Scram Kitty and His Buddy on Rails is a very inventive platform/action game for the Wii U. It makes excellent use of the Wii U GamePad, a rarity on the console so far. You control your cat fighting against a wave of technologically advanced rats using the left control stick. You must follow the path of the rails to move at all–up or down for vertical rails, left or right for horizontal rails, and in a smooth arc for corners and rounded rails. The right stick controls the view on the TV and GamePad. A or B is jump, X or Y is shoot, and select toggles the zoom on the screens.
The controls work exceptionally well if you know what you’re doing. Developer Dakko Dakko is playing around with momentum and magnetism to create a challenging game. The track design means literal 360 degree platforming, which only makes it harder. This is not a lightweight platformer game for children. It is very difficult and refuses to explain the why and how of the story or action.
The big problem with the game is the interface, specifically the relationship between the GamePad and the TV screen. The action is much easier to follow with the zoomed in view on the GamePad. You’ll want to hold up and look at the GamePad anyway to make it slightly easier to hit all the rails and jumps properly. However, using this combination of zoom and GamePad screen means losing all the descriptive text in the game.
Scram Kitty and His Buddy on Rails does not have a lot of story; it doesn’t have a lot of text at all. Nothing is explained, not even the gameplay options. The only way to see any prompts in the game is to use the wider and less precise zoomed out view. Scram Kitty only comes up on the screen–your TV or your GamePad–with the wider zoom setting. If you’re playing zoomed in on the GamePad, you won’t even notice the scrolling hint on the screen until it’s too late. The text never repeats, no matter how many times you play the stage, and only offers a vague hint. To read the text, you need to abandon the more precise view for controlling a very tricky platform game.
Adventure mode is where you have to start and it’s hard. A major reason for the difficulty is the lack of any context or instruction in the game. I wouldn’t fault you for trying out Challenge mode and giving up on the game immediately. The developers opted not to include an explanation of anything in the game. Challenge mode, for example, requires you to save all 70 cats floating around in Adventure mode before you can really play it. The screen will be blank if you haven’t saved any cats and very sparse if you don’t save most.
Whether or not Scram Kitty is right for you comes down to your tolerance for old-fashioned game design. The original arcade games and home consoles rarely offered any clue as to what you were supposed to do in a given game. You read the instruction booklet if you were ambitious and mashed buttons until it felt right if you just wanted to play. Scram Kitty does the same thing without the luxury of any supplementary instruction manual. It is exclusively a Wii U eShop title and doesn’t even contain a control map to guide you.
The game is beautiful to look at and play. Once you get into the groove and figure out all of your abilities, it really is a fun game. There just isn’t even a learning curve. You start at an introductory level harder than the final stage of any Mario game and only have more challenges to come. The default difficulty level is so high that it can be a frustrating, even discouraging, experience.