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The Ten: Updated Wednesdays-Fridays-Sundays

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Review: Scram Kitty and his Buddy on Rails

Get ready for something totally different!
When I first saw previews and impressions for Scram Kitty and his buddy on Rails, I was intrigued by the mechanics and control aspects. I liked the idea of a "rail" platformer, and I eagerly anticipated the release of the title to give the game a try.

Little did I know the hellish darkness I would unleash upon my Wii U.

PROS:

-Incredible concept and execution. Scram Kitty plays and feels unlike any other platformer I've ever played, toying with gravity in a two-dimensional space while also combining shooting elements.

-A great variety of level mechanics the play on the foundations of the game.

CONS:

-An extremely brutal difficulty curve. At least, for completionists.

-An underwhelming finale.

THOUGHTS:

Scram Kitty is difficult. Not because of level mechanics, really. It's the fundamental control aspects of how the main character functions that make the game hard. At first, the tutorial levels feel a bit awkward, teaching you how to navigate levels and snag the different goals that will feature in them.

And then the pain begins.

Part of what makes Scram Kitty a bit difficult is how the player must move "Buddy" or the player controlled character around the levels- left and right inputs only work when the player is on a horizontal surface, but when on a vertical one, they must use up and down. This inherently causes a bit of interrupt in the movement of Buddy which is crucial for completing certain objectives in the levels- and can even stall the player if they are attempting to jump. The other aspect that enforces difficulty is how Buddy can only shoot at a perpendicular angle to the surface he is stuck to, meaning precise aiming can be very frustrating on smaller planetoids because of the movement options. However, neither of these are game-breaking, they are merely the two most important aspects the player must a;ways be mindful of while attempting to complete goals. A jump can fail in a tight situation if you aren't holding the right direction, and an enemy could get a better shot on you because your aiming is clumsy. Despite being difficult to control, Scram Kitty is extremely satisfying because of how developer Dakko Dakko focuses on the simplicity of the various elements, and how they work in tandem with each other, in their challenging game world.

The game uses several rather mundane elements to create complex death mazes for Buddy to traverse through- using switches, special floor types, and enemy placement, it builds its entire identity. And that is what makes it great. If you break any 2D platformer into its base elements, there are specific aspects that need to be present in order for the game to function- Scram Kitty makes sure these elements are in place and then crafts a number of complex situations with them.

It also helps that Dakko Dakko forces the player to adhere to the rules of their game around the third or fourth level, when the player is forced to run a gauntlet through a claustrophobic corridor of obstacles to get to the goal, but must also do this in a timed, racing challenge that pushes the player to learn the intricacies of the timing and precision needed in the game. While this might be something a player could bypass in attempting to beat the game (Scram Kitty only requires the player collect 70 of its trinkets before facing the final boss), a completionist like myself struggled with this challenge for a good hour before moving on to the rest of the game- and I am so glad that I did. The challenge gave me a sense of understanding towards the mechanics of the game that finally changed the controls from "awkward" to fluid, and I then understood how Buddy had to maneuver in order to complete the later challenges. I would say that, without accomplishing this early-game feat, I would not have been prepared for the later obstacles I would face.

That being said, Scram Kitty does pull its punches in more than a few ways. Respawning enemies have the ability to drop health packs that can assist a clumsy player in accomplishing their goals, but certain levels refuse to give players more than a set amount of health packs, forcing them to attempt to complete objectives with a more limited survival rate. Each level possesses four challenges to complete, but rarely do all four challenge the player equally. The final level is a boss battle that utilizes a cool mechanic that feels criminally underused. Even so, the game feels as if the challenge and the player evolve at the same rate- at least, after a certain point- but the brutal portion of the game has to be completed if the rest of the game can even be attempted. I hope this doesn't turn people off from the game because they will miss out on a brilliantly difficult and self-aware platformer.

Final Verdict: Wholly original and brutally difficult, Scram Kitty is a reminder that the platformer genre is not exhausted yet, and that thoughtful design and control limitations can be the centerpiece of a rewarding and challenging experience.

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