Spy Chameleon started life as a 2D indie effort on the 360. A few years on and this limber-skinned lizard has evolved to the XBO, bringing challenging puzzles, a tiny turtleneck jumper, and a bright colour palette along with him.
It’s easy to assume that Spy Chameleon will be a low-price-low-content piece of arcade fluff, and the early missions don’t help with that. Spy Chameleon’s first task is to sneak into a starlet’s hotel room, and the levels leading up to it are in danger of becoming cut-and-past copies of each other. Give the little RGB Agent a chance, though, and you’ll get a fun challenge in return, ranging from pilfering the secret formula for ‘Coca-Cloak’ to hacking into a top secret computer.
It seems so easy written down, but that’s the beauty of the game. The core mechanic is deceptively simple – avoid being spotted by changing into one of four different colours and using the environment – but it becomes more complex as new elements are gradually woven in to the levels, until you’re flipping out and running in circles to avoid the gaze of three sentry robots at once.
The robots are the most common enemies you’ll face: little saltshakers that trundle around in patrol patterns, sweep their cone of vision backwards and forwards, or else just staring determinedly right at the door you need to go through. They quickly become the least of your worries when you're faced with a combo of security cameras that hone in on you if you stay out of camouflage for too long, giant goldfish that spin round at the slightest touch, and moving screens that only give you a moment to hide.
The colour change mechanic is the key to successfully avoiding detection. Luckily every building in the game had the same decorator, and he’s a fan of bright scatter carpets. Spy Chameleon can blend with them in the blink of an eye, but he’s limited to the colours on your controller – A for green, B for Red and so on – and it’s easy to forget which is which when you only have a split second to get it right. If you don’t have a carpet handy then knocking over a paint can, or using light up floors, will do in a pinch, but woe betide any chameleon that gets caught moving on or off them. By woe, of course, we mean that an alarm will sound and you’ll get pushed back to your last checkpoint.
The alarm gets jarring if you hear it a lot, which you’re likely to, because although Spy Chameleon is a game all about rhythm and timing sometimes it seems a little fickle about it. In a dance where one partner is a small lizard, and the other is a patrolling giant lab rat, it’s annoying when the game teaches you steps but you have to rely on trial and error to get them right.
When you remove the time it takes to get frustrated and repeat the same tiny section over and over again then a level averages out to about ninety seconds to complete. There are seventy-five all told, and each has a time challenge as well as two types of collectible to find. Taken altogether and Spy Chameleon becomes a perfect pick-up-and-play game with a shocking amount of replay value.
If you’re still unconvinced then you should know that later levels provide the traditional spy’s cardboard box to sneak around in. Snake might be the fan-favourite when it comes to espionage, but he should be looking over his shoulder for another reptile. If he can even spot it coming, that is.