The elegant majesty of the Chao Garden

Sonic Adventure 2 proved, to many, to be the peak of 3D platforming for the blue hedgehog. Its elaborate set pieces and breakneck speed felt like the true evolution that we had been yearning for, though it was offset by cumbersome shooting and exploration stages that somewhat threw the pacing off.

Gotta go fast, then go… digging in the ground. I ain’t gonna let it get to me, I’m just gonna creep.

Before long, players would happen upon a blue crate and unearth the contents within: a key to the Chao universe. Upon completion of the current stage, they would be whisked to a strange, neon land, with a doorway ahead that led to true salvation.

For there, lied the Chao Garden.

Its lilting tune and cheery atmosphere gave the indication that you were in a safe place. A reprieve from the machinations of the dastardly G.U.N. soldiers, this sanctuary needn’t worry about intergalactic space stations crashing down from the heavens. By all accounts, you were in the heavens now.

And in this paradise, there are a pair of eggs awaiting your affection. Everyone remembers their first Chao, crawling out into the world with a look of mirth in their eyes. They would soon attempt to drown themselves. Nobody said parenthood was going to be easy.

For my initial pair of snuggly Chao goodness, there was the alleged crybaby, who the fortune teller would dub Star, and the grinning glutton, Chappy.

Each preceding stage offered multicoloured drives and a plethora of cute animals to offer as sacrifice to my children. The former would boost a particular stat, dependent on its colour, while the latter would also give the recipient Chao various features.

Star would garner the ears of a raccoon and the wings of a phoenix, and Chappy was made complete with dragon horns and cheetah paws.

My babies. They were perfect. But they needed more. FEED THEM MORE.

Woodstock, 1969.

Now, the action stages had become secondary to the true goal of Chao ascension. Sonic and Shadow’s mission to save and/or destroy the planet would have to be put on hold as they contemplated what would look cuter: the tusks of a warthog or the fluffy tail of a bunny rabbit.

More Chaos would arrive. More mouths to feed. They would begin to grow and progress into adulthood. More morality to consider. Two additional gardens would be introduced, dependent on whether they were good or evil. They were all good in my eyes, of course, though one could be excused for thinking the Chao that looked like Satan, swimming merrily in a pond of blood, was perhaps a little on the shady side.

As time went on, I discovered more of the nuances behind rearing Chaos. Entering them in contests, teaching them to spin dance, unlocking offshoot breeds that focussed on speed, power or other attributes. It was engrossing, compelling and downright therapeutic.

Then one day, after yet another meal of green drives, Chappy sat down in a quiet corner of the Hero Garden, a look of dismay on his face. And there, with Sonic watching on in agony, he died.

It was a heartrending moment, as I had never considered the lives of the Chaos to be ephemeral. My mind was racing — what had expedited Chappy’s expiration while Star seemed to be perfectly fine? Was it only a matter of time before she too would shuffle off this mortal coil? Then Pebbles? Then Keno? Then Atom? Then HITM (why on earth did the fortune teller insist on calling him HITM)?!

In his place, he left an egg. I would carefully coax it to crack open — in other words, I threw it at a wall — and within, was my beloved Chappy. He had begun a new life, maintaining a fraction of his previous statistics and that trademark toothy smile that made him the fancy of ladies and lads alike.

Holy shit guys, I think my Chao is Jesus.

The Passion of the Chao.

Further research of scholarly articles and ancient texts revealed that it was possible to create an immortal Chao through a mixture of eugenics and eastern European parental pressure. There was so much to unravel and unpack, all underneath the cheery veil of a whimsical verdant landscape.

After this early roaring success, you would think that the Chao Garden would become a staple of the franchise, as synonymous with Sonic as power-up sneakers or the homing attack. But for whatever reason, it just went away one day.

The original Sonic Adventure was the only other home console game to offer a Chao Garden, and as of 2003/2004’s Director’s Cut, it remains the last time the feature was implemented.

Though small references have been made here and there, Sega have remained somewhat hesitant to pay much mind to Chao Gardens for what is approaching two decades. A 2018 Twitter poll from the official Sonic account broached the subject, asking fans what their favourite feature was from past games.

The response was quite definitive, with Chao Gardens blitzing its way to 61.5% of the votes. Some of the more optimistic among us believed this to be a market test, and a potential indication that the Chao Garden’s return laid somewhere on the horizon.

As of publishing, this has of course proven to be a false hope. The next mainline entry will be the open world title Sonic Frontiers, and though Chao Gardens would feasibly fit into this design philosophy, you’d have to be kidding yourself to consider it anything more than a long shot.

Fortunately, both Sonic Adventure titles are available on Steam, so the classic gardens of yesteryear are never too far away. If you haven’t dabbled in the fine art of Chao care, I highly recommend you give it a shot. It may not capture your fancy quite as fiercely as it did mine, but at the very least, it could prove a peaceful escape from the rigours of 2022.

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