Announced over a year ago, Scram Kitty and his Buddy on Rails was one of the earliest Wii U download games to be confirmed. Now that it's finally here, has the wait been worth it, or should this game scram?
Although you're pretty much immediately thrown into the action, there is a little bit of a story to Scram Kitty. The titular cat, as well as a whole bunch of other cats, have been kidnapped by mice (talk about role reversal!) and are being held captive in a space station. Your job, as Scram's owner, is naturally to save them and thwart the plans of the evil mice.
As the game's title implies, rails play a big part in this game — in fact, the space station consists of almost nothing but rails. That's why your character pilots a sort of mobile turret that, you guessed it, can attach to and ride on rails. Each of the ship's many levels consists of tunnels, pathways and platforms all covered in the things, which allow you to go in just about any direction. Left, right, up, down, on the floor, on the ceiling, it doesn't matter, your vehicle can attach to anything.
In the event the rails are not all connected, that's not a problem either, because you can jump around as well as execute a spin attack which lets you do an extra high bounce, shredding any enemies you come into contact with in the process. At the start of the game there will only be basic rails, but you'll quickly start running into other types, like those that automatically move you in a certain direction, others that damage you when you touch them, and the video game staple of iced-over rails that make you slip. There's also a Super Mario Galaxy-esque gravity effect in place that automatically makes you circle around and back towards rails if you're detached for too long; it's a somewhat welcome mechanic, as the spin attack can be tricky for precise jumps.
That's not really the best way to deal with adversaries, though, so you can also keep it simple and use the mounted guns on your vehicle to fire at enemies from a distance — a much safer proposition. Although you'll start with a basic energy cannon of some sort, certain levels will allow you to pick up and use other types of guns, from laser beams to flamethrowers. Unfortunately, these are not permanent additions to your arsenal, so any additional weapons can only be used in the levels you find them.
In each level, your main objective is, naturally, to rescue the kidnapped cats. While there is a cat simply waiting for you at the end of each stage, you can spend some extra time to rescue up to three additional ones as well; these are rewards for picking up all collectibles, chasing down a cat that won't sit still, and finding and defeating a much stronger mouse. Although it might seem like a good idea to collect every cat in one go, this can exponentially increase the risk of dying, so it might be smart to just get them one by one, or at the very least leave the tough one(s) for a separate attempt. The game's first few levels only have one additional cat each, basically teaching you exactly how to get them.
A cool feature if you're having trouble with a particular level is that there is an overworld map with different paths, each requiring different amounts of rescued cats to open. If you're spending too long trying to beat one level, why not try going a different way instead? If you always rescue all the cats in every level you get to, you'll be opening lots of paths very quickly, so there'll be plenty of choice. There's also a 'Challenge Mode' as an extra — in which you charge through some of the more challenging levels from the main game with a time limit — so there's plenty to do.
While the game is, in most aspects, good clean fun, it is not without some flaws. Enemies can sometimes spawn in huge groups, and it is at times almost impossible to avoid taking damage, especially if the room you're in is particularly cramped. Not all levels allow you to farm for health drops, so this can be frustrating if it happens on the wrong level. The game also lacks any form of tutorial, so some things which should be obvious aren't — one type of platform which was opened up via a switch in one stage had to be broken using a spin attack in another one. We spent a while looking for a non-existent switch only to accidentally spin attack it a few times and break it later on.
Perhaps the biggest annoyance, however, is the fact that the TV screen is secondary by default. While it offers a much wider view of the level, allowing you to spot enemies that are completely off-screen on the GamePad, it won't last long — you'll constantly be interrupted with messages from Scram Kitty which, for no reason, blocks half the screen and zooms it in even further than the GamePad does, only to slowly begin zooming out again. While the allure of a much better view will constantly have you looking back up at the TV, you'll just as quickly find yourself looking back down again every time the moment is ruined. The final effect isn't entirely desirable, though you can switch the views (GamePad to TV) with the Select button; the game doesn't actually tell you this, so bear it in mind. You can use the Pro Controller yet, surprisingly, you still have to view the level select and menus on the GamePad screen regardless. While we understand the design choices at work, the emphasis on the GamePad — with Pro Controller support not fully optimised — isn't the best fit.
In addition, we also ran into a bug in one level where we had to hit four switches to open the path to the exit — we opened it up, but then proceeded to go and get the remaining cats. When we came back and were ready to escape with all four cats, for some reason the path was closed again, and no matter how we manipulated the switches we couldn't get it to re-open, essentially wasting half an hour of our time. We didn't run into anything like this in any other levels, but it's something about which to be cautious.
In terms of graphics and music, Scram Kitty isn't necessarily a piece of art, with fairly simplistic designs, but it's bright, colourful and gets the job done — each area of the ship has a different look and different music, so things are freshened up every time you decide to tackle levels in a different direction.
While it's probably not a top tier download title, Scram Kitty and his Buddy on Rails is still an entertaining and fun game, with big, challenging levels and have plenty to do. Being able to go to pretty much any level you want, as well as not necessarily having to save all cats in one go are nice positives, but because of several unfair situations, some awkward control setup issues and one instance where we got stuck, we would warn prospective buyers to be slightly cautious. At least two of those issues can be easily fixed with potential updates, however, which we'd hope are in the works. It's certainly worth consideration due to its positives, but doesn't quite sink its claws into the player.