Monday, August 5, 2013

Felix the Cat is a bag of tricks

Platform: NES    Genre: Platforming   Release: October 1992
If you're looking for a platforming game for NES, you shouldn't have any trouble finding one. If, however, your search is more specific, say, for a good platforming game for NES based on a cartoon character which isn't "Nintendo hard" to beat and isn't just a Mario clone, look no further! Felix the Cat is the game for you!

It was released in 1992, which is pretty late for an NES game. As such, it has nicer graphics and more variety in gameplay than some of the earlier games on the console. Also, it's by Hudson Soft, so that's always a good sign.

At a glance, it looks the same as any other platforming game, but there are a few things that set it apart. For one, you can't kill enemies by jumping on their heads - in fact, it hurts you to do so (except birds, which you can ride). Instead, you'll be pressing B to use your attack. This starts out as a boxing glove that pops out in front of you, but can be powered up to magical sparkles that attack in all directions, a plane that shoots, and a tank that lobs bouncing balls. Strangely enough, Felix's second form is actually the easiest to attack with in most cases, but remaining in this form means having less hit points.
I'm a tank!
These transformations and upgrades are the main way that this game distinguishes itself from the others. Rather than searching for specific items to power up, a power up item will drop for every ten Felix heads you collect. (Collecting power ups when fully upgraded results in a 1-Up.) These are essentially the same as coins in Mario and are strew about each level, but now they actually serve a purpose. Getting hit while powered up will revert you to your previous form. As you'd expect, getting hit in your base form results in a death. But there's another way to revert to lower forms: by running out of time. Each powered up state has a timer, which will power you down if you let it run out. This is almost never a problem, however, because it gives you plenty of time and because for every five Felix heads you collect, milk (or another upgrade) will drop, which can be used to refill the timer.

Felix is smiling because his plane just pooted.
The game isn't just limited to land based stages; there are also flying levels, underwater levels, boating levels, and even an outer space leve, each with its own unique transformations for Felix. These offer a nice break and keep the game from getting boring. If I had one complaint, it would be that the player's greater freedom of movement in the flying levels caused the level design to suffer. They kind of feel like a lot of empty space with enemies and cannons just laying around. It's not that big of a deal though, since you'll probably be having so much fun being an airplane that you won't even notice.
Pogo Sticks:
Easier to animate than legs since always.
Each of the nine worlds (except for World 8, which is only one level) also has a boss at the end. They aren't all that difficult, but it's nice that they're there. Mostly they just move around and shoot at you occasionally until one of you dies. In between some worlds, there are even cutscenes, which consist of the bad guy (who strikingly resembles Dr. Wily) calling Felix to taunt him about having kidnapped his girlfriend. I'm not really sure why the mad scientist wanted to kidnap a cat in the first place or why Felix is back in his house in between levels to answer the phone. In any case, cutscenes are a nice touch.

To match the snazzy graphics, the game's soundtrack is also above average, featuring many tracks that'll be stuck in your head long after you finish playing. Some of the music towards the end of the game actually set the foreboding mood so well that it kinda scared me as a kid. Another minor thing to note in regards to the music is that it gets quieter when you're about to finish a level. It's really an insignificant thing, but it's one of the only instances of dynamic music in an NES game that I can think of.
Imagine Felix's surprise when he found that the mad scientist had infused his girlfriend's DNA with Piglet's.
As for the game's difficulty, it's actually not that bad. Experienced players won't have a very hard time beating it as long as they stock up on a few extra lives during the earlier levels. Even as a kid, this was one of the few games I was able to beat, though it did take me several attempts. Although a game over sends you back to the beginning of the game, Felix the Cat is fairly generous with lives and continues, so you should be alright if you're careful.

The final word:
Felix the Cat stands apart from the crowd of other platforming games thanks to its transformation system and generally well polished gameplay and presentation. It's a bit on the easy side, but that doesn't mean it's boring. We can't all be Ninja Gaiden speedrunners; for the common man, there's Felix the Cat, and it deserves the same remake treatment as Ducktales, or a virtual console release at the very least.

This is part of a series on forgotten games from my childhood. Previous: Home Alone (NES) Next: Super Solvers: Midnight Rescue! and Gizmos & Gadgets!
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