If the name Rockin' Kats doesn't fill you with confidence, then you're definitely not alone. This 8-bit action game already has a lot going against it, including an unnecessary apostrophe and one egregious spelling error. The title suggests a game that is trying too hard, the last thing you want from a bubbly mascot platformer. But don't pass judgment just yet, because Rockin' Kats turns out to be a real gem.
You play Willy, an up-and-coming jazz cat making a name for himself in the Big Apple. But he hits a sour note when his girlfriend gets kidnapped by a local crime boss. Now it's up to Willy to fight through a half dozen stages (presented as TV channels) and save his true love. This means braving New York City's busy streets, a graveyard, carnival, airport, subway and more. Each stage is split into multiple areas, making for a surprisingly long 2D mascot game.
Thankfully our hero has come prepared for the fight of his life. Willy is packing a giant punch gun that, well, shoots giant fists towards your enemies. Better yet, this punch gun allows you to grab on to ledges to pick up hard to reach items and avoid bad guys. The end result feels like the Saturday morning cartoon version of Bionic Commando.
The giant punch gun isn't only for shooting people; you can also use it to bounce up to higher locations. Between being a weapon, pogo stick and grappling hook, this versatile gun has become one of the greatest items in video game history. Too bad it can't save Willy from bottomless pits, alligators and ghosts. That's where you're quick reflexes and platforming prowess comes in handy.
Thankfully the game is more than just jumping on platforms. Rockin' Katz also features a number of vehicle stages, where you'll race after a bad guy using an airplane, skateboard and other fast moving contraptions. These sections are usually short, but they help to break up the repetition of the usual action stages.
The game's world is adorable. Even though the characters are understandably simple looking, it's hard to resist this world full of dog gangsters. I also like the strange film noir approach the developers took to the art style. Willy is a throwback to another era, and the zany bosses will not disappoint. What's more, the various areas are all very small, adding a lot of variety to the backgrounds and enemies.
It's easy to pass over Rockin' Kats thinking it's just another lame kid's game, but you would be wrong. This 8-bit Atlus game has a great sense of character, memorable level designs, fun bad guys and just enough diversity to keep you going from start to finish. Now get out there and find Willy's girlfriend, she's not going to rescue herself.