While Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog is the company's most identifiable mascot, other characters and franchises took a run at being secondary successes in the 16-bit era. Nintendo didn't just stop with Mario, but also developed The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, and Kirby, so why shouldn't Sega work on creating other famous franchises? Released in 1992, Kid Chameleon for the Sega Genesis feels like an attempt at kickstarting another side-scrolling platformer series to pair with Sonic in the company's catalog, and while the game is certainly fun for its time, it falls flat in the most crucial aspect of making a character popular: the hero of Kid Chameleon doesn't have a name or a personality. He's the ultimate blank slate who ventures into a virtual reality arcade game that, by definition, isn't real either. So who is this kid, anyway? Hardcore Gaming 101 clues us in to the whole Chameleon experience with great detail. Unfortunately, the game doesn't give players much to go on beyond what's presented at face value.
If a blunt appraisal of Kid Chameleon is required, it could be said that it binds the fundamentals of Super Mario Bros. 3 sans overworld map (and with a level warp system based on earlier titles in that series, taken to logical extremes) with the scoring/extend system of Sonic the Hedgehog. Your player character runs/walks their way through a challenging stage composed of a variety of unusual tiles and filled with a motley assortment of colorful enemies to pounce upon in an attempt to reach either the end-level flag or an appropriate warp platform. Along the way, power-up blocks (both visible and hidden) can be broken open with a jump to reveal their contents. Usually this will yield relatively non-useful trinkets (that serve a purpose when you acquire enough of them), but often enough you can gain a power-up that will alter your physical appearance and abilities.
Sound familiar? The control scheme is also set up pretty similarly, with one button designated for running, one for jumping, and one for a power-up specific special command (when applicable). As with many Genesis titles, these are assignable in the options menu, where there's also the very thoughtful Fast Play option to make running the default. Toggling this, the third button essentially becomes a "walk" button you'll almost never use, since quick reflexes are nigh indispensible in Kid Chameleon. Running has a slightly different feel to it due to a slight acceleration delay, but otherwise, if you've played a 2D Super Mario title, you've got the gist of this game. Still, Kid Chameleon remixes the old formula by expanding the number of power-up helmets to nine and making their use much more essential to survival and progression.
All of the pieces are there for Kid Chameleon to be something special, but it just feels flat and generic as if it were assembled by parts from a kit. All of the early 1990s video game design checkboxes are ticked off as familiar elements without personality or memorableness are tossed at the player one after the next. The whole experience feels hollow; there's no there there. I like to think that Chameleon could have gone on to greater things if the protagonist and his world were better defined beyond what the game blandly demonstrates. The game reappeared last generation in retro complications for the Sony PlayStaton 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, and Microsoft Xbox 360 as well as on the Wii Virtual Console as a standalone purchase, and it's just as blank today as it was twenty years ago. I wanted to root for Kid Chameleon, I really did, but I just can't get a lock on the game's soul. Maybe that's because it doesn't have one.