Review by Derek Zoolander
"This cat definitely does not have nine lives..."
Alley Cat was apparently something of a fad many years ago, before the dawn of time (1984 to be exact) when it was first released. It’s still fairly entertaining today, despite the primitive graphics, simple, unchanging gameplay and quirky controls. Most of the appeal lies in the endearing concept. You’re thrust into the role of a little alley cat that just wants some love. This lil’ fella is willing to do anything to get it, and you’ll soon be dodging obstacles, eating fish, pouncing on mice, climbing about on clotheslines, and more, all in the name of love (and fun). There are a few problems with the controls and the game can be a bit too hard or repetitive, but overall it’s still surprisingly fun for such a simple, ancient game.
To get your desired female cat, you have to complete a special “love” minigame, but before you do you must complete one of the normal minigames. These are accessed by jumping into windows, several rows of which are on the wall where you play. To get up to the windows, you have to jump from the alley below onto trashcans, then onto a fence, onto a series of clotheslines and finally into whichever window is open. Make one mistake and you’ll plunge to the alley below, where you repeat the process. To make things even harder, there are numerous obstacles along the way: a nasty bulldog which pops up now and then in the alley; cats which knock you off the trash cans; mice on the clotheslines; and, my personal ‘favourite’, the dishes. These goddamn things are thrown out of the windows and always seem to hit (and kill) you just as you prepare to leap into the open windows. You’ve only got three lives, so you’ll have to be very, very careful.
Hopefully, you’ll get through the gauntlet of obstacles and enter a mini-game. The mini-games, six in total, are all quite fun and range from catching mice hiding out in swiss cheese, to eating fish in a fishbowl populated by dangerous electric eels, and stealing food from sleeping dogs. Once you complete a minigame you get a point bonus based on the difficulty of the minigame and the time it took for you to beat it. Most of the minigames are quite cute and enjoyable (wouldn’t we all like to live the carefree life of an alley cat?) and fairly easy, the exception being the “love” minigame that you play after beating one of the regular games. Here, you have to climb up a series of levels while dodging cats and Cupid’s arrows, which can make you lose your footing and ruin all your hard work. If you screw up here, and believe me you will, then you’ll have to start from scratch although your score and tally of lives will be unaffected. This game requires pretty precise controlling of your cat, which can be hard because of the way the controls are set up.
The control scheme is simple and usually fairly well suited to the frantic action of the game (key word there is ‘usually’). The directional arrows make your cat run left and right, jump, and drop off objects, and the alt-key performs special actions such as sneaking through holes in swiss cheese and placing gifts for your lover. The alley cat is a fairly lithe little creature and has good running and jumping abilities, and can jump especially far after a little run-up. However, the problem is that your cat seems a bit too hyper at times. It will jump up and fall down in jerky motions, making precise jumps very hard, and other movements sometimes seem too fast or unresponsive. The fact that you can’t jump worth jack without a little run-up is also hard to get used to. You should get used to the quirky controls after you play the game for a while, but because of the weird controls you’ll have problems in the love game and other similar situations.
Alley Cat’s graphics are very simple, but still effective. The cat is a little furry black ball with a head and ears, the mice are roundish dots with ears, and the fish are yellow blobs. The bulldog is a bit more detailed, with its teeth showing through its scowl and a nasty collar on its neck. Apart from the dog, there’s not a whole lot of detail, but everything looks clear and is animated well. The environments are very plain – most of the backgrounds are either pink or white, and the minigame rooms consist only of some furnishings, windows, and a few obstacles. The alley looks nice though, with socks and pants hanging off the clotheslines, trash and glass on the pavement and graffiti on the walls (some of this graffiti serves a purpose, telling you your score and how many lives you have left). If you can get used to the simple and occasionally jarring colours, you’ll be fine with the graphics.
Unfortunately, the sound isn’t as good. There’s a fairly nice little theme for the title screen, as well as some good, harmonic tunes after beating minigames, but that’s about it as far as the music goes. Because of the oldness of the game the notes are all electronic beeps and boops, which can sometimes become annoying. The same can be said of the sound effects, which consist of repetitive clicking or tapping noises punctuated by rare squeaks and clangs.
The whole of Alley Cat – concept, presentation, looks and sound – is simple. And yet, the game can easily take up more of your time than you expect, because completing the minigames, upping your score and braving the many obstacles can be quite addicting and fun. As the game gets harder, stepping-stones become less frequent and obstacles pop up more frequently, so you’ll have even more chances to get into trouble. The difficulty is the only thing that really changes throughout the course of the game, but Alley Cat still manages to be fairly replayable, whether you’re trying to get a high score or just enjoying the life of an alley cat.
In the end, Alley Cat is one of those games that serves as a nice diversion. You won’t play it for hours on end, but you’ll come back to it once in a while just to have fun running, jumping and pouncing around. It may have its fair share of flaws, and may be primitive in the visuals and audio departments, but Alley Cat gets the important stuff right: it’s fun and challenging. That’s more than enough to warrant a few play throughs.
Reviewer's Score: 5/10 | Originally Posted: 01/25/02, Updated 06/06/02
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