In the 90’s, comics took a darker, edgier turn. The success of series like Spawn led to a number of imitators, and even pre-existing comics took on a more gruesome tone. Characters like Punisher, Deadpool, and Cable led the Marvel side, whereas DC focused more on Batman. The era became infamous for ridiculous dialogue, over-the-top action and absurd character designs. Though many look back upon 90’s comics with disdain, this shift in tone undoubtedly helped save the struggling comic book market at the time.
Among other grim comic book series came a little title called Chakan: The Forever Man. What’s that? Never heard of it? Don’t worry, few have. While not bad by any means, Chakan didn’t have the push of big-name comics of the time and was mostly an underground hit. Chakan was a skilled and boastful warrior, cursed with eternal life and pain upon besting Death in combat. To free himself from his curse, he had to strike down all evil. Not a bad concept. Perhaps, with more marketing, the series might have caught on. However, despite it’s obscurity, in 1992 it recieved a video game for the Sega Genesis! Or, the Sega Mega Drive, depending on where you’re from.
Even if you’ve never heard of the comics, it’s possible that you’ve heard of the game. Chakan has become notorious in recent years for being one of the most frustratingly difficult games on the Genesis, and perhaps of all time. Now, I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I bought this. I must have been 7 or 8 at the time, and I spotted this at the local Blockbuster Videos. Good old Blockbusters. You know how it was: your parents took you there Friday night, you’d rent a game or two, and that would be your weekend! But Blockbusters generally had a small selection of games for sale as well, often for a fairly cheap price. So one day, I noticed this cover:
Even with my little 7-year-old mind, my first thought was “that looks BADASS.” And to this day, it still does. That’s one thing Chakan definitely has going for it: presentation. But the exterior serves only to mask the torment held within this game. Chakan is one of the most maddening things ever programmed. Each time I play Chakan: The Forever Man serves only to remind me of why I never play Chakan: The Forever Man. But it’s not enough to just talk about it… let me show you.
The usual Sega logo appears, before turning a hellish red and emitting a blood-curdling howl. Well, that sounds promising.
After a retelling of Chakan’s backstory, you’re greeted by the title screen. And it looks really good! Really, despite how frustrating the game is, the visuals are fantastic. But let’s get this started.
You start the game in front of this… thing. I dig it. It looks like the insert of a prog rock album. This is the hub world: from here, you can go freely to the game’s four stages. If there’s more than that, I’m not sure, because these four are impossible.
C jumps, and B attacks. If you hold B and rotate the d-pad, Chakan swipes his swords in various directions. It reminds me of Simon Belmont’s whip-twirl from Super Castlevania IV, and it’s pretty useful here. A is apparently “weapon”, though I didn’t find any use for it in the time I was playing.
You enter stages by going through these blue portals. I went down to the lower-left one first, so let’s check it out.
I found myself in some sort of swamp world, jumping on pillars. The water is full of small tentacled creatures, and giant dragonflies swoop down on you from the air. Chakan has a spinning jump attack, which makes the flying enemies a bit easier to deal with. Overall, the level seems simple enough… just keep heading right. Of course, nothing is “simple enough” when it comes to Chakan.
This here is the pause screen. Unsure of what’s going on here? Well, I’ll explain later.
One of the things that makes Chakan so frustrating is that when you die, no matter how far you got, you go right back to the hub world. You have unlimited lives, but as far as I can tell, there’s no checkpoints in the stages. At least, if there are, I’ve never managed to get far enough.
See that little bottle up there? You find those bottles filled with various colored liquids along the way. Get them. You NEED these bottles… that’s where the pause menu comes into play.
See those? Those are spells. If you have the right combinations of bottles, you can use a spell. For example, the eye icon uses two blue vials, and the winged foot icon uses one blue, one clear. These spells are invaluable to surviving, but unfortunately the game doesn’t explain what they do. Without a guide, using a spell is pretty much a gamble.
The eye spell makes you invisible, as well as invincible. Given how easy it is to die in this game, this is incredibly useful. Of course, it doesn’t last forever, so make good use of it.
After dying several times, I managed to make it to a seemingly unpassable barricade. Nothing I did seemed to have any effect on it, and if I got close, snakes came out of it and attacked me. Beautiful. I gave up on the swamp level, and gave the lower-right level a try.
Jesus Christ. I found myself in a mountainous setting, filled with numerous pitfalls. This sort of thing I tend to have a lot of difficulty with, so naturally this was no exception. Filled with imp-like flying enemies, one misstep could send you falling to your doom.
As far as I could tell, this was a vertical, climbing stage. I came across this purple demon, and I swear it took like 100 hits to kill, and gave me two clear vials upon killing it. Not nearly enough for the frustration it took to kill it. Now I just needed to carefully-
SON OF A BITCH
Ugh. Next stage.
AAAAHHHH SPIDERS SPIDERS EVERYWHEEEEERE
Yes, the stage was full of spiders. They constantly respawned, and they were fast-moving and hard to hit. In addition to that, they shot projectiles at you. And in addition to THAT, the stage was like a maze, with no clear indication of where to go. So to hell with that, let’s try the final stage.
Sheesh. I’ve tried three levels, and so far have accomplished two things: jack and shit. Maybe this one will offer some leeway.
One can only dream.
So pretty much immediately, I found myself set upon by two hooded wraiths. Naturally, I ran. Hmm, looks like I can drop down there…
This stage is also a bit of a maze, but nowhere near as frustrating as the previous one. The game’s appealing graphics really shine through here, and it’s much nicer to look at than blue fleshy walls. It’s also a bit easier to tell where you’re going.
Still, you can’t slack off. There are hazards aplenty, from wraiths to bats to flame-spewing skulls. The narrow halls make it difficult to dodge enemies, as well. Ultimately, I met my end, and gave up.
This game is completely unforgiving. Calling it a “bad” game is a bit unfair, kind of like calling a pregnant woman fat. It is what it is, and what it is is one of the most challenging games out there. It’s hard to explain just what makes it so hard, but try it for yourselves and you’ll see. Chakan: The Forever Man may be responsible for more broken Genesis controllers than any other game, but it still holds a special place in my heart. It’s a relic of the 90’s, and the graphics and sound help make it more than just a frustrating games. If you enjoy difficult games, good luck. This one’s a doozy.