Games of 2014: Scram Kitty and his Buddy on Rails

Scram Kitty and his Buddy on Rails is a bundle of contradictions. At times, you’ll wonder if you’ve discovered a lost 16-bit Treasure classic, but it couldn’t really have existed until now, until Wii U. It’s both familiar and different, old-fashioned in the best way yet enchantingly new. It borrows elements from the likes of Bangai-O, Bionic Commando and Kuru Kuru Kururin (among others) and yet it doesn’t quite feel like anything else you’ve played.

It’s a game built around two displays. On the TV, the titular cat alerts you to the position of the space kittens you’re asked to rescue on each stage, while you manoeuvre his friend on the GamePad, grinding and jumping, dodging spikes and shooting enemies. At first, Buddy’s jump (which was apparently refined over the course of a year) feels slightly inelegant, but soon reveals itself to be incredibly flexible, allowing you to slingshot around objects and hazards and therefore getting you to your destination that much quicker. That’s essential when you’re chasing a kitten that floats away whenever you get near, and it’s also useful when you need to beat a retreat from larger opponents. And then there’s the double-jump that turns you into a deadly fireball. With enough practice, you’ll breeze through levels you initially struggled with, and it’s gratifying to feel your skills developing.

During those early stages you might occasionally wonder if it’s just a little too much effort to master something so unorthodox, even if – crucially – defeat always feels like your own fault. But it’s like taming a cat: you merely have to persevere. And, once the hissing and scratching has abated and you understand exactly how to handle it, your relationship will be a happy and rewarding one.

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