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Antstream Archive: Chain Reaction

This week, our weekly retro tournament is on the Data East classic retro game Chain Reaction - also known as Magical Drop.

To celebrate, in the latest instalment of our Antstream Arcade Archive series, we take a look at this game from our vault, giving you the lowdown on its plot, gameplay and tips, as well as what to expect when you play the game on Antstream Arcade. A wonderfully cute puzzle game that’s impossible not to love, this month we present Chain Reaction...

So what it’s about?

Chain Reaction is the first in a series of perennially popular puzzle games and was released into arcades by Data East in 1995. Known as Magical Drop in its native Japan, the aim of the game is to fashion three or more symbols (or ‘drops’, hence the Japanese name) into a row, thus creating a chain reaction that encompasses any other similar symbols nearby, eliminating them all from the playing screen. The player, sitting at the bottom of the screen, collects available icons (the lowest in a vertical line) and can then fire them back among the waiting symbols above.

Sounds simple – there must be a catch?

Of course there is! The symbols at the top of the screen are constantly descending – should any of them reach the bottom of the screen where the player character sits, then the game is over.

That name is familiar…

It is indeed a common moniker, used across a breadth of media. There’s another videogame from ten years earlier and released on 8-bit computers such as the ZX Spectrum, while a Keanu Reeves action thriller arrived to a muted box office reception a year later (1996). But the most famous Chain Reaction is a number one song, the Diana Ross mega hit where the powerful singer improbably melds catastrophic nuclear event with an intense love affair. Boom-boom goes my heart.

I’ll be singing that all day now, thanks. As for the game, it all looks a bit like a certain famous puzzler from Russia…

Released in 1989, and the ultimate killer app for the Nintendo Gameboy handheld, Tetris is even today the benchmark by which all other puzzle games are inevitably measured. Chain Reaction is clearly inspired by it, even if only partly, given the way that shapes must be manipulated in order to make them disappear from the playing field. However, the game’s introduction of a simultaneous two-player mode and multiple cute characters ensures it’s different enough to be well worth playing – especially with another human player.

How does the simultaneous two-player work?

It’s a competitive game, with the winner being the player that lasts the longest. In addition to the regular pile-on of drops, each player can attack the other by forming chains in their own section, causing even more drops to rapidly descend on their opponent.

OK, I’m in. Any tips to help me get started?

Keep an eye on your chain meter, as stocking this up enables you to launch critical attacks against your opponent. And as with all the best puzzle games, you’ll have a much better chance of succeeding if you don’t just play randomly and actually plan your moves ahead. Look all over the screen to check where the next chain reaction is potentially coming from.

How is the Antstream leader board looking, and any neat challenges?

It’s tight at the top of the Chain Reaction high score table with superfan Mpk sitting at the summit with 4308 points, closely shadowed by Steve Robb and Thomas with 4218 and 4167 respectively. And, yes, we also have an exciting set of challenges for this game. Blockbuster is a race to the largest chain inside sixty seconds, A Knight On The Tiles asks the player to score as many points as they can as quickly as possible, while Level Up challenges you to get through continuous levels on a single credit. Finally, for the Chain Reaction experts among you, there’s Tile Trouble – how long can you survive at level ten?

Is there anything similar to Chain Reaction on Antstream Arcade?

Apart from the obvious – we also have the third game, cunningly titled Magical Drop III – there are plenty of puzzle games to get your teeth into. Deflektor is an ingenious mirror-shifting 8-bit game from Gremlin, while Solomon’s Key is another arcade puzzler where you’ll need to plan ahead if you’re going to succeed. There’s always something similar on Antstream Arcade!

You took a mystery and made me want it.

No problem – you’re welcome!

Thanks for reading - watch out for another blast from the Antstream Arcade Archive soon!

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