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Scram Kitty and His Buddy on Rails review

Cat got your fun

A strange kind of internal conflict strikes the first time you reach the end of a Scram Kitty level. You'll feel grateful, not just for reaching the exit of a stage that's killed you tens of times - whether that was through sword-wielding mice, snaking missile turrets or a mismanaged jump that saw you screaming around a decayed orbit into the gaping maw of space - but because, invariably, there will be so many reasons to do it all again.

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We need to get something out of the way. This top-down shooter-platformer is probably the hardest game on Wii U. Where The Wonderful 101 baffles with masked systems and Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate prides itself on its depth, Cardiff studio Dakko Dakko's Nintendo debut is more straightforward. You control the titular Buddy with an analog stick and two buttons for jump and shoot, and if you don't use them well enough, you're dead. Simple as that.

That's not to say the game itself is simple, or that it punishes the player for the sake of it, rather that every death is your fault. You'll know just why your latest tumble into the abyss occurred, where you first went wrong and, crucially, how you'd rectify it in future.

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That's almost entirely down to the meticulously designed base level from which it works. Your character, tied to the magnetic walls of a curiously designed space station, moves along its undulating surfaces via a buzzing spinboard, which forces you to trace the curves and right angles it's travelling over with the analog stick. It's strangely satisfying, like some virtual version of a village fęte steady-hand game.

You'll quickly discover that the focus on movement is for reasons more important than mere enjoyment. The Buddy's engorged sprite-bullets (at least initially) only fire directly ahead of him, meaning aiming is entirely based on your position. Think Space Invaders with its tiny horizontal train track replaced by swooping, interlocking rollercoaster lines.

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That often means lining up a shot will only be feasible from an entirely separate magnetic rail, which is where the game's hidden platforming heart starts to beat. Your standard jump seems a weedy thing, tethered by the pull of the rail you jump from, and allowing only for short hops to nearby paths, but it's as much a combat trick as it is a means of travel. Soon enough, you'll be using that enforced orbit to slingshot around a circular rail, firing all the while.

Then there's the Fire Jump, a magnificent take on the double jump that, at the second press of the button, sends you bouncing violently off the rail, suddenly aflame. This is one giant leap for Buddy-kind, both a means of crossing longer distances and an entirely separate attack.

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The speed at which all of these elements become second nature is down to two things. Firstly, it's just fun. Mastering a skateboarding-like line, blasting every laser-toting mouse in a mini-saucer along the way before bounding, at 60 frames per second, on fire, to the next challenge feels like nothing else: you'll always want to do it again.

Secondly, if you don't let it get under your skin, you'll barely see the game. After 'The Approach' (four wordless tutorial levels that force you to learn how each works at its most basic level before you can begin the game proper) you're thrown in at the deep end.

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It's a volatile mixture of bullet hell precision, taxing platforming and some puzzle solving, constantly switching focus as you progress through the game. Levels are beautiful, intricate constructions wrapped in squiggling neon and set over tie-dye nebulae or long-way-down space structures. They always end by reaching their singular exits, but what you find between the beginning and the end changes with every new stage.

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8 comments so far...
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  1. lminett Wednesday 14th May 2014 at 09:50

    Been waiting for this for ages, cant wait!

  2. TrubbishForMayor Wednesday 14th May 2014 at 09:53

    It's great that games like this are coming to wii u. I will probably pick this up at some point, it looks ace.

  3. toffeeman30 Wednesday 14th May 2014 at 12:35

    dont like cats, so no

  4. Komodo_Wolfgang Wednesday 14th May 2014 at 13:23

    dont like cats, so no

    Wow, really?

  5. Miguel Sanchez Thursday 15th May 2014 at 21:16

    Say Joe, I'm looking for a quality game, around say 90% or so, but I've only got Ł10, so what should I get; Scram Kitty or Red Steel?

  6. jonnyjazz Saturday 17th May 2014 at 10:55

    Just pre-ordered the Mario Kart Wii U bundle so I'm crazy hyped about getting this and a few other games at the end of the month. I don't know why but I was sort of expecting it to get a bit higher than 90%, not sure why (it might just be the fact that this does strike me as being the first stellar download game on Wii U). Still I'm game for the challenge and I don't think I've played a properly hard game since I finished Mega Man 2 (brag fully intended).

  7. squareyes Monday 16th Jun 2014 at 09:45

    What are the controller options? Can pro controller/wiimote be used?

  8. toffeeman30 Monday 16th Jun 2014 at 12:44

    wow high rating indeed. suppose its only one gamers opinion, need to stop looking at review scores...

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