Today, a game of cat and mouse. More accurately: a game of cat, mouse, a bunch of other animals, many familiar videogame mechanics rolled together like so many differently-coloured lumps of Play-Doh, and balls. Lots of balls. It's Metro's 1995 match-and-pop-em-up Mouse Shooter GoGo!
That is, a mouse who shoots, you don't spend the game shooting at mice like a Depression-era ratcatcher. For that experience you'll need to play Hobo Joe: Ratslayer, coming to Steam in 2016. No, this is the game for you if you're into shiny, rubbery cat heads such as you might find on the S&M gear of a sexual deviant who's really into the Pink Panther.
Here are the mice that star in Mouse Shooter GoGo. The unnerving, a-little-too-close-to human mice, the mice that are surely the mascots of a family pizza restaurant franchise in some other universe. They're having a fun time visiting the Bizarro-Cinema, where the screen is behind you and all the seats are leather sofas. What movie are they watching? The Story of These Two Mice, starring these two mice, a moving tale of these two mice trying to impress two classy mouse ladies despite their romantic intentions being severely handicapped by the wrestling singlets they appear to be wearing.
Not to worry, the mice have a plan, and the plan is... hell if I know, they're examining the blueprints for something - something roughly shaped like a cat's head, now I look at it again - and they like what they see. Those mouse girls are going to love whatever this thing is!
Side note: if you have to rip holes in your hats so they fit over your enormous ears, maybe don't bother with hats. Wear a bandanna or something instead, or get a pair of smaller hats, one for each ear. Also, I thought that mouse was winking, but he isn't. His eye is still open, he's just contorting his pupil. I'm starting to dislike these creepy mouse-men.
There are some fairly detailed instructions included in the attract mode, which is always helpful although Mouse Shooter GoGo is simple enough that you'd pick most of it up just by playing the game for a couple of minutes. The basic aim is to throw the ball / severed animal head that your mouse is holding into the balls of the same type that are freely bouncing around the screen. In this case, you can see that the mouse is holding a panda head, so throwing it into that group of four panda heads will cause all the panda heads to disappear. If it hits a non-matching ball, like the pink cat, the blue dog or the golden pig, it will stick to them and make the clump bigger.
I'm not going to lie, I'm immature enough that I laughed when I first read this because it sounds like something you'd overhear on the set of a particularly unpleasant pornographic movie. Why will the balls stick together? There are so many wonderful possibilities! You should discuss these possibilities with your friends and neighbours. Call up your father-in-law and ask him, I'm sure he'll have a few exciting opinions on the subject.
Here's stage one, and you'll see that Mouse Shooter GoGo is a more action-heavy version of Puzzle Bobble with the target-splitting mechanic of Pang thrown in too - if you, for instance, popped the cats and pigs in the middle of this arrangement first then it would split in two and that'd give you twice as many things to avoid. Fortunately your mouse can run wherever you like on the screen and can throw his balls in any of the eight joystick directions: press the second button to switch to "free" aiming" and press it again to lock your firing angle in. This freedom of movement is something that takes a little getting used to - or it did for me, anyway. I was so hidebound by the familiar mechanics of Puzzle Bobble that moving away from the bottom of the screen or firing at an angle that wasn't "straight upwards" felt wrong somehow, which is a bit worrying. Do I really lack the imagination and creative thinking required to play an arcade game from 1995? Christ, I was hoping for a reasonably playable action-puzzle game, not a searing indictment of my own flawed psychological make-up.
Other than exposing my psyche as lacking a certain amount of mental fortitude, Mouse Shooter GoGo works quite well as an action/puzzle hybrid, although as I say the emphasis is definitely on the "action" part of that equation - the only puzzling that needs doing is figuring out which balls you should burst to keep the clump in as few separate pieces as possible. It's a lot easier to dodge two large, slow-moving pieces than it is to avoid a cavalcade of balls flying at you from every angle, as the actress said to the bishop. The colour of the ball in your mouse's hand is randomly generated each time you throw the previous one, summoned from the Decapitated Animal Dimension by the same dark force that twisted these mice's forms into the crude mockery of humanity you see before you, so sometimes you'll find yourself unable to do much with the ball you're given. It's ironic, like ten thousand cat heads when all you need is a snake or a frog or a very unwell Pac-Man, whatever the green things are supposed to be. On the other hand, you're only ever given balls that match the colours still active on the play field, which is a nice concession.
For such a simple concept, Mouse Shooter GoGo has plenty of smaller gameplay elements bolted on to it. There are non-animal-head balls that act as power-ups, giving you extra time or changing large numbers of balls into the same colour. Your mouse dies if a ball touches him, but to defend himself he can use the ball he's holding to bounce away any balls that come at him from the front and blimey, I sure am typing the word "balls" a lot in this article. I'm up to my neck in balls, like a tiny person at poorly-planned orgy. Oh, and if you can create a straight line of ba... bubbles and put a bubble of the same colour at either end, all the bubbles in between will switch to that colour. It doesn't come up very often unless you're shooting for a high score, which is something I've never been all that interested in.
The mouse ladies appear every time you clear a stage. Do their breasts jiggle when they jump? I think you already know the answer to that. I'm not sure which is the more depressing scenario: the artist sitting down and thinking "finally, my chance to share my sexy rodent fantasies with the world!" or a project manager type - in my mental fiction, a fat man wearing suspenders and smoking a cigar - leaning over the artist and saying "no, make them sexier. Sex sells! What do you mean, 'sexier how?' I don't know, give 'em some cleavage, have one of them flash their knickers at the player. You're the artist, you figure it out!"
This stage's background is based on French artist Georges Seurat's painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, which I mention for two reasons. One, it's a striking counterpoint to sexy cartoon mice and two, I'm pleased with myself for remembering the artist's name well enough to Google it properly. Sure, I misspelled it as "Serat" but that's close enough for me, and it's nice to know I possess some cultural knowledge beyond videogames and slasher movies.
Not content with cribbing their gameplay from Puzzle Bobble and Pang, Metro decided to squeeze some "inspiration" from one more classic game by including the brick-smashing action of Breakout. It works okay, I suppose, especially in later stages when some balls are precariously contained within a prison of fragile bricks and you're trying to be careful not to release them too early. In fact, Metro deserve some credit for taking so many (possibly over) familiar elements and building a decent game out of them that never feels too overburdened.
A boss battle heaves into view, between our mousey hero and fat cat wearing mittens. Maybe he's called Mittens. Maybe he's the reason Mittens is a common name for cats, although now I'm writing this sentence I just realised that it rhymes with "kittens" so that could have something to do with it. I'm rambling about cat names because there's not really anything to say about this fight - the cat curls up into a ball and rolls towards you, which might be adorable if the cat in question wasn't built like King Hippo. The cat is very slow. You are in almost no danger at any point unless your fingers suddenly drop off and the boss kills you while you're adjusting to controlling the joystick with your teeth. Throw balls at the cat until it's health bar is empty, move on to the next stage. It's basically the worst Tom and Jerry cartoon ever.
If you do manage to lose all your lives at some point, you're treated to a continue screen showing the mice about to be eaten alive by said cat. The mouse on the right is struggling against this grim fate, but the mouse on the left seems resigned to the fact that reincarnation exists but he can only come back as a hairball.
Not to worry, if you don't insert any more credits the mice drift away to Mouse Heaven, where cheese is plentiful, Rentokil employees are forced into subservience and cats are most definitely not admitted. They go to Cat Heaven instead, which is almost indistinguishable from the normal life of a pet cat with an attentive owner.
And so Mouse Shooter GoGo continues as before, with thirty stages of bubble-bursting antics. The backgrounds change and the bubbles are arranged in different configurations, but that's about it. In this instance they originally spelled out "OK!" but they've drifted around the screen a little. They're not threatening to knock me out or anything.
There's another boss battle half-way through the game, this time against two cats, and they that look much more like cats than the first boss did. That thing looked like the Rancor from Star Wars in a fursuit. The Double Cats are more of a challenge, because there are two of them but mostly because they can throw their own supply of balls at our hero. They're still not particularly difficult to defeat, but they're like a goddamn Dark Souls boss compared to the fat cat, and they provide a welcome break from the usual ball-matching gameplay.
I'll be honest, having this snaggletoothed samurai gunman staring up from beneath me was a bit distracting. I wanted to know what his story is. Whatever it is, there's no way it's less interesting than Mouse Shooter GoGo - like, who gave him that gun? He doesn't look like he could be trusted with a bunch of daffodils, never mind a firearm... although if you look closely, it appears to be one of those "BANG" flag joke guns. This is why you have to be careful about including compelling details that are more interesting than the game they appear in, because I've now lost all interest in popping bubbles and instead have become fixated on who this samurai is and what member of the daimyo's court he's pulling pranks on.
The difficulty level is all over the place, too, with stages wildly varying in challenge from one stage to the next. This is the penultimate stage, which appears simple at first until you realise that removing the black bear heads from play means the big lump will immediately split into ten smaller, independent lumps, and even with the mouse's nimble footwork and ability to push balls away from him it's going to be a real struggle to avoid being pinned down. In the end I spent so long dithering about that I ran out of time, at which point the walls of the stage began to close in. I always enjoy it when games handle their time limit in this manner as opposed to just having you spontaneously drop dead when the clock hits zero as though you're fitted with a combination pacemaker / alarm clock, because it always feels that little bit more special when you manage to win despite the increasingly hazardous conditions.
Then there's the final stage, which is surprisingly easy. It's also Space Invaders: you stand at the bottom and fire upwards at the solitary bubbles that move left-and-right across the screen. Let in never be said that Metro didn't try to learn from the classics. Or steal, steal works fine in that sentence too.
Mouse Shooter GoGo then unceremoniously and abruptly ends, with not even a final boss battle to contend with. It could have been against, get this, three cats! I can't believe anyone would pass up an opportunity like that.
As for the ending, the mice take a celebratory road trip across Mouse Land while the mouse girls pose seductively at the bottom of the screen, Metro being fully committed to the challenge of getting the player to be into that kind of thing. The trouble is, if you ignore their giant satellite dish ears, the mouse girls look more like the results of a DeviantArt search for "sexy Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man" than anything else. Who ya gonna call? Someone who can extract these nightmare visions from my mind, hopefully.
The game closes with the bizarre image of our rodent heroes relaxing on the beach, completely unperturbed by the conga line of crustaceans that is scuttling along their bodies. That's why the mouse girls are nowhere to be seen, they don't want to catch crabs.
Mouse Shooter GoGo may not be an amazing game or a life-changing experience, but it did break this month's streak of me only playing truly awful games, and I ended up enjoying it rather more than I expected to. It's a simple concept executed well, somehow managing to remain simple even as new gameplay elements are added, and I don't have any complains about how the gameplay feels. Presentation-wise it's a mixed bag, with some charmingly-drawn graphics but a soundtrack so forgettable that I only remembered to mention it because I made a note reading "did this game even have a soundtrack?" It's also unusually easy for an arcade game - the first time I played it I made it about two-thirds of the way through on a single credit, and as long-time VGJunk readers will know I am not good at videogames. So, if you're looking for some simple, undemanding arcade puzzle-action gameplay, or if you want to play Puzzle Bobble, Pang, Arkanoid and Space Invaders but are on a tight schedule, then give Mouse Shooter GoGo, ahem, a gogo.