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FGC #393 Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion XL

CARTOONS!To every game, turn turn turn, there is a season, turn turn turn…

Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion was originally a 2011 release for the Nintendo 3DS, and then resurfaced six months later as Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion XL, a slightly expanded version intended for consoles. At its core, CN:PTE is a Smash Bros clone starring the heroes and heroines of various Cartoon Network shows.

And that was everyone’s initial problem: CN:PTE is a lousy copy of Smash Bros.

First of all, “copy of Smash Bros” does not just mean this is a generic four person mascot fight ‘em up with some weird new feature wedged in there; no, this is just straight up Smash Bros. More specifically, it’s Smash Bros. Brawl, as the trophy assists of that title have been adapted to include random Cartoon Network stars like Numbah 362 and Cheese, the most annoying imaginary friend ever. Other than that “change”, this is just Smash Bros, with death being based on falling off the screen, and damage being accumulated through an increasing percentage meter. And, let’s face it, this is a brazen and fairly insane route to take for a game that was clearly intended for systems with better options. We were still three years away from Super Smash Bros. 4 3DS, but the Wii had hosted Brawl for years, and who didn’t own a Wii? My mother owns a Wii! There are better options for Smash times, because, without a doubt, this is a dreadful smash clone. All of the characters control in a very “floaty” manner, a number of the special moves seem like excuses for suicide (forward + special is yet another dash move that will toss you off a cliff, yay!), and, while we’re examining every little flaw, most of these characters do not naturally lend themselves to a moveset. Get emIf a videogame neophyte chooses Charizard, the humongous, flaming dragon, our featured noob can still make a pretty good guess at what the special button is going to do (fire-breath seems like a lock). You might get a similar reaction out of CN’s scythe-wielding Grim Reaper, but Billy and Mandy? Or Dexter? Or Flapjack? Did that kid ever actually fight anything in his franchise?

Which brings us to the next big issue: the roster is unerringly confusing. You’ve got representatives from Johnny Bravo, Codename: Kids Next Door, Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, Powerpuff Girls, and even Chowder. Want to know what all those shows have in common? They were all cancelled before the release of this game! And it’s not just a matter of “maybe the game was delayed a month or two”, no, the last PPG episode was in 2005, so we’re looking at a title that was released two years after the 10th Anniversary Special. And just go ahead and rub the salt in the Samurai Jack and The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack wounds. I don’t care if Jack eventually came back! That cancellation is still raw! It’s understandable to toss in a few “old” characters for posterity’s sake (Johnny Bravo should always be remembered), but this is less “Ice Climbers are here” and more “The latest Smash Bros will exclusively star Urban Champion and Excite Biker”. In fact, if you really comb the roster, you’ll find that the only franchise that was still in production during 2011 was Ben 10… Which is likely why they made him the star of story mode.

BARFSo maybe the story mode is worthwhile? Nope! It’s got the same dreadful physics as the rest of the game, and, give or take a side adventure or two involving lasers, it’s just a mediocre beat ‘em up where you don’t even have to beat ‘em up half the time. And there’s a minecart section! And, God, it somehow has an even worse physics engine than every other part of the game. It’s like the design team wanted to see just how repellant one over-merchandized bit of merchandise could be. Maybe the game tastes bad, too? I didn’t test that, but I haven’t licked any of my discs in a while, might be worth a check.

But one thing about story mode does stand out. Even if the gameplay is atrocious, even if the levels are more tedious than shouting about clowns coming to destroy us all, and even if you’re forced into playing as Ben 10 far too often; even with all that, there is something magical happening. The plot of PTE is simple: a dude has decided he’s going to watch some Cartoon Network, but his remote control has gone maliciously haywire, and is attempting to corrupt and otherwise damage the fine programs you’d find on the best cartoon channel around. Nothing too complicated there… Except the “narrator” watching TV is George Lowe. George Lowe, best known as the voice of Tad Ghostal aka Space Ghost, host of Space Ghost Coast to Coast and Cartoon Planet. And, well, that’s enough to get my attention.

WeeeeeeCartoon Network’s programs, and the cartoon characters featured in this game, are not my childhood. My local cable package didn’t even receive Cartoon Network until I was old enough to be embarrassed by watching such a thing. And, even before that, it wasn’t like CN had that much original programming. Ultimately, I had already ruined a good two proms before I ever caught sight of Courage the Cowardly Dog. But, despite my advanced age (almost ready for college!), I did watch Cartoon Network. I watched “Adult Swim” before it was Adult Swim. I watched a pile of Cartoon Network shows, old and new, basically because, well, what else was on? Some people watch The Real World or game shows, I watched Criss Cross Crisis reruns until my eyes bled. It wasn’t like I was a dedicated fan or something, it was simply what I flipped to when I had nothing better to do. And, particularly during my college years, it seemed like I had a lot of time for such vegetative watching. Doing some horrible calculus homework? May as well watch Johnny Bravo while I’m at it.

And I’m well aware that I fetishize my own childhood, but it came as something of a surprise to me that I’m also a sucker for nostalgia that originated a mere decade (and change) ago. Who knew that Space Ghost would immediately up my engagement levels by about 1000%? And the rest of the cast! They may have been “retired” by the time the game premiered, but now, years later, it’s like revisiting old friends. I never really cared for Kids Next Door or Chowder, but seeing them again, after all this time, it’s… refreshing. It does my heart good. These characters and shows may be off the air now, and their home network may be a completely different animal, but this disc-based time capsule of a long forgotten epoch has healed this old man’s broken heart.

GET IT!?In any objective way, Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion is not a good game. In 2011, it was a disappointment (you’ve had Finn the Human on the air for nearly two years, guys! And could you put more than ten minutes into filing the numbers off Smash Bros?), and in 2018, it should be a disappointment again. But, somehow, divorced from its original eon and system (I am technically playing this on the WiiU), it’s engaging. And, even more than that, it’s fun. It might just be nostalgia for a bygone era, but, dammit, it works.

Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion, your time has finally come.

FGC #393 Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion XL

  • System: Nintendo 3DS for the original version, and then XL hit on Wii, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360. Sorry, the Vita wasn’t quite available yet.
  • Number of players: As a Smash clone, the answer must be four.
  • Missed Opportunities: Some complained that, while “old” Cartoon Network shows were being featured anyway, there should have been Courage the Cowardly Dog and Ed, Edd, and Eddy on the roster. However, while Courage had a great show, he is maybe not the most suited to a fighting environment. And, as for Ed, Edd, and Eddy? Nobody ever liked that show, so I can understand why it wasn’t included.
  • Hey, I liked Ed, Edd, and Eddy! No. No I assure you, you did not.
  • Other Complaints: It appears all of the items exist exclusively to be picked up and thrown. There isn’t a super mushroom or Franklin Badge or any other doodads that do anything more interesting than “is a projectile”. Considering the wealth of “items” available in various CN shows, that is a major disappointment.
  • Favorite Featured Cartoon Network Show: I still have a hard time believing there was ever a cartoon that featured a Caribbean Grim Reaper palling around with a megalomaniacal girl and her marginally brain dead sidekick. And sometimes they went to Hogwarts! But it had Weird Al! As a squid! Just do yourself a favor and watch The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy.
  • Favorite Assist Toon: For reasons that were never succinctly explained, Dracula in the Billy and Mandy Universe is a 70’s Disco Fiend…
    Get down!

    And that’s the best thing that ever happened.
  • Samurai Back: One of the stages is Samurai Jack’s home kingdom prior to Aku’s attack. Man, it really has to sting to finally make it home only for it to be a two minute fight against Captain Planet.
  • An End: The narrator is never seen, but, in response to losing his (evil) remote control, “Narrator” comments that he should find a lava monster to pull one lever to change channels. So, yes, this entire game is Space Ghost: Coast to Coast: Origins. Go get yourself a Moltar, Thad!
  • Did you know? Dexter’s Laboratory and Johnny Bravo were the first two Cartoon Cartoons back in 1996 and 1997, respectively. This was followed by Cow and Chicken and I Am Weasel. If you’re curious about why you’ve never heard of those latter two shows, there’s a reason.
  • Would I play again: Honestly? Exclusively for the nostalgia, I just might. I know I’m not the only nerd around here with his head stuck in the past, and I do have four controllers…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Young Justice Legacy for the Playstation 3! Time for some… justice? Of the… young kind? I guess! Please look forward to it!

The power of ponytails

FGC #391 Star Fox 64 3D

Let us review how it only took one greedy pig to ruin the universe.

Here is Pigma Dengar.


First, we shall consider Pigma’s past. Pigma was a member of the original Star Fox team. This gang included not only Pigma, but also Peppy Hare and its leader, James McCloud. And, if you examine the infrastructure of the original Star Fox, you’ll find that being a mercenary space pilot was a pretty cushy gig. Sure, you were flying across the universe straight into danger on all fronts… but it certainly paid well. The Star Fox custom ships were all the latest in technological advancement, and, let’s be real here, that costs a pretty penny. And then there’s the Great Fox, a gigantic, airborne aircraft carrier that could quickly hop around the galaxy. James needed a 70 year loan to purchase that incredible ship… and I don’t care what planet you’re on, a bank isn’t going to hand out that kind of scratch without a flawless credit rating. Essentially, history shows that, prior to the Lylat Wars, Star Fox was making bank.

But Pigma wanted more.

WeeeeeeIt might be speciest, but Pigma was a pig through and through. Pigma was perfectly willing to sell out his companions and entire operation for, what, a few pieces of silver? The whole Star Fox operation was squashed in one day thanks entirely to Pigma’s greed. The cunning pig led James McCloud and Peppy Hare into a lethal trap, and only Peppy was able to escape with his life. James was gone, Peppy was wounded, and Pigma had indisputably switched sides. It was this event that would then inevitably lead to rise of Andross, and the Lylat Wars would occur shortly thereafter.

And consider Andross: he may have once been the most hated ape in the galaxy, but, one way or another, Andross’s tale is one of an underdog. Andross was singularly brilliant even as a child, and was focused on protecting his home planet of Corneria. However, his ambitions outstripped his abilities, and, in a fateful accident, a chunk of the capital was outright obliterated. General Pepper, seeing no other recourse, exiled Andross to Venom, a planet so inhospitable, it was literally named for poison. But Andross thrived in this environment, and, from the nothing that was a demon class planet, Andross had amassed an army. It was then that he was able to tempt Pigma to his side, and put an end to the original Star Fox team. Andross came from nothing, had all of his resources stripped away, and was still able to successfully launch a rebellion with the help of one greedy pig that already had more than his fair share of wealth. Andross was hated and reviled, but no one can say he merely inherited that title.

I hate everything!And, while we are speaking of privilege, we must consider Pigma’s lost quarry: Peppy Hare. Peppy escaped that fateful trap that finished James McCloud, and hopped on home to relay the news to Fox McCloud, son of James. Fox was an excellent pilot in his own right, but was he prepared to take up the Star Fox mantle? Was he at all qualified to lead a team of mercenaries on a blood quest to avenge his father? Or was Fox less fox, and more a lamb to the slaughter? Peppy never seemed like a vengeful hare, but he did immediately conscript his inexperienced “nephew” in a bloody war without a second thought. And, advanced or not, did anyone truly believe that four ships would succeed in stopping Andross where an entire army had failed? And who the hell thought it was a good idea to make the amphibious mechanic a pilot? Was this “team” thrown together with the same care as a middling salad? We now see Star Fox as a group of heroes that have saved the universe on multiple occasions, but, at the time, it was just a bloodthirsty rabbit and a kid that inherited his father’s empire. One might suppose we should be thankful was Fox McCloud was firmly on the side of the angels.

But Pigma certainly was not. Star Fox was assembled to destroy Andross, and Star Wolf was assembled to counter that vanguard. Or was it? Data on the Star Wolf team prior to the Lylat Wars is sketchy at best. What we do know is that Andross was responsible for the Wolfen craft that the team employs, and we’re all well aware that Andrew earned his seat at the table through being Andross’s nephew. But Pigma? It’s unclear how Pigma joined the gang. Was he with Star Wolf from the beginning, or did he join only when Andross offered a bounty? Are the rumors true, and Pigma is also the reason Fox and Wolf have an eternal rivalry? Whatever his origin, Pigma was certainly a member of Star Wolf exclusively for the paycheck, and, ace piloting skills or not, he was only interested in “finishing the job” for the money.

Which he didn’t. Star Wolf failed, Andross failed, and Star Fox brought peace to the galaxy. Pigma was out of a job.

SpicyBut greed doesn’t evaporate after a single setback. Pigma may have been financially and morally bankrupt, but it was still a big galaxy, and not being accepted by polite society never stopped this pig. Despite being targeted by the Cornerian Army, Star Fox, and Star Wolf (his former companions), Pigma was able to make a living as a pirate.

And then his greed nearly destroyed the universe. Again.

Aparoids, mechanical monsters from the furthest reaches of the galaxy, invaded the Lylat System. These insect-like creatures may have been merely a galactic annoyance, but Pigma thought he could make a quick buck by getting his hoggish hands on a Core Memory, and selling it to the highest bidder. His plan may have worked… except the core assimilated Pigma, and transformed him into a galactic engine of destruction. Mecha Pigma then severely damaged the climate control center of Fichina, and effectively killed an entire planet. Before he was finally destroyed by Star Fox, Pigma had left an indelible scar on the face of the galaxy, and all in the name of buying a bigger pig pen.

So is there a moral to Pigma’s story? He had it all, gave it away for more, but, in the end, died a penniless captive of his own avarice. “Don’t be greedy” seems like a pretty obvious lesson here, but maybe there’s something more. Maybe we’re supposed to realize what greed does: that, given the option, there are some people that would absolutely choose to endanger everyone and everything in the name of profit. Maybe the moral is not to avoid being this type of person, but to never enable someone that would even think of doing such a thing. Greed is bad, we know that, but perhaps it is more important to guard against the greedy than worry about the dominion of our own hearts.

Though, one would suppose, a coda is important here.

Right?There are some that say Pigma survived. Despite the destruction of the Aparoid hive, Pigma lived on, now fused with the core he stole long ago, and became some manner of… space box. This new creature is neither living nor dead, though seemingly possessed of Pigma’s repellant personality. Perhaps this is the ultimate fate for one so fueled by greed. Perhaps, trapped in a prison of his own making, screaming at the void and attempting to distract heroes from their real goals, perhaps that is where greed leads in the end.

But that kind of appropriate punishment will not bring back the lives lost.

Beware the pigs of this galaxy, citizens. Beware the pigs.

FGC #391 Star Fox 64 3D

  • System: Nintendo 3DS. If we’re talking about the original, which we’re not, then you’d have to hit the N64.
  • Number of players: Multiplayer is still possible, right? Let’s say four. Wait, they dropped the on-foot mode? Lame.
  • Hey, genius, none of this is canon anymore: Yes, Star Fox Zero apparently has rewritten the Star Fox timeline once again. And maybe Star Fox 2 is now partially canon, too, thanks to the SNES Mini? I don’t care. Star Fox 64 got the coolest strategy guide, so it’s the most canon.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: I’m not generally a fan of the Star Fox series, as I prefer my shoot ‘em ups to be 2-D, and the 3-D perspective somehow doesn’t work with my brain (I have a tendency to gauge distances wrong… and smash right into things. Sorry, Fox), but Star Fox 64 is my favorite of the franchise. Maybe I just like charging lasers? Or maybe it came out at just the right time to be the only game available on my only current system for a few months (thanks, N64!). Whatever the reason, this is the only Star Fox title that ever really clicked with me, and the 3DS version only makes it better. So time to pay, Andross!
  • Tanks a lot!Other Vehicles: This is also the first Star Fox game to get bored with Arwings, and introduce the tank and submarine. They’re both awful, and I hate them. I don’t understand how some videogames keep making tanks awful, but here we are.
  • For the ladies: Katt Monroe appears to be the only woman in this entire war. This would bother me more if I wasn’t dreadfully aware of what happens to women in the Star Fox fandom.
  • Did you know? If you battle Star Wolf more than once during an adventure, they will return with “battle damage” and cybernetic enhancements that presumably cover their many scars. And Wolf himself gets a pile of band-aids. Considering how furry that dude is, that has got to be painful.
  • Would I play again: Probably yes. Out of many Star Fox games, this one seems to be my one return engagement, and sticking it on a portable system doesn’t hurt. And I can punish a pig, which is always good.

What’s next? Random ROB… can be kind of funny sometimes. As you may be aware, I “roll” Random ROB pretty far in advance, and, by complete coincidence, it created its own theme week thanks to three sequential games that actually all work together well. So, next week we’ll start with Rocko’s Modern Life: Spunky’s Dangerous Day, and kick off TV Week, a week featuring games based on TV shows. Please look forward to it!

Off to the next adventure

FGC #123 Harley’s Humongous Adventure

FLY AWAYHarley’s Humongous Adventure is an incredibly forgettable 2-D platformer for the Super Nintendo. It’s not the worst game on the SNES, and it’s nowhere near the best, it’s just kind of… there. I’m sure I’ve just forgotten any references to it in the meanwhile, but, to my memory, I don’t even recall HHA appearing on any of the myriad of “Super Nintendo Lists” over the last two decades. You know, all those “Top Thirty Most Boring SNES Games” or “The Worst of the Worst: The Worstest Worsting Worsts of Worstever”? I don’t think Harley gets mentioned even once. Harley’s Humongous Adventure seems to only be “that game I rented that one time and never thought about again” to most people.

Which is a shame, because Harley’s Humongous Adventure has one decent idea that seems made for video games… but we barely ever see it.

Harley’s Humongous Adventure is a groan worthy pun thanks to the central plot of HHA: Harley, boy scientist, has been shrunk down to the size of a thumb, and now must navigate his home and surrounding area to assemble an antidote (or de-shrinking device? Something?) to reembiggen himself to his normal size. Harley has one shrunken tool available, a personal jetpack (that, incidentally never has fuel when you need it), but the rest of Harley’s arsenal is comprised of mundane (now “huge”) objects, like nails, thumbtacks, and sticks of dynamite (I think that one’s useful regardless of size). The monsters are predominantly stylized insects (the fire ants are literally on fire), and the environments are commonplace locations that have now become stadiums. You can drown in the bathroom sink, or get lost amongst the colossal boxes of the attic. Harley is small, the world is large, and dust mites are now a threat.

And you’d think this would happen in video games more often.

Of course, it’s not like this never happens. Breath of Fire 1 & 2 both feature an unusual amount of shrinking, whether you’re climbing into a mouse hole or exploring the bloodstream of a fat princess (don’t ask). Snowboard Kids and ChompyMario Kart both used the concept for a couple of interesting tracks. Okami became flea-sized, and Final Fantasy 3 used mini to the max. Probably the best example in gaming is The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, where Link constantly switches between normal and “Minish” size, where dew drops might dwarf evil wizards. It’s a rarity, but teeny tiny gameplay does randomly show up in video games.

But think about all the franchises that could be enhanced with a mini segment (or entire installment). My first impulse would be to consider God of War. Kratos, rage monster and slayer of an entire pantheon, must now battle his way from one end of the living room to the other. Scale the entertainment center! Burn the carpet! Battle the great and terrible Mr. Mittens for supremacy! Don’t forget to score a 100-hit combo on that group of ants. They have ferocious mandibles! Maybe they killed your tiny family!

Actually, thinking about it further, it seems like 90% of video games is blowing micro monsters up to macro size. You play video games? How many giant spiders have you slain? You watch out for snakes, or is it fearsome hydra that haunt your nightmares? The great and mighty Cerberus is just a puppy that grew to a significantly larger weight class (and maybe got a few heads in the process). In a way, we’re already making our heroes as miniscule as shrunken Harley, it’s just through making every other creature grow up.

But then you lose the fun environments that are only possible with shrinkage. Harley’s Humongous Adventure, unfortunately, is one of those 16-bit platformers that took all its cues from ToastySonic the Hedgehog, and the general level layout of any given stage is pretty haphazard. Actually, I want to say that this isn’t even at Sonic 1/Sonic CD level, this is much more in the vein of my old friend Bubsy. Levels that aren’t straightforward (like vehicle stages) loop around and spiral in ridiculous directions, causing lame level design like the ever-popular “the goal is on the opposite side of this wall, and you can see it, but it’s time to circle around the whole stupid area and hope you eventually hit your objective.” It’s a waste of a great concept, because the typical “shrunken hero” can explore a very different environment from what is available to the common protagonist.

Really, there’s the possibility here for one of my favorite video game “tricks”. No, I have no great interest in being shrunk down and exploring my own couch from a fly’s perspective, but I love the video game model of exploring a “familiar” area in a new and exciting way. It’s why time travel in a video game is almost always a good time (oh, look, this dungeon degraded over 400 years). It’s why a crashed space ship/satellite is always a great place for bounty hunters (aw, I remember when this place was right-side up). And, ultimately, it’s why shrinking should occur in more games. I’ve got a general mental image of how my sink and plumbing are shaped, so a level based on “that area” could be very interesting, Tanks as alwaysassuming the hero was the size of a fingernail. Trekking across the game room could be fun if there was the possibility of being crushed by a SNES cartridge, and seeing the mighty couch in the distance would provide all the level scale necessary. There are a million options available, and, like how video games use other techniques to modify the perspective of a player, shrinking could be a worthwhile one in a worthwhile game.

So, Harley’s Humongous Adventure, you might be forgettable, but thanks for reminding us all that there are different ways to see the world. You might have made a small impact in the gaming world, but sometimes smaller is better.

FGC #123 Harley’s Humongous Adventure

  • System: Super Nintendo, exclusively. Didn’t even get a Genesis port.
  • Number of players: Two, alternating. Because God forbid you don’t get to share Harley’s Humongous Adventure with others.
  • Rats off to ya: The main antagonist for Harley is a mutated pet rat that… ugh… unpleasant to look at, so he must die. Also, you gradually tear off the rat’s limbs through every boss fight, so maybe not the most animal friendly game in the universe.
  • Ugly SuckerClay Fighting: Like Claymates, this was another of the clay-based games released during the 16-bit era. As a result, the graphics are at least fairly unique, with monsters that truly appear to be monstrous. Also, congratulations to the producers for not shoehorning a clay pun into the title. That would be puttiful.
  • Ever hear of Chibi Robo? Oh yeah…
  • Did you know? The Japanese title for this game is “Chemist Harley’s Stormy Life”. Are scientists more popular over there than here? I want to say our only “hero” chemist didn’t appear until Breaking Bad…
  • Would I play again: Nope. When you get compared to Bubsy, you don’t get a second play.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Intellivision Lives! … I wasn’t responsible for that exclamation mark, it’s part of the title of the game. The game that is horrible. Ugh. Please look forward to it.


FGC #117 Felix the Cat

A good chuckleThis game has no right to be this good.

Felix the Cat is a Nintendo (Entertainment System) game that was released in 1993. Yes, this was late in the Nintendo’s lifespan, and was the same year we saw gems like Gaygoyle’s Quest, Little Samson, and Panic Restaurant. But it was also the year we saw GI Joe: The Atlantis Factor, Contra Force, two mega buster-based Mega Man games, and Wizards and Warriors 3. Say what you will about such games, but it’s hard to argue any of them were better than their previous installments (W&W3 is a game so bad it made a young Goggle Bob weep). My point is that, even though the NES had probably hit its highest echelon (evolving from “can barely support Donkey Kong” to “Castlevania 3”), there was no “guarantee” of decent NES games, even from established studios. Hell, once we hit Kirby’s Adventure, even Nintendo moved on to greener pastures (albeit after briefly taking a detour through Wario’s Woods).

Though one thing remained consistent through much of the NES’s lifespan: licensed games sucked. Yes, we had Capcom churning out some great Disney games, but for every Ducktales there was an Adventures of Bayou Billy or Road Runner. This continued into 1993, when we saw amazing licensed titles like Monster in my Pocket, The Simpsons: Bartman Meets Radioactive Man, and Hudson Hawk. Nobody ever wanted a licensed Hudson Hawk game, but here it was, tricking children and grandmas alike into letting such an abomination into their NES collection. One may or may not enjoy the final offering of the Ninja Gaiden franchise, but it is at least a playable experience. You didn’t have that luxury when you popped in a game featuring The Addams Family.

So now we have Felix the Cat. For those of you not well versed in animation history, Felix the Cat is an animated character that is old enough to soon hit the century mark (1919), and hails from the era when talkies were still an unimaginable future. Felix the Cat predates Mickey Mouse by nearly a decade, and, Cairowhile he might not be anywhere near as popular as ol’ squeaky, he has had a pretty extensive career. He was voiced by Jack Mercer and Dave Coulier! How many animated characters can say that?

But by 1993, Felix the Cat didn’t exactly have the star power he once possessed. Like Betty Boop or Droopy Dog, I want to say the average child had a glimmer of recognition for the frenetic feline, but I was the average child back then, and… how did I know Felix the Cat? He didn’t possess anywhere near the popularity of The Real Ghostbusters or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as far as modern merchandising goes, and he wasn’t Bugs Bunny’ing around as some omnipresent corporate mascot. It must have been that weird kind of cultural osmosis that also accounted for me understanding Gilligan’s Island despite avoiding that show like a coconut-based plague.

I had a friend who summered in Portugal. I remember he was really excited about Felix the Cat.

Whatever the case, obscure franchise plus NES licensed platformer was in no way a recipe for success. Felix the Cat should have been yet another terrible NES game that substituted “one hit and you’re dead” for challenge and awful level design for stage variety. Not having much recall about this game (I probably purchased it for a couple bucks at a random EB Games), I was dreading this play session when ROB rolled it in. “I’ll play it at least ten minutes,” I told myself. “Then I can be done with it, and go back to overthinking Xenosaga.”

But you know what? This game is pretty great. I played it for ten minutes… and then another fifty more to finish the sucker. I liked it.

PRESENTS!First, and probably most importantly of all, Felix the Cat has an excellent powerup system. Collect ten floating Felix Heads (distributed like Super Mario’s coins), and you’ll earn a heart. A heart will “upgrade” Felix by one level, and (in most stages) there are four levels of powerups. In the first stage, for instance, a heart will upgrade Felix from “basic” to “magician” to “car” and, finally, to “tank”. Pretty natural progression. Each upgrade has a different attack, and, as you can guess, the tank’s attack is a little more effective than that of the magician (sorry, Atlanta). If Felix takes a hit, he’s reduced to the previous powerup stratum, and, should he take damage while he’s at the zero level, it’s life over.

What makes this system all the better is that it maintains a level of tension, even when you’re rolling around in your own tank. There’s a sort of “timer” associated with each powerup level, and, should it tick down to nothing, you’ll revert to an earlier form. To stop the clock, though, all you have to do is collect further Felix Heads, and then you can keep your advanced armaments. While I wouldn’t recommend it for every game, I really like this system, as it encourages the player to keep dutifully collecting everything everywhere, as opposed to many early NES games where, once you’ve got the best powerup available, all you have left to do is book it to the right. There’s gameplay in that gameplay!

And your powerup selection changes according to stage hazards, so your tank can become a sub in underwater stages, or… a dolphin? Sure, why not?

Sing along!But a sensible powerup system is only one part of the Felix experience. Let’s see here: the level design is thoughtful, with many later stages successfully hiding bonus areas and multiple routes. Enemies are predictable but attentively distributed, so a few “bunching up” can make a difference in strategy. Bosses are difficult but fair, and, unlike many NES games, powerups can be found in boss rooms, which makes all the difference in a pitched battle. And, amusingly enough, the final boss is a battle against a mad scientist buzzing about in his private flying saucer. That just makes me feel right at home.

My only complaint about the game is that Felix is kind of… slippery. This seems almost appropriate, as half the time he’s in a vehicle that shouldn’t have precise brakes, but it’s not the kind of thing you want to see in a game with floating, moving platforms. But past the first level, you just plan your jumps accordingly, and hopefully Felix won’t need more than nine lives.

Ultimately, I want to say what most impresses me about Felix the Cat is that it feels like a modern “return to 2-D gaming” type of game. There have been a number of 2-D platforming revival games in the last five years or so (with Shovel Knight being the best), and the finest of them show a genuine understanding of the genre and what makes it tick. Eat it, EccoFelix the Cat feels like that kind of experience, to the point that I can nary believe that it was produced twenty years ago by the same guys behind Adventure Island. It’s not a perfect game, but it genuinely seems like something produced with more care than should be afforded to a primordial cartoon cat.

Felix the Cat is the best licensed NES game of 1993. Sure, that may sound like some faint praise, but give Felix a spin, and I think you’ll agree. Or don’t. I mean, Wizards and Warriors 3 is always available.

FGC #117 Felix the Cat

  • System: NES, though I understand there is a Gameboy port as well. It’s the same game, but with fewer levels, so that might be good for a car trip if you ever find yourself stuck in 1995.
  • Number of Players: There can only be one Felix the Cat.
  • Favorite Powerup: It’s not the most powerful ability, but Felix randomly gaining a hot air balloon is delightful. And Felix’s attack in this form is… a Frisbee? Sure, that makes as much sense as anything.
  • WINNERAn End: So the sorta point of the game is to “rescue the princess”, who, in this case, is Felix’s girlfriend, Kitty. Kitty is tied up in classic vaudeville fashion for all of the “what you fight for” cutscenes that show Kitty and her mad captor. When you finally rescue Kitty, well, I guess someone blew the budget on making a first-class video game, so no one got around to animating an “unbound” Kitty. She hops up and down, elated at her rescue… but still hogtied. I guess, even with the villain defeated, cats aren’t very good with knots.
  • Tanks for the memories: Felix’s tank is very reminiscent of Kid Chameleon’s own Juggernaut tank. It’s a weird similarity, particularly given they both shoot heads of one kind or another. Kid Chameleon fires chattering skulls, Felix the Cat launches smiley faces. Slightly different ammo.
  • Did you know? Actually, Jack Mercer and Dave Coulier both voiced Popeye, too. And both Popeye and Felix the Cat had unusually fun NES titles. That’s oddly specific.
  • Would I play again: Probably, yes. It’s a short game, and, having been surprised at the fact it’s, well, good, I think I’ll give it another go sometime to see how well it holds up. Or maybe I’ll never play it again, and keep the dream alive.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Catherine for the Playstation 3! You ever have that dream where you have to play The Adventures of Lolo against a bunch of sheep? No? Well, you’re going to. Please look forward to it!

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