Over a year has passed since the original confirmation of Scram Kitty and his Buddy on Rails. As one of the first downloadable titles confirmed for the Wii U it’s been on the radar of many for the past twelve months. Finally the wait is over and we can take a dive into Dakko Dakko’s third title. But has the wait been worthwhile or should it be left in the litter tray?
Within minutes, Scram Kitty takes a firm grip deep in your skin and refuses to let go. This attention-grabbing charm beams into your vision first. Every surface is colorful and inviting; traits which mask the depth within, but more on that little nugget later. It’s no Henri Matisse painting, that much is obvious, but everything fits together without being repulsive or distracting your attention from the job at hand. The same can be said for the soundtrack, it sits in the background adding a complimentary mood to gameplay without stealing your concentration. Most games want visuals to tug excitedly at your retina but Scram Kitty doesn’t try for good reason. Any brain power you’ve got will be necessary when maneuvering around levels.
Unrurpisingly for a game with Rails in the title, locomotion in Scram Kitty is dealt with using a locomotive. At first movement feels quite odd but in time the realisation hits you, Dakko Dakko put a cartload of effort into creating one of the most responsive and innovative control systems seen in recent years. All motion is controlled on a 2D plane running along various forms of track including rails which force you in a particular direction or cause damage over time. Manipulating or avoiding these different tracks makes up an important layer in Scram Kitty’s multifaceted gameplay. Each track is magnetised so when you latch onto it falling off isn’t an option. Jumping off however, that’s a whole other kettle of fish. Tasty, tasty fish.
Reportedly, the simple mechanic of launching oneself from the relative safety of the rails took around a year to craft into the desired experience. This attention to detail shines through in abundance once you’ve gotten used to it. Jumping in a normal sense isn’t anything to write home about in itself, it is after all just a jump. For the first three or four levels this is all you need concern yourself with. Flippantly hoping over small gaps feels precise but doesn’t fill you with any sense of accomplishment greater than getting the correct shoe on the correct foot first time out. When combined with a little speed these basic jumps turn into a lifeline for bounding Buddy and his little circular vehicle between rails and across gaps. When you get to the double jumps and manipulating magnetism to throw yourself around though, that’s where Scram Kitty really makes a name for itself.
Flame Jumping – or double jumping – plays a key role in several scenarios of kitty rescue. Most obviously its a talent used to reach higher levels and leap across larger gaps which often present themselves. Slightly less blatant though is the power of flame. Many times during Scram Kitty your screen is awash with evil rats (good old role reversal at play here) and taking them down at times can be a drag in part due to their large numbers. Blazing into them with a Flame Jump plays a vital role stalling the tides of sewer-dwellers often infesting the screen, that and when pulling off a particularly successful strike its not uncommon to let out the universally recognised fist pump of victory. Where it’s most useful though is crossing wide crevices in rail.
Your craft is tied by the invisible ribbon of magnetism to the point of launch. Using this rope of opportunity to your advantage in a slingshot, catapulting Buddy across to an unreachable location, is perhaps the most pleasing action of the whole experience. Pulling off such feats – even the very basic movements – comes down to practise though. You’re not going to simply load up the game and be able to enact these displays of skill on a whim, you need to put in the time before foiling the rats and their unscrupulous crimes. Bounding over bad guys may be the bedrock of Scram Kitty but the combat is where this game all starts to come together in ways you might not expect.
Shooting the ratty kidnappers out of the sky isn’t a simple act of point and fire. Your weapons fire can only by manipulated by your position; streaming from Buddy’s craft perpendicular to the rails in a fashion reminiscent of Space Invaders if it were played on rounded floor. On the face of it it doesn’t like a real game changer but when combined with the rigid yet precise movement and bouncing between tracks, it all comes crashing together into something resembling a chocolate cake surrounded by hot coals; reaching the sweet spot may be tricky, even painful, at times but it all works together to give you a bracing experience. Just the simple act of lining up for a shot can be a puzzle in itself. When all of these elements come together, Scram Kitty glistens brightly as an undeniably well designed arcade puzzler.
Saving the cats even then isn’t a walk in the park they come in four increasingly frustrating feline flavours. Granted, one of them just sits at the finish line waiting for you but the other three don’t make their rescue easy. Collecting 100 gold pieces (a feat in itself which requires plenty of skill) brings one out from its hidey hole while the third requires you to get your combat gloves on and defeat all the rodents then their leader. Without doubt the most hair tearing though runs away from you every time you get close, starting a game of cat and mouse — oddly enough with the cat playing the mouse — around each zone. This kitty itself is a little pain in the tail but the level designs make chasing down the feline exhilarating. Dakko Dakko deserves to swim forever in a sea of accolades for the imaginative layouts collected on the screen in front of you. Or the screen a little further away.
One of Scram Kitty’s few pitfalls is its use of the WiiU’s dual screen set up. Each screen displays almost the exact same image, presenting a missed opportunity. One screen could have been used as an overarching map with the other your game play portal but no, the only difference is the default TV screen shows a slightly wider field of vision and messages from Scram – the cat pointing you around the station – which cover more of the screen than is necessary therefore blocking your important view. Another issue is the lack of any sort of tutorial. The double jump mentioned earlier isn’t explained at all during game play and neither are the requirements for getting the gold-hoarding or rodent-slaughtering cats. Yeah they are in the manual but many games, myself included, will not take the time to go read the literature especially when its hidden behind the woeful WiiU interface.
These problem are not enough to ruin Scram Kitty and his Buddy on Rails though. Completing each level makes the heart swell with a sense of accomplishment rare in games today. Taking on the challenge modes instills this feeling further although the required skill is much higher than standard gameplay. It’s no system seller, it’s no world changer, but it is a great title for the WiiU and definitely worth a purchase for those of us who just need to get a hearty dose of arcade puzzling down our throats.
This review was written based on the Wii U version of Scram Kitty and his Buddy on Rails provided by the Publisher.