Scram Kitty DX, the deluxe version of last years Wii U indie game Scram Kitty and His Buddy on Rails from Dakko Dakko, is now available for Vita. Is it meow-nificent, or just what the cat dragged in?
While from the screenshots you may be expecting the game to be predominantly a 2D shooter, and fundamentally it is at heart, the game is equally as much of a platformer. The objective of the game is to rescue four cats from each level from space mice; the first is always at the exit, one requires you to defeat the level boss, another is obtained by collecting 100 scattered coins, and the final kitty requires you to chase after it – effectively a timed checkpoint race across the level.
Your character is on rails – literally – and these rails must be strongly magnetised, as you will be returned to them as if by a bit of elastic unless you’re able to reach another platform. Not all rails are the same, and you will encounter some which propel you in one direction, prevent you from jumping, slide you around, or result in injury. Pressing jump again before landing gives you a higher jump and turns you into a fireball, enabling you to destroy enemies and certain parts of the environment. Also, rather strangely, the more heath you have, the higher you can jump, which does make some longer jumps trickier when on low heath.
The game is not one to hold your hand – aside from four short tutorial levels demonstrating the requirements to capture the four cats, there is effectively no guidance at all, and particularly at the start of the game, you’ll find yourself approaching something of a learning cliff rather than a learning curve. The controls, particularly combining the double jump with the orbit effect of the magnetisation pull, take a lot of getting used to. At times you are required to either have great speed or exacting precision, but you never feel that you are able to do either reliably.
As a result of the above, the first hour or so is incredibly frustrating, and will inevitably turn people away from the game. While faced with this battle against the controls, a stream of new gameplay mechanics are thrown at you, which you are left to solve for yourself. If you can persevere beyond that, the game comes alive as you start to get a feel for what you can do, and deaths become predominantly as a result of your own incompetence or impatience rather than a battle with the controls.
Obtaining all the cats becomes an addictive obsession, and at points you start to develop a feeling of a risk/reward ratio, in deciding whether to gamble as and try and bringing back an additional kitty, or banking the ones you have already.
Your default weapon can only fire at a 90 degree angle to the side, which can cause a few awkward moments while you look for the right angle of wall or just for the enemy to move to somewhere you can shoot at it. There are three alternate weapon pickups which can really change the feel of combat, they more powerful and are required to break through into new areas or activate switches, but are more limited by range or rate of fire.
The retro-inspired art-style means the game looks great, and appears well polished – despite all the action underway at times, I didn’t notice any performance issues, although there were a couple of times where I was warped back to the start of the level following contact with a moving object.
The difficulty seemed rather variable between levels and challenges, although this is helped by a non-linear progression which is very generous about letting you move on to another stage without having to collect all, or even most, the cats from the previous ones.
Once you’re got to the end of the 24 non-tutorial levels and defeated the final boss, with each stage having the same goals the game starts to feel a little repetitive, although your longevity will depend on how determined you are to go back and rescue all the cats on each level.
The deluxe version sees the introduction of cross-save with the PS4 version (the game is also cross-buy) and a challenge mode – which consists of trying to collect all the cats on a level within a time limit – with the clock reduced for damage taken. The challenge mode leans heavily on speed of movement, which was the part I struggled most to get to grips with, but it was a nice variation from the standard level goals. The challenge mode also has leaderboard support, enabling you compete against your friends for the best time.
If you have the patience and determination to get though a tough first impression and learn to adapt to the controls, you will find a good, enjoyable game that effectively combines a 2D shooter and a platformer into a unique mix, but many will understandably have thrown in the towel before this point.