When most people think of an on-rails shooter-type game, you usually think of a hardcore shoot-em-up that flings tons upon tons of bullets towards the character on the screen. With new studio Dakko Dakko's debut title, Scram Kitty and His Buddy on Rails, this isn't too far from the point, except for the change that your character is actually on rails. So does it give it enough of a chance to rise above the other heavyweights in the field?
It's a bit odd getting used to the controls initially as most players would likely wish to be able to more freely move around. It feels frustrating at first for sure, but after completing the first few levels you become accustomed to leaping obstacles with perfect timing and using the ship's inherent inertia to move yourself across the level while you focus on shooting down the enemy ships.
The game also has a collectible aspect as you have a set number of cats that need to be rescued from the weaponized rats tying into the game's namesake. Some cats just need to be run into to collect them, but others are a bit more difficult. One type bounces around from one place to the next as you try to catch them, which uses the Wii U's gamepad quite nicely as one screen will zoom into the level to give you better movement, while the other screen will zoom out so you can easily see where the cat landed next. Black cats require a powerful enemy to be defeated and there are also white cats that require all of the level's coins to be collected.
While you can collect all of the cats in one run, the game doesn't require one option or the other for the most part. The overworld map unlocks as you rescue more cats, with the main levels not requiring too many cats that it feels frustrating for the player. Some levels also are a bit easier to come back to with skills you gain from later levels. All in all, it's a nice way to make sure the player doesn't become bored with any particular level.
That isn't to say the game is a cakewalk, though. If you've played any of developer Treasure's games before, you know that they're tough but fair. Recalling Treasure's Gunstar Heroes, Scram Kitty eventually gives the player a couple different weapons to choose from, each with their own weaknesses and strengths. The game also utilizes a health bar which lets the player jump higher depending on the health they have left, so the more hits you take the less agile you become and the more routes get blocked off. It plays nicely into the risk/reward setup the game has going as you need to decide if you should cut your losses and return with the cats you currently have or go guns blazing.
Hearkening back to the "Nintendo hard" days of old, Scram Kitty doesn't employ any real tutorials of the sense outside of the little snippets that character Scram Kitty tells you. It's a game where you learn as you go, with each defeat and success providing a teaching moment for those who put in the effort to learn the game's mechanics. The game never felt cheap at any time which is usually a failing point for the genre. That said, extreme newcomers to the genre might feel intimidated initially but anyone with some experience of the genre will feel right at home.
And for your masochists out there there's a Challenge Mode unlockable after collecting all 70 cats and beating the game's final campaign stage. Combining a series of stages from the main game, you race to see how many cats you can collect before the timer runs out. Each coin collected adds a second but inversely every hit you take from an enemy takes away a second. There's no restarts either as you can't backtrack if you passed a cat on the way. Sadly there's no leaderboards for this mode, which would have been an excellent addition. Some players will probably use Miiverse as a substitute, but it would have been better to have it built into the game itself.
For a game to eschew modern ideas like achievements, tutorials and beginner tips in this day and age isn't something you see every day. Scram Kitty and His Buddy on Rails is a great throwback to those infamous "Nintendo hard" days where skill and skill alone paved the way to success. Newcomers and those coddled by recent games won't get that far in the game, but those who live for the genre or want to put the effort to master the game's controls, will find a game that's sole focus rewards the time they put in.
|Rewards the players for learning the game's in's-and-out's.|
|Nice balance between the collectibles and the levels they unlock.|
|No real tutorials for those who require them to play a game.|
|It's very much a love or hate it game.|