26/06/2012

BAD CAT (COMMODORE 64)

Bad Cat is a game released for various home computer platforms in 1987 by Rainbow Arts. You might recognise the name, because the cover art was doing the rounds on various websites a few months ago. This is hardly surprising - after all, the internet is nothing more than a tool for the rapid dissemination of cat pictures, especially if said cat looks like it's been dressed for an all-feline adaptation of The Warriors.



Yup, that's definitely a Bad Cat. His bandana, shades and spiked bracelet mark him out as a cat not to be messed with, and even the fact that he's eating a Milky Bar doesn't do much to detract from his overall aura of toughness.
There are three possible explanations for this cover. Either the artist was taking the piss, Bad Cat's cover was designed in some misguided attempt to appeal to some "hip" or "urban" youth market or whoever drew this honestly thought that a picture of a cat in a sleeveless vest and a bandana was just really cool. I pray it's the first option, because the latter two do not reflect well on humanity as a whole.
With a cover like that the game itself is sure to be a real treat, so without further ado let's dive into (the Commodore 64 version of) Bad Cat!


Does the loading screen count as "further ado"? Well, here it is and Bad Cat is looking even more disturbing than on the cover. He's weirdly human-looking, the cat equivalent of a middle-aged accountant called Colin who's living out his 80's-training-montage fantasies.
Once you've stared at that for a while and the image is forever scorched into your long-term memory, you can move onto the game proper.


Water is wet, gotcha. Also, grass is green, the sun rises in the east and this game should not be played by anyone. What we have here is a basic obstacle course for Bad Cat to navigate. The directions move you around and fire makes you jump, so it's a simple matter of hopping over the water and vaulting the walls in front of you, or at least it would be in the controls weren't so infuriatingly unresponsive - Bad Cat won't leap until well after you've pressed the button, and the slightest contact with the water or the walls results in instant death. Fortunately dying isn't the end of the game and you have unlimited lives. You're just sent back to a checkpoint to try again, and after a little practice you'll be hopping over obstacles like, well, a cat.
Then, about two minutes into the game, I ran up against a seemingly impassable trap: a wall with a beach ball behind it.


Yes, yes I do need some help. Psychological help, if my insistence on playing Bad Cat is anything to go by, but more urgently I need help getting over this wall. It seems simple enough: just jump over the wall and land on the ball... but that's not possible. Every time I jumped I hit the wall and evaporated in a puff of smoke, no matter the angle or speed of my take-off, even when I was certain I'd cleared it. Here's a video of my abject failure in getting a cat over a wall.


I had to consult the manual, something I never normally do. It informed me that I had to jump onto the wall. That's the wall identical to those which had previously destroyed me the instant I so much as brushed a whisker against them. And I couldn't even manage that! Every leap lead to death, until I figured out (through frustrated and random mashing of the buttons) that Bad Cat has two kinds of jump. Pressing up on the joystick performs a non-somersaulting jump that you can use to get onto the wall. You see, it all makes perfect sense!


I made it! I'm on the ball! The ball turns out to be a balancing, log-rolling type exercise where you have to alternate between back and forward on the stick to inch Bad Cat along. Go too far in either direction and you fall off the ball, which would be all well and good if the game gave you any kind of indication of when you're about to fall. Bad Cat doesn't wobble, doesn't emit a warning hiss, doesn't fail his arms about like someone about to fall from an uneven surface would: you just have to guess, and you will guess wrong. This tiny section is so wretchedly awful and badly implemented that I wouldn't be surprised if 95% of the people who played Bad Cat when it was first released simply gave up here. I wouldn't blame them. Nobody would blame them.


Somehow I made it past the Ball of Unending Torment, and the game rewards me for my efforts by bad-mouthing my mother. Fuck you, Rainbow Arts - I should be getting some kind of medal or large cash prize for defeating that ball, not vaguely weird insinuations about my mum's clothing.
From here on the game does calm down slightly and stops being quite so obtuse. There's a section where you have to waggle the joystick left and right to traverse some monkey bars, there's some trampolining, there a section where you have to launch off a swing to grab a key hanging from a lamppost. The key to what?


A motorbike, of course. Bad Cat leaps onto his hog and rides away, hopefully never to be seen again. It does raise some questions about Bad Cat's scale, though: is he a human-sized freak of cat, or is that a cat-sized motorbike optimised for use by creatures with no thumbs? I'm going with "blasphemous man-sized mutant," otherwise those phone booths in the background will be no use to anyone.
Sadly, this is not the end of Bad Cat. Oh no, not by a long shot.


Between stages you get this pointless city stage. You have to move Bad Cat, represented by the minute yellow cross I've circled in the screenshot, over to the stadium. That's it. Getting hit by the cars stuns you for a moment, so avoid those. You can collect beach balls for extra points, but after the last stage I'm never going near an inflatable toy again. It's dull, slow, meaningless and a punishingly loud "ambulance siren" sound effect plays the entire time. It's a pretty accurate distillation of the whole Bad Cat experience.


Here's the next event. That right, Bad Cat is part of the rarely-not-terrible "multi-event" genre, so instead of one badly-designed game with terrible controls you get several of them. Fantastic. Here Bad Cat find himself trapped in a swimming pool with two PS3 analogue sticks. Apparently the aim of this event is to leap between the two platforms and, while you're in mid-air, punch the shape that corresponds to the background display. I say apparently because I never managed it - I could barely get Bad Cat to jump across to the other analogue stick, never mind hitting the correct shape along the way. After several minutes of attempting the event with no success, followed by another minute or so of purposefully drowning Bad Cat out of spite, I just stopped playing and let the timer run down. That was the most enjoyable time I spent playing Bad Cat.
He really is a terrible cat-man hybrid. Instead of being a man with all the benefits of being a cat, like faster reflexes or the ability to enslave people's minds via YouTube, he's an abject failure with all the disadvantages of a cat: he's scared of water, threatened by dogs and he sure as hell won't listen to your commands.
After another interminable city scene, it's time for the next event.


Oh, I think we've been in the sewer for a while now.


The sewers are much like the first stage, a mix of general platforming and sphincter-clenchingly abysmal, constantly-changing controls. Water pours from pipes, bricks rain from the ceiling onto Bad Cat's head (and god speed to them) and there's another ball-rolling section. Then Bad Cat gets his ass kicked by some mice.


Those white things on the wall are mice - not even rats, just white mice - and they are fatal to Bad Cat if touched. I guess now we know why he's called "Bad Cat" and not "Above-average Cat" or even "Passable Cat". This was another area where I was completed stumped and had to refer to the manual, which told me that you can punch the mice. You can only do this when you're standing near the mice, though, and not at any other point in the game. This goes some way towards explaining why I didn't think of it, and even once I did know about Bad Cat's kung-fu moves I still kept dying because it turns out he's really shit at hitting things.


I eventually got past the mice, only to be eaten by a crocodile. I smiled, although I fear for the crocodile: eating Bad Cat is sure to bring on some truly vile stomach complaint.


There's one last joystick-waggling section where you need to outrun a dog. I do value my "live", although less so after having played this game, so I waggled with all my might and escaped straight back into another city stage. Sadly there was no option to return to the sewer and let myself be consumed by the creatures with.


Sweet Jesus, if only.


At long last, the final stage, and I guess that dog made it out of the sewer and chased me to the pub because he's here and he wants to engage me in a game of full-contact bowling. In a pub. A pub that has a magic bowling alley / deathmatch arena in the middle. While humans watch the entire event with detached amusement. I got nothing, sorry.
The goal here is to hit the dog six times before he hits you six times, and to hit him you have to grab a bowling ball, pick a lane and throw it. It's not quite that simple, because as the ball passes through those two lightning bolt symbols it somehow changes to a random lane when it comes out the other side. The whole thing seems to be entirely dependant on luck, because if there is a pattern to how the balls move when they pass through the machine I sure as hell couldn't figure it out. This is also the least agonisingly bad of all Bad Cat's events, mostly because it's the shortest but also because if you get hit you have to go to the bar and drink some beer.


Supposedly the more beer you drink, the harder it becomes to control Bad Cat, but because everything's so cumbersome in the first place I can't say I noticed much difference. Still, he seems to be enjoying himself.


I'm gonna need that booze more than you, sunshine.


That's it, Bad Cat is over and we can all get back to our everyday lives, our souls a little more tarnished for having experienced it. I'm sure you don't need me to tell you this again, but this game should be avoided, forgotten, shunned, pushed to the back of the universe's junk drawer and left to decay in peace. The entire experience is a soggy wodge of arbitrary control changes, poorly-designed challenges and moments of pure, grinding frustration - and yet, in this foetid pile of compost a single flower blooms. That flower is the loading music, composed by C64 legend and SID maestro Chris Hülsbeck. It's really good.


It's sort of heartening that even a game as bad as this could result in something of worth after all. However, in final summation I'm going to abandon all attempts at good writing and go straight for the lowest common denominator, the obvious, the childish. Bad Cat? More like Bad Game.


2 comments:

  1. I was one of those 95% who gave up at the ball. I tried, I really did. But it took so long to load from tape that I couldn't be bothered to play it after maybe the 2nd try. I simply wrote it off as the crappy game in the compilation that it was bundled in. Strangely, I can't remember any of the other games that were with it, but Bad Cat scarred me for life.

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  2. This cat was nowhere near as bad as initially advertised. Not a single child was cut with a switchblade, and he didn't buy a single eightball from a shady guy next to a dumpster in the back alley of a Sizzler.

    Unless, of course, "bad" denotes the quality. Then I agree.

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