I remember in elementary school when videogames were king. On the playground people would talk about the games they were playing, boasting about what they had beaten, and cursing others who had beaten a game before them. I knew kids who would swap magazines with each other, just so they could get all the hints, codes, and tricks. It was a magical time, and I loved every minute of it. It was there I found out which games were great, which I should avoid, and if a game was really worth playing through. But in all of this one though sticks out in my mind. The day I went to school and told my friends I had finally beaten Rockiní Kats. I waited for admiration; instead I got a reality check. Nobody I had talked to had even heard of the game. That ended up being the story of me and Rockiní Kats.
When I moved from Michigan to Illinois, I figured I had a fresh chance, a new audience to tell my story to. I was again sadly mistaken. While most of the gamers I met here had cut their teeth on the NES, few remembered much about it. They were more interested in the newest systems, The Playstation, Saturn, and N64, and the hottest games. I would still talk about it to anybody who would listen, but I knew it was falling on deaf ears. Even as I met more and more gamers who dug retro games, not a single one could recall playing it. A few had heard of it, maybe remembering seeing itís box at a store long ago, but not one of them had any real memories of the game.
I think thatís what caused me to forget about it too. Unlike most of the games of my childhood that I would continue to replay through emulation and by hooking up my old NES, I didnít pick it up again. In all honesty before this, I hadnít played the game in two-three years, and hadnít beaten it since I was a kid. So I had to take a look back to find out does it still hold up. Why have few heard of this game that was so beloved by myself, and is it a game that people should take their time and try? So letís dive in, hereís ROCKINí KATS.
Yes, this is a cheap segue, but oh well
I will be conducting this as my first Bipolar review (yes I do suffer from Bipolar disorder, so thatís why I feel free to use it; I donít mean to offend any other sufferers). The review is broken down into 4 segments, first an overview of the game itself. A general review where I will try to remain as unbiased as possible (trying to review it as though it is my first playthru), and will analyze the game by giving individual ratings (out of ten) to key components (graphics, sound, control, and playability) along with an overall score (not an average). The BiPolar portion where I will be biased as hell, because in Bipolar as in gaming there are, things that make me extremely happy, things that just depress me, things that induce anger in every inch of my being, and the WTF moments (which donít fit into a single category, and I consider akin to fluctuation of emotions). Finally Iíll try and take a deeper look as to why nobody has played the game. So without further ado, letís begin.
Rockiní Kats was released in 1991 by Atlus Software for the NES. Although in Japan it got a very Engrishy title, NY Nyankies. Also remember that this is 1991 we are talking about, so using K instead of C in Kats was still cool. It follows the path created by games like Super Mario Brothers and Mega Man, as it is a platformer. You take the role of Willy, a cat who is a Jazz musician and who goes by the stage name of ďThe Rockiní Kat,Ē I swear I am not making that up. Like most platformers, it follows the ďsave the princessĒ storyline. In this game itís Mugsy, the evil bulldog Crime Boss. Heís managed to steal your girlfriend Jill, and itís up to you, as Willy, to get her back. One unique thing about the game is how the story is structured. Instead of going off on an adventure filled with wacky mishaps with no justification, it turns out Willy is a cartoon character. Thus you get a channel select screen, allowing you to pick whatever adventure you want, be it a romp in New York City or the fun of a carnival.
Hell Yeah, LETíS GO TO PLAYLAND
The other unique thing is your weapon. Mario has fireballs, Mega Man has his Megabuster, and Willy has gun, which shoots a punch glove, which functions as a grappling hook. Iíll give you a moment to absorb that all in. A gun, which shoots a fist, thatís also a grappling hook. Thatís as original a weapon as Iíve ever seen in a game. Oh, whatís that, Bionic Commando did the grappling hook before? Quick question, what is your weapon in Bionic Commando. It isnít the grappling hook, itís your gun, and the grappling hook is your means of jumping, which Willy can do fine on his own. Yes, I can admit the grappling hook idea isnít entirely original, but I personally have never seen a grappling hook that spins you around in a circle at insane speeds.
Slow down Willy, that spinning is gonna make me sick.
A Punch glove and grappling hook, sounds amazing, BUT WAIT, THEREíS MORE. Canít reach that platform above you? Well just punch downward and spring-jump up there in style, Is that nosy bitch above you dropping a flowerpot? Just hold down the button and your punch glove becomes a grabbing arm, allowing you to grasp a falling object with ease, and throw it at whomever you wish. Plus for a small additional fee, you can change the punch glove for a spiked ball, even add Twin Balls. Again, I am dead serious, thereís a weapon you can buy called Twin Balls. All this and more could be yours, if you play Rockiní Kats today.
Yes, itís called the Twin Balls, *insert your own sexual joke here*
First things first, remember weíre dealing with an NES game, so comparing it with modern titles would just be silly. However for an NES game the graphics are quite well done. They use the NESís color palate very well, most everything in the game is very colorful, and giving the game the ďcartoonyĒ atmosphere I believe the creators were aiming for. Every character is drawn clearly and itís easy to see and understand what each individual is. From a skunk that sprays you to a dog whoís obsessed with Michael Jackson, the enemies are unique to say the least. They look good, and they each have their own expression for when they kick the bucket.
Willy himself looks like you could pluck him from a Disney or Warner Brothers group shot. Heís cartoony enough so he doesnít look like a real cat, but no so much that you donít recognize what creature he is. He is not static either, if you punch a wall and he bounces backward, his facial expression changes. If you land a grappling hook jump, and do not press any buttons he does a little celebration upon landing. And if he gets hit, he looks like a cartoon cat whose tail just got jammed into an electrical outlet. Willy fits his role well as a cartoon character because he was given mannerisms akin to many cartoon characters.
Doesnít it look like he jammed his tail into an outlet?
The stages are themselves are where the graphics can be hit or miss. Most of the time they look fine, the carnival level looks like an actual carnival. In one portion of it you enter a haunted house with enemies that blend into the dark background, to give the appearance that they are ghosts. In a factory based stage the background is full of rotating gears. Thereís even some nice scrolling in some stages, like where you hitch a ride on the wings of an airplane. The backgrounds and stages represent what they are supposed to. So at times an effort was really put in to make the stages look well.
At other times it seems like the developers got lazy. There are many levels where the background is just bricks of a solid color. Even worse there are ones that are just squares, split into two colored triangles. After scrolling through it just a little bit it can become sickening. The end of level bosses get the worst treatment, every single one of them is just a solid black background. It doesnít take anything away from the boss fights, but they really look plain and out of place with comparison to the rest of the game.
My how exciting, a static black background.
Rating for Graphics: 8.5
, while not the best in the NES library, they are quite good. The point deductions mainly go towards the bad backgrounds, simply because they were capable of better as seen in other stages.
The music is good, but not great. Atlus at least manages to put forth effort, meaning that most of the background songs are not a ten second loop of the same thing over and over again. For the most part every song has an intro, an extended middle, and an ending before the song repeats itself. They have a cartoon vibe to them, which makes sense given the storyline. While some songs are repeated, it is done so logically. For example, every end boss has the same theme song, most of the sewer or underground portions use the same music. While it wonít go down in the pantheon of classic NES soundtracks like Mega Man 2, Castlevania 3, or The Mario series, itís not so bad that you want to mute the game.
The sound effects are quite nice. The game thankfully doesnít fall into the trap of reusing sound effects too much. If you grab a hold of an item, say a flower pot dropped from above, you can hear the glove open up, and the flower pot being grabbed. If you spring jump upward, it manages to sound like Willyís springing upward. They even gave each individual weapon its own sound effect, which a lot of games miss out on. The only sound that truly bothers me is when Willy gets hit, which is a loud yelp. It can be a bit annoying, especially since they reuse it for when Willy hits a wall while spinning on his grappling hook (which doesnít cause you any damage).
Yeah, I donít really know how to capture sound in an image. So hereís a picture where Jazz and Radio are mentioned, which involve sound? Yeah, Iím grasping for straws, but I donít care.
Rating for Sound: 7.0
, While most of the music is not truly memorable, I have found myself humming the carnival and end boss themes recently. The sound effects would be perfect, if it wasnít for that yelp.
The control is an area where there are a few problems. By itself it is fine. Movement is not too loose nor is it too sticky. Everything is very responsive, when you press B to shoot out your punch glove; it comes out with minimal delay. Holding the button down to grab an item is timed out just fine, one second is all it takes. You have the ability to jump down from platforms, which is always nice, and useful in avoiding enemies. For the most part, itís what you would expect from a normal platformer.
The problem with the control is when you have to use down and up, one after the other. There are times in the game where you have to spring jump then follow up by grappling onto a platform above you. This should be no problem, but the game seems to delay the transition between directions. So there are times when you have to repeatedly attempt a jump/grapple, because you either pressed up too early and didnít get an opportunity to shoot up, or because you press up too late and your grapple misses. This is a minor inconvenience, and thankfully can be remedied by buying the Jet Sneakers powerup which allows you to hover.
Jet Sneakers, what would I do without you.
Using down or up alone is simple enough, thankfully, but the moment that you have to go in a diagonal is where you can run into some big problems. In most games, like for example Contra, itís nice that you can move while firing on a diagonal. In Rockiní Kats, there are times when you need to make a precise grapple or spring jump diagonally. Unfortunately since Willy moves while you are doing this, you can undershoot and overshoot targets. And since these tend to be in areas with a pit or instant death spot underneath (water in this case, spikes surprisingly do minimal damage), itís easy to lose all your lives trying to make a single jump. Again, the Jet Sneakers help, but this could be remedied by the game having a way to let you remain still to make these jumps.
Rating for control: 7.0
, The control itself is solid, I just really dislike the fact that The Jet Sneakers are almost necessary in some parts of the game.
The game is short, I cannot deny that. At the beginning of the game you have the option of playing 4 channels, Downtown Street, Sky Ace, Playland, and Western Adventure. Although they are not the most inspired titles for cartoon episodes, they each have an individual theme, as I touched on when discussing the games graphics. You also get have a bonus channel, where money earned in the levels can be spent on games to win more money or extra lives. Thereís a shopping channel where power ups and extra lives can be purchased. Here you can pick up a bomb that fires from your glove, twin balls that do the same, a spiked ball to replace it, and the Jet Sneakers which allow you to hover. These can be switched in and out by your own choosing. Naturally the final channel I Love New York (not to be confused with that horrible reality show), is only unlocked after beating each stage.
I canít believe how easily his girlfriend gets captured.
Thankfully each stage is similar enough to fit together, yet has variety. While there are a few enemies who appear throughout the game, each stage has its own individual enemies that fit into the level motif. For example, Playland has pandas that spin plates at you, Sky Ace has birds in bombers who drop bombs on you, you get the idea. Also they follow a general pattern; they have two stages of side scrolling action, one of which has a midboss, a vehicle stage where you are fixed on an appropriate mode of transport (Roller Coaster, Mine Cart, etc), a stage of grappling and platforming that is either vertical or horizontal, and finally the level boss. Overall the main stages play out fine.
The fifth stage as one would expect is the longest, the most difficult, and is where playing bonus games to stock up on extra lives pays off. While it does contain my favorite enemy, the Michael Jackson canine, and my favorite boss, Mugsyís bodyguard Kong, it falls into a gaming clichť of the era. You get the pleasure of fighting every mid-boss and end-boss. In some games this works, the Mega Man series has done this in nearly every game, and I have no problem with it because you can pick which boss to fight in whatever order you please. In Rockiní Kats itís a seemingly random order, you fight end-bosses of a level before fighting the mid-boss that sort of thing, and every end boss is on the same boring black background as before.
Spiked ball to the groin, thatís got to hurt.
The bosses however are good, although cheap at times. The cheapness mainly appears in the mid bosses, who can corner you and take off a lot of your life bar in mere seconds. Most of them arenít too memorable, except for the Native American dogs who do a rain dance, ohhh Japanese racism. The end bosses are fun and albeit a bit odd in some cases the difficulty is balanced well on them. You fight Mugsyís personal band, The Bull Band, his dreaded Machine, his Clown-Dog, his pet eagle, his giant ape bodyguard Kong, and finally the man himself. Mugsy is the most difficult boss in the game, and rightfully so, as you have to jump from platform to platform avoiding him and his bullets, while landing shots of your own. After you knock him to the moon, the game isnít over, thereís a bonus level that Mugsy offers you, which Iíll discuss in the BiPolar portion of the review.
Ladies and Gentlemen, THE BULL BAND
, while I had to knock points off for the cheapness of the mid-bosses, having to fight every boss again, the game itself is solid. It may be short, but in that short period of time there is a lot packed in, and Iíd say itís replayable. Plus itís difficult, but not controller throwing difficult, which is always nice.
, While this game doesnít fall into the classic library of the NES, itís still worth checking out, especially if you are a fan of platformers. While I do have gripes with the control and the sound, they are relatively minor, and donít truly take anything away from a great game.
But now that Iíve tried to be as fair as possible, itís time look at this game from my own personal standpoint.
Itís time to go BiPolar.
What makes me happy
The cartoon storyline
To me its pure genius, everything is contained within the television. You choose a channel, and play out an episode of the cartoon. It even follows the same clichťs as a classic cartoon, the hero fights through whatever is in his path to save his damsel in distress, and argues with the villain over her safety. He gets his girl back by the end of the episode and everything is happy. But of course, the next time you tune in, the hated villain has taken her away and the hero must go off and save her once more. Instead of ďyour princess is in another castle,Ē Mugsy threatens you after you beat a stage, and on the channel select screen you can Jill being taken away by his goons. Itís an easy enough to follow story, and it works.
Dammit, with a threat like that, Iím certainly doomed.
The Punch Glove
I love the punch glove, hell I wish I could buy one in real life. Again going with the cartoon idea, it makes perfect sense; after all theyíve been in cartoons before. Itís versatile, like a weapon should be. Itís a springboard, a grappling hook, a grabbing arm, and a weapon in one. Plus thereís no greater satisfaction than slamming a giant boxing glove into an enemies face. The weapon upgrades each add onto it, without taking away what makes it uniqueness of the weapon itself. Bottom line, Punch Glove = Bad Ass
Even though it can make you look like a total tool, The Punch Glove is still awesome.
That I knew of this game
Like I said, this section is where I can be biased and personal. If I were to rank the top ten games from the NES that I played the hell out of in my childhood, it would be up there. This was one of those games that I could just pop in and have fun with. After dealing with the bullshit of The Rocketeer or Dick Tracy, I could pop it in, play a level or two, and put it away feeling happy. There are some games out there you just feel good after playing, this is one of them for me.
Things that depress me
You can pick up and throw powerups.
This saddens me simply because I donít think it was noticed by the developers. In giving you the ability to grab objects, they didnít specify which objects. However there are only a few times where objects are dropped or thrown for you to catch. The rest of the objects you encounter are the powerups. I know there have been many times where after punching out a bad guy I accidentally hold B instead of releasing it, and grab a health powerup I need, essentially wasting it.
Come on Willy, I needed that money
Powerups do not override invincibility.
This is one I rediscovered while playing through again. After taking damage from an enemy you get a few seconds of invincibility, as you would in most games. However unlike most games you cannot pick up powerups while you are in this invincible state. Compared to a game like Mega Man, where you can take a hit intentionally to get a powerup, you have no such luck here. The problem here lies in the fact that an enemies attack overrides picking up the item. If an enemyís bullet, miniature bat, whatever projectile it may be hits you when the invincibility runs out, you take another hit, and miss out of picking up the item.
Iím standing right over the life, and canít pick it up, I know Willy isnít on the screen; itís only because of the flashing during invincibility.
THINGS THAT PISS ME THE FUCK OFF
You cannot throw objects upward.
Granted, logically this wouldnít work, if you released the object upward, it would fall and hit you on the head. But this is a videogame with a cartoon theme, THAT STATEMENT ALONE SHOULD STATE LOGIC SHOULDNíT BE CONSIDERED. Hell I can do one better, if hold the object up and release it, it flies to the right with no change in velocity and no falling due to gravity. THAT SHOULDNíT FUCKING HAPPEN EITHER, BUT IT DOES, SO LET ME THROW OBJECTS UP DAMMIT. Granted, you need the horizontal throw much more than youíd ever need an upward one, and it would only be useful a few times, in boss fights usually, BUT I STILL WANT MY ANTI-NEWTONIAN THROWS.
All I want to do is fire upward, canít you give me that.
I know, I know, these can be a problem in any game. But in Rockiní Kats, itís a serious fucking problem. The very moment the screen is one pixel above an enemy or in front of it, THEY FUCKING RESPAWN. So if you spring jump off a pipe (which contained an enemy you killed) and miss a grapple, THE MOMENT YOU FALL THAT ENEMY IS THERE AND ATTACKING. It essentially gives you one shot to make difficult jumps, otherwise you take damage. WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE. THE REASON WHY I KILLED THE ENEMY IS SO HE COULDNíT ATTACK ME WHILE I ATTEMPTED THIS JUMP, HOW THE FUCK DID HE COME BACK SO QUICKLY. You donít even have to leave the screen, as the picture below shows.\
Iím not even off the screen yet, and heís already spawned, God fucking dammit.
The Smash Attack.
THIS THING IS FUCKING USELESS, AND ENDS UP MAKING THE GAME MORE DIFFICULT. Iíll explain, throughout the levels there are little walls, fire hydrants, lots of solid surfaces. If you punch them, you go flying back and kill enemies. It seems good in theory, but like Homer Simpson said, so did communism. The problem here is that of the enemy respawns, AS YOU GO FLYING BACK YOU GET A DOUBLE RESPAWN. FIRST OF ENEMIES FROM THE LEFT AS YOU FLY BACK, THEN FROM THE RIGHT AS YOU MOVE BACK TO WHERE YOU WERE. So while taking out one enemy, you create 3 more for you to deal with, I DIDNíT LIKE SMASH ATTACKS IN MELEE, AND I FUCKING HATE THEM HERE.
Look at it; does The Smash Attack even look normal or right?
ThInGs ThAt MaKe Me SaY wTf
The Logic of the boss battle with Mugsy
As you can see from the Images above, Mugsy is on a personal hovering device, which I assume is moving away from you. I make this assumption because the platforms scroll to the left, which is how they would scroll if he was moving right. However, he can fly to the other side of the screen, and what happens, THE PLATFORMS STILL SCROLL LEFT. UNLESS WILLY IS BATTLING MUGSY IN A GIGANTIC ROTATING ROOM, THIS MAKES NO SENSE. HOW CAN HE FLY AWAY IN TWO DIRECTIONS, AND ONLY HAVE THE PLATFORMS MOVE IN ONE? I know I said above that I shouldnít use logic, BUT EVEN CARTOONS FOLLOW THE LOGIC THAT IF A CHARACTER MOVES RIGHT, THE BACKGROUND SCROLLS TO THE LEFT, AND VICE VERSA.
Mugsy offering you one more round.
This is another thing I never noticed before, mostly because I turned the game off after the end credits. Mugsy pops in and tells you this.
All I could think was BADASS, more Rockiní Kats, how could I lose. HOW COULD I LOSE, BY TAKING EVERYTHING ABOUT THE GAME I LOVE, AND REMOVING IT. Instead of a fun cartoony sidescrolling platformer, IT GETS TURNED INTO FUN WITH SPRING JUMPING, GRAPPLING, AND DIAGONALS. And it isnít a second quest like in The Legend of Zelda, ITíS ONE FUCKING STAGE, THAT I SWEAR TO GOD IS MEANT TO KILL YOU. Thereís one spring/grapple that Iím 99% is impossible to land on itís own, YOU HAVE TO GET LUCKY AND HOPE THE BAT ABOVE YOU ATTACKS YOU, SO YOU HAVE ENOUGH TIME TO GRAPPLE ONTO A PIPE. You lose all your weapons, and cannot reobtain them, MAKING THE BATTLE VS. MUGSY A REAL BITCH. And after you beat it all and beat Mugsy, what do you get, THE SAME ENDING, NOTHING CHANGED. Iím all for bonus content, BUT NOT WHEN ITíS JUST BULLSHIT TACKED ON.
Iím dead fucking serious, this jump is nearly impossible to make.
The Western Feel
Thankfully there is some WTFness that I can dig. The developers were obviously trying to design this game with a western vibe to it, itís obvious from the Japanese title NY Nyankies. Unfortunately they probably did it without consulting any westerners. Thus we get some good old fashioned racism, like the mid-boss that does the rain dance. We get two NYC themed levels, and King Kong as a boss. And we get two really bizarre enemies. The first I mentioned above, The Michael Jackson dog, who moonwalks in, throws his hat at you, and moonwalks away. The second, I just cannot describe in words, but may be the most disturbing enemy ever in videogames, and that includes the Cho Aniki series.
Yes, that is indeed a mouse flashing Willy, and shooting little mice from his *ahem* little mouse. The strangest thing is that this enemy only appears the bonus stage that you can play after beating the game. It makes me wonder if the testers at Nintendo of America also didnít stick around after the end credits
So why have so many people missed out on the game, I think it breaks down into 4 factors.
Lets see a show of hands how many people know of the game, now those of you who owned put your hands down. Wait, this is all arbitrary, after all I canít count whose hands are raised over the internet, and even if I could, I donít know whoís lying. But like I said in the intro, I have never personally met anyone who has played this game. I couldnít find magazine ads for it on the internet, Hell I donít even know why I bought it when I was a kid. The only advertisement for it I have found is that it was a selection on Playchoice-10 machines in arcades, so I might have played it there. It could also be because it was featured on the game show Nick Arcade, which I watched a lot of as a kid.
2. The Company
While today Atlus is a well known in game publishing for the Shin Megami Tensei series, in 1991 they were a new kid on the block. When Rockiní Kats was released in September of that year, it was only the 4th game they had ever developed (at least if Wikipedia is accurate, if I am wrong donít flame me, just let me know so I can correct this). The games prior to this, two puzzle games on Gameboy and a golf game for NES. So we have the case of an untested company, trying to create a game type theyíd never attempted before. Atlus didnít have the benefit of a built in market, like Capcom, Konami, or Nintendo for that matter, of gamers who knew that they made quality games. With all those factors working against them, itís quite amazing people even played this game at all.
3. The Console and Genre
Rockiní Kats is a platformer, on the NES. Let that settle in for a moment. Ok, now in fifteen seconds, how many platformers (including hybrids) can you name on the NES? GO! Mario, Mega Man, Castlevania, Contra, The Capcom Disney games, Zelda 2, Metroid, Adventure Island, Little Nemo: The Dream Master, the list can continue on and on. As we all know the NES market was oversaturated with platformers. The chances of a new platforming game, from an unknown company, to rise above the rest of the crap, were slim and none.
4. The Release Date
Rockiní Kats was released in September of 1991. Whatís so big about that? Well one month prior to that The Super Nintendo Entertainment System was released in North America, along with the latest installment of the Mario series. The Sega Genesis had already been on shelves for two years at that point, and in June of 1991 it got its own mascot and platformer in Sonic the Hedgehog. September was right around the point of time where gamers were gearing up for the console wars of the 16-bit era. That helped leave Rockiní Kats lost in the shuffle.
In conclusion, Rockiní Kats was doomed from day one. It managed to have every single outside factor work against it. If you were intentionally trying to market this game poorly, you couldnít do as bad as this. And yet, somehow I managed to buy it. Despite all of these efforts, I own a copy of Rockiní Kats, and Iím damn glad I do. Itís not a classic, itís not the best of its kind, but it is a solid, fun game that few people know about.