Very original and creative gameplay; charming audio and visual presentation; demands to be mastered
A few tutorials for the new mechanics would be nice; difficulty could leave less patient and skilled players in its wake
It isn’t very often that I get to say this about a game, but Scram Kitty and his Buddy on Rails for Wii U is an amazingly original game in almost every regard. Various elements of the game can be traced back to platformers, puzzle games, and even shoot ‘em ups, but the end result is quite unlike anything else I have ever played. Though sheer creativity doesn’t automatically go hand in hand with quality, Scram Kitty manages to deliver both quite effectively.
The basic premise of the game is rather simple: evil mice have kidnapped cats and taken them into space, and it is your job to hop aboard an armed rail-riding ship thingy and save them. In terms of the actual game, this plays out as a very interesting twist on classic action platforming concepts. Instead of simply running and jumping between platforms, your character sticks to the rails that run along most walls, which allows you to stick vertically, scale walls and move along ceilings. This really changes up the normal formula by removing a consistent downward direction, because even though the screen remains oriented the same way, the rail you are jumping from is also your source of gravity, making many jumps a much more complex physics equation than your normal platformer.
Along with the platforming elements, there is also plenty of combat and puzzle solving. The latter gameplay element is primarily built around using the proper weapons to destroy particular obstacles or activate switches to open new parts of a level. These mechanics are usually simple enough; however, the relatively non-linear construction of the levels and the fact that the weapons drastically impact how you approach combat does lend a little more complexity to the proceedings.
As much as Scram Kitty is about the platforming, the combat is by no means an afterthought and is plenty challenging in its own right. First, the fact that you are stuck to a rail and can only fire forward makes enemies attacking from the side especially difficult to deal with, often forcing you to jump around enemies or to different surfaces in order to attack. The different weapons, of which there are four, add even more layers to firefights because each has very distinct characteristics, from the way they fire to the types of enemies they can affect. However, aside from your basic blaster, each weapon has to be picked up within the current level you are playing and most levels only feature one of the other weapons. The final element to the combat is the fact that at times it can almost turn into a bullet hell game as swarms of enemies, some trying to ram you while others take pot shots from afar, crowd the screen. I also found the variety of enemies with different behaviors, forms of attack, and weaknesses to be an impressive surprise.
Put together, these elements have allowed for the creation of an immensely creative and unique game, but that has also led to one of my few significant problems with the game. Due to all these ideas, Scram Kitty can be a little difficult to wrap your head around at first. The physics of jumping between and around the rails is a fairly drastic change of pace from most platformers, so even seasoned gamers will take a little while to really figure out how everything works. Thus, it would have been nice if the game took more time to let everything settle in. The first few levels do focus on individual elements, but the difficulty quickly ramps up and is never anything that I would actually describe as a tutorial. Yeah, I know there is something of a resurgence within the gaming industry in forgoing excessive hand-holding, but I think it is okay to be a little more supportive when so many unfamiliar and unique ideas are at play.
Thankfully, if you do happen to start getting a little frustrated, the audio and visual design should at least help keep a smile on your face. Considering the fact this game is called Scram Kitty and his Buddy on Rails, it should come as no surprise the game is a little weird. Environments are a little bland and rendered with rather simplistic 3D models, but everything else is done with a much more colorful mix of hand drawn and pixelated art work. Your in-game character and enemies look straight out of the SNES era, and there is definitely a certain charm that comes from seeing comically homicidal mice pilot flying saucers and mech suits. Every once in a while, a beautifully detailed illustration of Scram Kitty will pop up on the TV screen to give hints or provide commentary on the proceedings while the action continues uninterrupted on the GamePad. The music is also decidedly retro with a nice mix of tunes ranging from the synth-heavy to the funky, and while you may not be whistling it while away from the game, if definitely serves to improve the overall experience.
If there is one area where some might find another reason to complain, it could be the overall amount of content; however, I think that it will primarily be contingent on how long it takes one to master the mechanics. Each level has four cats to rescue, and kind of like stars in Super Mario 64, unlocking new levels requires certain amounts of cats. Simply reaching the end of a level guarantees one cat, but while that is enough to unlock most levels, actually reaching the final stage will require plenty more. Levels contain three other cats that can be saved by defeating especially tough enemies, collecting all the coins in a level, and chasing down a “scaredy cat” who tests the speed with which you can accurately navigate sections of each level. Beyond the main game, there is also a challenge mode that runs you through a gauntlet containing every level but time limits that can be expanded by collecting coins or shrunk by hitting obstacles and enemies.
Scram Kitty and his Buddy on Rails is a truly original game that obviously required a great deal of thought, passion and creativity, something I really don’t get to say nearly enough. That being said, I really can’t give it a blanket recommendation. I can’t help but feel the few faults I could find with Scram Kitty were intentional; developer Dakko Dakko seemed to have been intent on making a unique game with old school sensibilities that was meant to be mastered in spite of its best efforts to provide tough but fair resistance. In this regard, I would say the studio succeeded.
Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.