortunately, there are ten keyhole and only one of them opens the cage. So it’s like a reverse Pop-Up Pirate, where you’ve got five tries to find the right keyhole. Now, I’m absolutely terrible at calculating probabilities (because it’s, y’know, maths) so it’s with extreme tentativeness that I say you’ve got a 50% chance of finding the right keyhole, and in this instance please feel free to tell me that I’m wrong. If you find the right keyhole, Honey is set free, but if you use all your keys without opening the cage then a bomb drops in. Don’t worry, it won’t kill Honey. She’s a clown, after all. It does affect the ending you get, though.
If Honey gets blown up you’re stuck with the bad ending, where King Klown demotes Kid to castle janitor despite the fact that he saved Honey from an evil space pirate who kept her locked in a cage lined with explosives. It is from the depths of my heart and with pure sincerity that I say fuck you, King Klown.
If you do manage to spring Honey from her prison, Kid thinks she’s going to be so overcome with gratitude that she’ll marry him. She does not. Instead, she marries someone called Prince Studley, because of course she does, he’s called Prince Studley. Just because you rescued Honey, it doesn’t entitle you to any sort of romantic reward, Kid. Also, you’re, well, a kid. Surely even such a sinister place as Klown Planet must have some laws about child marriages.
But wait, there is an ending where Honey, erm, shows Kid her gratitude, and she makes out with him so hard that he falls into a coma and starts frothing at the mouth. Blimey, Prince Studley has had a lucky escape if you get this ending, huh? Anyway, to get this ending you need to collect all five Honey Hearts, which begs the question “what the hell is a Honey Heart?” Well, I’ll tell you – you get a Honey Heart if you finish a stage on your first attempt. That means to unlock the “good” ending – although it doesn’t seem that good for Kid – you have to flawlessly beat the game. No deaths, no continues, not even a single missed card symbol balloon. The game is hard enough as it is without that extra pressure, but maybe if you play it enough times you’ll at least learn where all the card symbols are located. Except you won’t, because I’m 90 percent certain that locations of the card symbols are randomised. I’ve compared my screenshots to videos of other people’s playthroughs and they are definitely in different places, which takes the task of putting Kid Klown into a smooch-based coma from “very difficult” to “viciously unfair” via “not worth the hassle.”
Kid Klown in Crazy Chase is a game that I’m having trouble coming to a conclusion about. It’s definitely not something I could call average, but it’s landed right in the middle of two poles for me. On the one hand, it looks fantastic and I can’t emphasise enough how wonderful all the dozens of little animations are. Visually, it’s exquisitely crafted, but as for the gameplay… well, sometimes it feels really good. When you get into the groove and build up a head of steam, hopping over obstacles and slaloming between deathtraps, it’s fast paced and exciting. It’s just a shame that doesn’t happen very often, and for most of the game you’re going to be tripping and stumbling from one trap to the next, seeing the same animations over and over as you wait with increasing impatience to regain control of Kid. You know that feeling of helpless frustration you get when you’re playing Mario Kart and you’re just about to cross the finish line when you’re hit by red shell after blue shell after lightning bolt and all you can do is sit there as your opponents sail past you? At times, KKiCC feels like a game based entirely upon recreating that feeling, and as that feeling makes most people want to gnaw their own hands off in sheer annoyance it’s difficult to recommend KKiCC.
But what the hell do I know? It’s still pretty charming, so it’s not like I hate it or anything. Perhaps the PS1 sequel is better. I’m guessing not – you can move backwards in that one, which probably helps the gameplay, but the switch to low-poly 3D graphics completely removes the first Crazy Chase’s strongest feature. If you’re desperate for more Kid Klown there’s an expanded GBA version of this game, or a PS1 puzzle game called The Bombing Islands - although not Kemco’s own NES game Kid Klown in Night Mayor World, which doesn’t seem to have anything to do with this game despite being developed by Kemco and having “Kid Klown” in the title. Yeah, it’s kind of a weird series.
Somehow this article is running long, so before I go, is there anything else I missed? Well, I know there are some other bonus stages including whack-a-mole, and there are even a few hidden areas that let you collect power-ups. However, I’ll leave you with the information that in the game’s manual, Blackjack’s name is shortened to “BJ.” He just can’t catch a break, the poor sod.
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