Having started life as a Nintendo Wii U exclusive – where it was peculiarly named Scram Kitty and His Buddy on Rails – this clever indie platformer/shooter has made its way to the PlayStation 4 and Vita, shortening its name to the slightly-less-confusing-but-still-delightfully-quirky Scram Kitty DX. However, despite developer Dakko Dakko's affinity to strange names for their games, this one actually makes sense once you play it.
You take control of a cat inside a capsule with mounted guns which travels around on magnetic rails. Your mission: to free fellow felines that have been captured by evil space rodents. It's a wonderfully absurd premise that very quickly endears itself to you thanks to its nostalgic-inducing wackiness. In order to save your kin you must navigate increasingly complex levels by moving around on said magnetic rails, jumping and attaching to other parts of the rail system to overcome obstacles. Meanwhile, you can shoot from your capsule but only in a straight line, requiring you to move around thoughtfully, often placing yourself in danger.
Shooting or avoiding enemy rodents, saving cats, and reaching the level exit may sound like a simple enough objective, but it quickly gets fiendishly difficult. The level design is varied and complex, testing your platforming skills and spatial awareness brilliantly. Getting used to how the jump works and how the magnetic rails operate is initially tricky, but it soon reveals itself to be expertly implemented; timing your jumps, using inertia, and guiding your capsule to different rails requires real mastery of the mechanics.
Learning a level's layout, conquering its enemies, then finding and getting to the cats that you need to save is where the difficulty comes in. The aforementioned straight shooting makes it dangerous to engage enemies, and once your life gauge hits zero, then it's straight back to the start of the level.
As already alluded, each stage is populated with three cats to save. One of them is stationary and located somewhere in the level, while another is guarded by a powerful enemy which needs defeating. Finally, the third will dash around the arena leaving you to chase it against a time limit. The latter two are particularly hard to save; fortunately, you don't have to grab them all in a single run, so you can concentrate on one at a time. Additionally, your progress is non-linear, so if a particular level is giving you trouble you can try another instead.
The game also sports a bright and welcoming pixel art aesthetic with some exceptional sound design on the weapons. As you progress and unlock new, more powerful weaponry for your capsule, you'll be blown away by the audio of each bullet, laser, and explosion.
However, where the release disappoints slightly is with its lack of a tutorial. From its name to its art style, Scram Kitty revels in 8 and 16-bit nostalgia, and while the lack of a formal tutorial continues this theme, it also makes for a frustrating start for newcomers. Veterans will at least be thrilled to see the new Time Trial mode give them a reason to return – but we reckon that Dakko Dakko should have been more concerned with engaging beginners before adding post-game score chasing.
Scram Kitty DX is a hard game to get to grips with, but is a wonderfully unique take on some more traditional genres. And with its wacky story of cats versus space mice, as well as its old-school aesthetic, it offers a highly enjoyable experience. Certainly there'll be those put off by its stiff challenge and lack of instruction, but if you're up to the challenge, this should prove an excellently absurd addition to your gaming library.