My mind palace is filled with scenes from old cartoons today's youth struggle to recognize. Whether we're talking Bugs Bunny, Garfield & Friends, the old Disney cartoons that are "going back into the Disney vault forever", or anything on Nickelodeon in the early nineties--suffice to say, I have a history. As a result of my love for animation and video games alike, my mind is a museum of licensed platformers that time forgot. Little Nemo: Dream Master? Aced it. Aladdin for the SEGA Genesis? Saw the credits last week. The entire Disney's Magical Quest series? Mine, mine, mine!
No licensed retro game is held dearer to me though, than Felix the Cat (courtesy of Hudson Soft). Felix is near and dear to my family's heart (my uncle has a tattoo of him on his arm, for example), and it's development team (the folks who brought us the Adventure Island games...you know, the ones starring Master Higgins...with a squad of dinosaurs?) is near and dear to mine. Just the pedigree alone is a recipe for greatness in the Jonathan cookbook. Still, even if I took all my nostalgia for the game and property away...it's absolutely outstanding on its own.
The story is the only part of Felix the Cat I'd consider lightweight. The professor kidnaps Felix's ladypal, and wants the cat's magic bag of tricks. Felix doesn't take this lying down, and he sets out to save her. Dialog between Felix and the professor is one-sided and short-winded. I think the story's only there to give the game a sense of purpose, like most games from that era.
Don't let that discourage you though! What the game lacks in words, it makes up for in every other conceivable avenue. Visuals are bright and colorful, so Felix's world feels right out of a cartoon. Felix himself, as well as all that try to stop him in his quest, has a full range of emotions to see. If you're on one of the levels that has you rowing your magic-bag boat against the current, and you decide to stop moving, Felix will doze off like he's on a leisurely raft ride. Are you wearing your magic hat and using your spell to defeat enemies around you? Felix laughs at the screen as his foes meet certain doom. For every element of gameplay you experience as Felix, he offers emotional range you'd rarely find in a game on the NES, especially from a licensed property. The soundtrack masterfully accompanies the animated world. Songs are rarely repeated as you explore over fifteen levels that has Felix explore land, air and sea...even underwater!
What makes Felix the Cat most special, however, is the gameplay itself. Felix's bag of tricks is magic, indeed, and it boasts at least ten unique transformations that accommodate each and every level. If you're on land, you could be punching enemies out with a glove, whacking them with your wand's magic power, mashing them in a car, or shooting a cannonball at them in a tank. Are you in the air? You could be traveling by way of a hot air balloon, attacking your enemies by dropping projectiles from above...or, you could be on a plane, shooting them down with raw firepower! My favorite transformation of all of them, though, is when you're underwater in a cat-like submarine, firing quick and devastating torpedoes at your foes.
Achieving these transformations is easy enough; they work in a steady evolution. You start out mildly threatening, and if you collect enough Felix emblems, you'll become progressively more powerful. Transformations are timed, though, so be careful to keep drinking milk or your hearts will run out, and you'll get knocked down a peg. Enemies can only hit you once before you lose your transformation's power...and if you're hit as just Felix, you lose a life. The game is reasonably difficult so that you'll advance a little each time until you learn the tricks to Felix's bag of tricks...but it's not so hard that you're going to rage-quit in frustration.
Felix the Cat is totally a game worth owning, especially if you're a fan of Hudson Soft, or of Felix himself. This is one of those cases where the license was absolutely done its proper justice by the developers. Unfortunately, the NES version of the game fetches a pretty penny these days, going for about fifty dollars on average. Thankfully, if you want to experience all the Felix charm with a few less levels and color, there is a Game Boy port that's faithful to the game, going for quite a bit less.
I've finally got my hands on the NES game again. Playing through the game for the first time in years isn't just about reliving my childhood--it's approaching the game with a new level of respect. Whether I'm paying close attention to the care given to its spritework, or appreciating the environments and the music alike, noting how well this game has truly aged: Felix the Cat is absolutely a great experience, worthy of standing with its contemporaries!