Rockin’ Kats – Take a punch out of crime!
It began with a quiz. Often times, I’ll challenge myself to online trivia of the gaming variety to spark my interest in an unfamiliar area. Well, one day, while taking a “Name the Game” screenshot quiz, I frustratingly scored a 19/20, missing out on an unheard of, late-run NES title called “Rockin’ Kats”. It was a platformer in the vain of a Saturday morning cartoon. A game that I was entirely unfamiliar with. And one that I knew I had to play.
“…swinging from the rooftops like Spider-Man; smashing through gangsters like Hulk.”
Released by Atlus in 1991, this side-scrolling platformer has you controlling a blue-furred, jazz cat named Willy. When Mugsy (the local crime boss) kidnaps Jill (the girlfriend), it’s up to you and your trusty…extending boxing glove to save her. That’s right! The gun on the game’s cover doesn’t shoot bullets – it’s a spring-loaded-fist – and it’s all you’ve got to take down the entire canine syndicate (who’ve seemingly recruited the rest of the animal kingdom to help thwart your efforts). But fear not – with the ability to punch, bounce, swing AND jump, it puts the Bionic Commando to shame. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be swinging from the rooftops like Spider-Man and smashing through gangsters like The Hulk.
“The game is split into 5 unique levels in the form of selectable TV Channels.”
The game is split into 5 unique levels in the form of selectable “TV Channels”. In each one, Jill is kidnapped, and Willy must defeat the bosses to save her. A kids channel, a war channel, a western channel – you know the drill. The end-level baddies range from a guitar-playing bulldog, a fedora-wearing eagle and a banana-throwing ape – and each offer difficult but fair patterns to master. In fact I found some of the mid-level bosses more threatening. Damn you, egg-laying chicken!
“The game’s levels are fun and varied.”
The game’s levels are fun and varied. One moment you’ll be scaling vertically up skyscrapers, the next you’ll be wading through the sewers. There’s even a biplane-riding section that I swear was the inspiration for Sonic the Hedgehog 2’s “Sky Chase Zone”. Rockin’ Kats also allows you to use your collected money (gathered by thwomping enemies) to play bonus games of chance, including Roulette, Basketball and Pipe Toss – as well as shop for permanent gadget upgrades, like the Hammer Punch, Jet Sneakers, and my personal favourite, Twin Balls. This offers you the ability to hold off on a more difficult stage until you upgrade your character enough to make it through in one piece.
“…a password system will keep you in the running until you take down Mugsy.”
And difficult stages there are! The game spikes in some of the platforming areas, particularly ones that are heavy on the swinging mechanic. Often times I found myself falling several stories because I was a few frames too late on my grab. This only killed me a few times, but with limited lives, it was enough to have me sweating. Luckily a password system will keep you in the running until you take down Mugsy.
“I expected a little bit more from a late-release game like this”
As for the music, I expected a little bit more from a late-release game like this – but it’s certainly not bad. The loops are fairly standard, and each level has its own, themed piece. After playing the game, there aren’t any tunes that stick with me, and none of the tracks have made it on my chiptunes playlist. That said, have a listen and see what you think:
With a bit of practice, you’ll be flying through Rockin’ Kats like a pro. Be sure to stay tuned until after the credits though, for a bizarre twist that’s sure to surprise. Fun gameplay and catchy tunes; this is a great gem on the NES that I definitely recommend to anyone looking for a challenging but rewarding platformer.
Once you’ve trounced Mugsy, be sure to swing by the Cartridge Club forums to share your thoughts on the game. Would love to hear from you.