Felix the Cat (Hudson Soft, 1992)
Hey RetroFans, remember Felix the Cat?
Or do you just remember the idea of him?
Exactly. He's a cartoon cat from the silent film era who's managed to earn himself a mid-tier seat in pop culture. His image is memorable, but most people can't tell you a second thing about him. He was a hoot in the roaring 20s, enjoyed a revival in the 1950s and a much quieter one in the late 80s... and inexplicably got an NES game in 1992. Here's the biggest shocker: it's actually a pretty good game.
In 1954, Joe Oriolo took over the storylines for Felix the Cat's cartoons (he later bought the intellectual property completely in the 70s). Most of these animated shorts revolve around some antagonist or another trying to get Felix's magic bag from him. That's more or less the plot of this game, or at least it's supposed to be. The Professor (that's all the name we get for the bushy-faced bastard) has taken Felix's heavy-lidded gal pal Kitty hostage. If you've ever played 2/3rds of all NES-era platformers, you know the drill. Felix has to use that same bag of tricks to rescue his missus from the wicked scientist.
Here's where the surprise kicks in. You start off doing pretty standard platform-action stuff, fighting deceptively cute looking enemies and collecting milk and little images of your face These are just for points. When you get enough of them, a heart flies out of almost nowhere. If you pick it up, you change form a little bit. In the regular land levels, the progression goes like this:
Magic Boxing Glove--->Magic Wand While Felix Laughs Like a Lunatic--->Magic Vehicular Manslaughter via Car Horn--->Magic Inexplicable Tank
Felix The Cat: An Ancient Being Who Takes Many Forms
There are underwater and aerial levels, where you can get submarines and planes, but the gameplay model remains pretty steady. Most of your foes are cartoonish and non-threatening; in fact, one could say that Felix The Cat is a little bit on the easy side, until right around halfway through when you reach the more bizarre levels. I'm gonna come clean and admit that I don't know what some of the bosses are. I think the first one is some nerdy kid riding a mechanical donkey? Another one I thought was pretty great was a bouncing dog-man with a gun. It got a good shock out of me but was pretty out of place in an Egyptian pyramid. I think there's a cactus or something too... the point is, you do eventually reach the Professor and save Kitty... who still doesn't look too worked up over the whole ordeal.
You may be thinking, “this one is far from a classic. Why even talk about it?” To be honest, I like it because it's such a rarity in terms of NES titles: it's a licensed game from late in the console's time span, clearly beating a dead horse by capitalizing on an ephemeral 1920s cartoon character, yet it still manages to be playable and fun. Felix the Cat, as absurd as this may sound, is the kind of NES game we could have used more of as the console saw its way out of the limelight. It's got decent graphics and music, a really approachable and gradually curving difficulty, and it's surprisingly well-designed overall. The only nits for me to pick are that the music loops are a bit short and some of the instrumentation is a little, well, harsh. I'll let you be the judge.
I'd say that Felix the Cat gets 7/10 stars. If you're an emulator player or a console cart collector, grab this if you don't have it and give it a try. It's an often-overlooked entry into the platform genre that really surprises the player with its fun factor.