It was a long time before my family got our own computer. For many years, I would walk a block from my home to my grandparents’ house (my mother’s parents) and I would play around on my grandfather’s PC. Grandpa worked for the big local company, Caterpillar, and so he had to know how to create spreadsheets and documents. I remember playing text adventures on floppy disk, struggling to remember how to open the program using the DOS prompt. I remember being mesmerized when he showed me that the computer could, essentially, count to infinity (or at least much farther than any human had the patience to check) by creating a repeated function in a spreadsheet with no end point. I remember writing up short stories by hand in my notebooks at school, bringing them over, and reading them out loud as he slowly typed them out for me. I picked at his grammar and spelling. I was an insufferable little kid. Later on, he got a more modern PC with a graphical user interface and a 3.5 inch disk drive (ooh!) and later still, a CD-ROM drive (wow!!).
I will have to dedicate some more #ThrowbackThursday posts to the (mostly educational) games I played on my grandfather’s computer. Off the top of my head: Mario Teaches Typing, Treasure Mountain, and Word Munchers were all special favorites of mine. My brother, my cousins, and I also had a soft spot for Elf Bowling.
At any rate, when we finally got a PC for our own home, my parents were still wary of allowing us to have Internet access. The computer was, emphatically, Not A Toy. However, it did have some games that came included with it: the Best of Microsoft Entertainment Pack. The majority of these games were solitare variants. It also had a Blackjack game and a cute little game in which a mouse pushed blocks around to try and trap cats.
But the greatest of them all by far was Chip’s Challenge.
Chip’s Challenge was a kind of combination puzzle game and platformer. It actually reminds me a lot of modern games like Portal in that you needed both quick reflexes and the ability to think through complex problems related to movement and space. It was the first game that really forced me to stretch my brain and adjust to new game mechanics being thrown at me on the fly.
Your little avatar, Chip, was in love with the brilliant Melinda the Mental Marvel, and if he wanted to impress her and join the Bit Busters computer club, he would have to solve 144 puzzles by collecting the computer chips hidden on each level of the clubhouse and then finding the exit.
Chip had to dodge monsters (the disembodied clacking teeth were particularly creepy) and avoid environmental hazards like water and fire to make it through each maze.
The game used a password system to track the player’s progress and I remember having a notepad filled with nonsense letters that served as my “save game file.”
I never beat Chip’s Challenge. However, someone on GameFAQs has apparently created GIFs of the later levels. Which is good because in the course of researching this post, I discovered that you can get Chip’s Challenge AND its sequel (which I never knew existed) on Steam! Apparently it also comes with a level editor which, since I don’t have access to a Wii U and thus can’t play around with Super Mario Maker, seems mighty tempting right about now.
Unfortunately, the Steam version looks different from the original. Chip will always wear that green sweater in my heart.