How far would you go to rescue your favourite feline? In Scram Kitty and his Buddy on Rails, we find ourselves dealing with a severe case of role reversal. Your pet cat and all those that wander Earth preening themselves have been lured to a space laboratory orbiting the planet. The Council of Great Scientists aboard such vessel were overrun after a failed experiment, which saw intelligent, power-hungry lab rats take over the facility. The kind that makes Pinky and the Brain look like hobbyists…
The narrative never forms a key part to what Scram Kitty and his Buddy on Rails, but it at least puts the gameplay experience into perspective. Equipped with an anti-grav spinboard, the player, in the shoes of the titular ‘Buddy on Rails,’ set out to turn the tide. And it is such a simply named device that allows Dakko Dakko’s creation to feel unlike anything else you’ve ever played.
You’ll work your way through the lab room-by-room as you look to save the imprisoned cats, doors that block your path designating how many you must rescue before they become unlocked. There are eventually four cats to save, each rescued by achieving their separate criteria, and these are slowly introduced to you as you begin the game. Lazy cats are located at the stage’s exit, so are the easiest to discover, black cats require you to defeat a Mouse Commander, scaredy cats escape once you grab them so must be chased consecutively around the stage, and lucky cats appear once you have collected 100 gold pennies scattered around.
Stages themselves are frantic and entice exploration, with laser barriers blocking off access to certain sections, mice pouring in from every location to thwart your efforts, and the anti-grav spinboard soon proving itself to be the perfect tool for the task at hand.
The device’s magnetic design makes the player stick to the facility’s plethora of rails, on which they can roll around each stage to their delight. You’ll initially have access to cannons to defend yourself, with dual lasers and something akin to a flamethrower. All will aid you on your quest, some required in certain situations to shoot switches to deactivate laser grids, and the spinboard itself has access to a Fire Jump ability which, when pressing jump again before landing, sees you turned into a fireball and propelled in a direction of your choosing. This helps to speed up your traversal of each stage, whilst also being capable of destroying foes that cross your path.
With a lack of checkpoints, Scram Kitty and his Buddy on Rails‘ steep learning curve will all too soon become apparent. See your health depleted and you will have to start the level entirely from scratch, threatening to frustrate players regularly. That means that any cats saved and pennies collected will be lost, which can be distressing considering the careful skill and time that it can take to rescue them.
Some players will revel under the threat of such punishment, but, by design, the easier strategy soon presents itself in choosing to save one or two, complete the stage, and then return later to seek out those that were previously missed. In a way that serves to address novice and more proficient players, although at least those that secure all four cats at once can enjoy feeling smug until the next time they fail.
Without any time limit imposed, you’re free to carefully consider your approach throughout each stage, even if hundreds of enemies are swarming toward you. Although those looking for their skills to be pushed to their limits will enjoy the separate Challenge Mode, which tasks players with completing stages in as quick a time as possible – gaining additional seconds on the clock for retrieving cats and pennies.
Criticism can be placed on the control scheme, which, whilst working perfectly well, for the most part, can become an annoyance when fending off the hordes of mice that will be sent your way. That’s entirely due to the fact that players can only shoot in a forward direction, meaning that you’re unable to immediately respond to threats and end up manically trying to position yourself so that you can do so. It’s particularly bothersome when encountering the Mouse Commanders, stronger foes that require a substantial amount of damage to be dealt before they’re bested. Attacking from all angles, these instances lead to far more mistakes being made and often cause you to lose most of your health meter in the panic of it all.
Wii U GamePad integration sees players decide whether to select the controller or the TV as their main screen, whichever they dismiss becoming the chosen screen for the game’s Spectator mode. This grants a more dynamic viewpoint with Scram Kitty occasionally appearing to celebrate success, indicate threats, or offer guidance. It’s more geared toward a second player looking for anything to be wary of, or to spot elusive gold pennies that may have been missed, and encourages social interaction to aid success. Wii U Pro Controller support’s also there, for those that want to let their GamePad have a rest.
Scram Kitty and his Buddy on Rails presents just as much playful character as Dakko Dakko’s other jovially vibrant output. Entertaining, addictive, and continually throwing new challenges in the player’s direction, it’s bullet hell like never before. And most certainly an experience worth delving into.