Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Wii U eShop Gems: Scram Kitty and his Buddy on Rails

     I love my Wii U.  I'm not shy about my appreciation for Nintendo, even when popular opinion seems to be nothing but doom and gloom. There's just this sense of fun and whimsy on Nintendo machines that makes them stand out from the serious business of competition, and I appreciate that. Games are meant to be fun first and foremost, and in an era dominated by big budget cinematic grandstanding and technical pissing contests, Nintendo has remained resolute in their assertion that innovative and creative design trumps hardware specs every time. Unfortunately, this ideal has always created a divide between Nintendo and virtually everyone else in the industry, and right now it seems that the Wii U's line up is pretty sparse when it comes to third party efforts. Most major developers have abandoned Nintendo's struggling console, leaving a serious dearth in the system's slowly growing library. Despite the exit of giants like EA and Ubisoft, I've been finding plenty of games to play on my humble little gamepad. While the titans of the gaming industry have given up, a new generation of bright, lean, and creative studios has filled that void and supplied Nintendo's  eShop with some simply awesome titles. These independent developers are bringing a welcome sense of fun and innovation, and providing Wii U owners with experiences that value fun above all else.
    The improbably named Scram Kitty and his Buddy On Rails is one of many treasures to hit the eShop this year, and has been on my radar for some time.  The crisp visuals, fast gameplay, and of course, bewildering name all captured my imagination when it was first announced. Now that I've finally got my hands on it, I'm pleased to say it far exceeded my expectations. Beneath the slick presentation is some truly devious design, resulting in a game that will push even veteran players to previously unheard of levels of frustration and satisfaction.
     In theory, the game's premise is simple.  It is essentially a 2D platformer, with the unique twist of having the player affixed to a series of rails, as the title would imply. This allows Buddy to traverse walls and ceilings just as easily as the floor, and creates some truly mind bending platforming. Gravity and momentum work wonders in allowing players to jump and swing in unexpected ways, and the labyrinthine stages will have players moving in 360 degrees of fast paced action. It's a bit like Mario Galaxy in 2D, only its really nothing like that at all.

While the platforming is conceptually quirky, it is the devilish design of the stages themselves that bring out the best this system has to offer.  Huge, maze like, and occasionally hiding Metroid style puzzle and exploration, each stage feels like a carefully crafted play set, and can even be a bit daunting. To truly complete each main stage, players must complete all 4 objectives, which include finding the goal, defeating a hidden mini boss, collecting all of the coins, and chasing down a fast moving target. 100% success comes from mastering the traversal of each stage, a feat that requires both expert us of the rail jumping mechanic and careful study of the structure of level.  It's a system that can definitely breed frustration, but just as often rewards with a feeling of accomplishment at a job well done.
     Although Scram Kitty's design may be decidedly old school in its sense of challenge, its audiovisual presentation is thoroughly modern, with slick, colorful graphics that blend 2D and 3D, and an extremely catchy techno soundtrack. Each area has both a distinct visual style, and the many special effects for weapons and explosions are sharp and fluidly animated. The whole game has a satisfying quality that comes from a strong marriage of art and sound design, so every jump landed, missile fired, or enemy exploded feels good. Of course, this also means that every missed jump or laser to the face feels like a crushing defeat, but once you hear the thumping tunes your motivation returns in full force. The menus and HUD elements are also packed with charming little details, and overall the game's presentation is oozing with effort.

 Altogether, Dakko Dakko's Wii U debut is a remarkably charming title with deep platforming action and top notch presentation. In a time where most games are too busy talking at you and rendering explosive set pieces that would make Michael Bay blush, it really is refreshing to see a game like Scram Kitty, so totally focused on just being the best game it can. To me, this is the kind of game Nintendo consoles are made for: fun, quirky, and challenging.

On a side note, I think it's worth mentioning that this entire post was done exclusively on my Wii U gamepad. Pretty neat, and actually very relaxing after being at a computer all day!

UPDATE: Wow! A whole lot of spelling mistakes! That's what I get for typing on the gamepad, I guess...

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