Atlus unleashed Rockin' Kats in 1991 for the Nintendo Entertainment System and was, unfortunately, lost in the shuffle and excitement of the impending release of the Super NES. The game is vastly underrated, in my opinion, and is much more fun than it would seem on first glance. It's a standard platformer with a difference: the main weapon in the game is a spring-loaded boxing glove gun that doubles as a bionic arm reminiscent of the Capcom classic Bionic Commando.
The game begins as Willy's girlfriend, Jill, is catnapped by Mugsy, a typical gangster dog. Willy chases Mugsy and his henchmen over five levels (plus a secret final level) to retrieve Jill from his evil paws. Players can choose to take the first four levels (city street, wild west, air show, and fun park) in any order he chooses. After completing these four, the fifth level (a combination of element from the previous four levels) becomes available. Fortunately the game provides a password so that players do not have to conquer the game in one marathon play session, although the game is simple enough to where it's possible to do so.
As mentioned above, Willy's weapon of choice is a spring-loaded boxing glove gun that shoots a fist at enemies, then retracts. The fist can also grab ahold of ledges and other surfaces and allows Willy to swing in a clockwise or counterclockwise circle, whacking enemies if they come near his path. The fist is released at the push of a button and Willy does somersaults to the ground, allowing him to vault distances that his normal jump cannot. The gun can be upgraded at the shopping level, although some upgrades are actually downgrades in other ways. For example, Willy can buy a mace to replace the fist. The mace does more damage, but cannot grab a ledge. Other items to buy include twin balls (which fire two shots in addition to the fist], bomb, (fires a shot in an arc in addition to the fist), and jet shoes (allow Willy to hover briefly). Thankfully, all bought items go into a selection menu and Willy can swap upgrades whenever he pleases.
Buying these upgrades and items requires money, and chances are Willy will earn most of the cash during the levels themselves. However, if you're in a hurry to buy new weapons, take Willy to the bonus stage where, for a small entry fee, he can participate in games such as basketball (using Willy as the ball) and a pipe game where Willy must use the fist to toss balls into moving pipes. Each basket or pipe is worth a certain dollar amount, and Willy has until time elapses to take his best shot. Willy can also choose to participate in roulette where extra lives can easily be won.
Most of the gameplay involves careful use of the fist to do intricate flips, so it's best to master using it quickly. The first level provides plenty of places to practice the maneuver, and by the time Willy reaches level five he's expected to be an expert. Level five includes elements of previous levels as well as faces Willy against every enemy he's faced previously, including all bosses and minibosses. Mugsy's waiting at the end of the level, and if Willy beats him and you wait long enough after the credits roll, Mugsy will return and challenge Willy to a rematch. This opens up a secret sixth level where Mugsy has stolen all of the upgrades Willy has earned, and he must rely only on his fist to survive the obstacle course.
The graphics and sound are quite fun for a late model NES game, and even today some of the tunes from the game remain in my head. Rockin' Kats was never popular and it might be hard locating the game in the usual used game places, but the ROM is available on the Internet and is playable on the better emulators. Give Rockin' Kats a try and chances are you'll be coming back for more. It's the cat's meow!
Playing the game