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Cheese Cat-Astrophe Starring Speedy Gonzales

Genre: Platform Developer: Cryo Interactive Publisher: Sega Europe Players: 1 Released: 1995

Andalé! Andalé! Arriba, Arriba! Andalé! I’m not going to lie here, when I was a kid, Speedy Gonzales was one of my favorite Looney Tunes characters, though in retrospect, he was probably the most racist of all the major Warner Toons. While the titular star himself, the fastest mouse in Mexico, did have a certain cocky, almost overconfident charm to him, most of the figures in his show were depicted as clichéd Mexican stereotypes some may consider as an affront. Was this the reason that the game “Cheese Cat-Astrophe starring Speedy Gonzales” only got a PAL release? I don’t know, but the fact remains that, like his fellow Warner colleague and occasional foil (fowl?) Daffy Duck, Speedy only blasted onto European and Australian Mega Drives (as well as Game Gears and Master Systems). That’s right, this little Mexican never officially crossed the border into NTSC regions. So, what did our American friends miss out on?

The game even has its own backstory, though it is only shortly detailed in the manual: Speedy Gonzales’ nemesis, Sylvester the Cat, has stolen all the cheese from our heroic mouse’s home village. Using the identity of one Dr. Cheesefinger, he then lured all the mice into a trap, tempting them with a cheese substitute called “cheesoid.” He even managed to “kitnap” (haha, ow, my sides) Speedy’s girlfriend Carmel. That’s the last straw as far as the fastest mouse in Mexico is concerned. Thus he runs off to save his friends, as well as his girl, of course, and to teach Sylvester a lesson he won’t forget.

What the story effectively boils down to gameplay-wise is this: Find three mice who are tied up somewhere in the level, then head to the exit to proceed; basically the same premise Cool Spot had. Interestingly enough, the game starts with a great animation sequence that shows Sylvester snatching away Speedy’s girl while he’s running off somewhere. It’s a short scene, but the quality and style of the animation is great and very reminiscent of the TV show it’s based on. It’s too bad that we don’t see any more of it anywhere else in the game; now there’s some squandered potential.

Speaking of squandered potential, let’s talk about the graphics first. At the very first glance, the game is pretty good-looking. Our titular hero has a nice range of smooth animations to him, the colors are very bright and crisp, and the game even plays around with multi-layered scrolling. After a while though, the scenery gets a little dull. Most of the time you are only running around in samey-looking desert, mountain, or cave environments. There isn’t very much going on in the background, and foreground objects like clouds look strangely tacked on and tend to block the view occasionally in an annoying manner. Too bad, since it looks like there were some talented artists at work here, only it seems like they didn’t have the time or opportunity to give the game a little more polish.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about gameplay. As previously mentioned, the goal of the game is to friend three of Speedy’s friends hidden in the level before heading to the exit and thus the next stage. As such, the levels mostly aren’t linear in structure, so you have to explore a lot; jumping down into holes in the ground, entering caves or climbing up to higher platforms are par for the course. There’s even one underwater level in order to mix things up a bit. On his way our little mouse has to overcome many obstacles and enemies as well. Speedy can defend himself by throwing a sombrero, which flies out and returns in a manner of a boomerang. This ranged attack is only in limited supply; most enemies are dispatched by the more classic jump on their heads. The collision detection is a questionable, however. You have to make sure to land exactly on top of your enemy, as a pixel or two to the side will more likely result in you hurting yourself. Airborne enemies can also be taken out by pressing jump and up, which causes Speedy to launch into an uppercut.

Your life bar is represented by a wheel of cheese on the top right of the screen, and naturally, picking up cheese slices will recharge it. And of course, there’s our titular characters’ penchant for velocity. Pressing the A button will cause Speedy to race across the screen, which can be utilized to break through certain obstacles or to jump higher and farther. During this, however, the mouse is harder to control, so you need to be extra careful not to bump into enemies or fall off of cliffs in the process. You can’t simply run through enemies like Speedy usually does in his cartoons. Also, the high speed is also limited and has to be recharged as well, by collecting red peppers strewn across the level. Those are usually in large supply, so “running out” (pun intended) won’t be much of an issue, except maybe at one or two crucial occasions. Otherwise it’s your regular jump & run affair, and aside from the aforementioned pinpoint precision that is needed when taking out enemies, Speedy controls quite well. On a few occasions, he also shows a few extra abilities. For example, at certain points in the game, pressing up on the gamepad will cause Speedy to throw a lasso, allowing him to climb up to higher ground. There’s little indication when or where this is even possible though, so a lot of trial and error is required.

The terms “little indication” as well as “trial and error” could sum up most of the gameplay, as a matter of fact. Looking for Speedy’s friends quickly turns into a rather tedious affair, as there are practically no hints as to the whereabouts of the captured mice. You have to seek out and check every little hole and platform in the level if you want to proceed. Some entrances are hidden, either by destructable objects or – worse – foreground graphics. It is very common for the screen coming to a sudden stop, even though there is nothing apparent blocking the way, because the game doesn’t allow you to proceed unless you’ve freed all “kitnapping” victims. Only after rescuing three mice may you exit the stage; not that the game tells you so, but now at least the exit is marked by a small arrow that only appears once you’re near it. Some clearer markers or some kind of radar would have been nice.

The game also has the annoying tendency to throw new obstacles in your way without giving you any hint about how to pass them. The mountain range levels, for example, show several cave entrances, but not all of them can actually be entered. The second stage is also the first instance where you have to climb your lasso, but there’s nothing telling you that. So, you may end up at some cliff and not know whether you have to take a dashing leap of faith in order to end up on an unseen platform, or if you have to backtrack a bit because you may have missed a point where you could have used your lasso. In another stage, there’s a huge cactus blocking the way that hurts you when you touch it, and it only can be passed if you make a perfectly timed dash jump using hidden springs AND rescue all of your friends first. The thing is, nothing indicates that this is necessary, so you may die over and over again in an attempt to pass the damned thing, not knowing that you still had an objective to fulfill.

All these questionable design choices make the game very frustrating at times, and you may get stuck and die a lot without really knowing how it’d be possible to proceed. Fortunately, there is a password system that allows you to continue from a certain stage. Unfortunately, the developers decided that in order to earn these passwords, players had to do an additional task. You need to find three carrots hidden in each stage before exiting. Only then will Bugs Bunny appear and give you the password for the next level. This turns combing through each level into even more busywork, but since some obstacles can turn out to be pretty deadly (see above), you will want those passwords. Personally, I find this very irritating.

Musically, the game is decent. The tunes are nice, though not very memorable. When it comes to sound effects, however, it seems like some are simply missing from the game. The dash move is a prime example. Not a single extra sound can be heard, neither an exaggerated revving up nor even a simple Arriba!. In fact, not even a simulacrum of Speedy Gonzales’ memorable catchphrase – or catch-expression, if you will – appears in the entire game, which is somewhat disappointing. This, combined with a general lack of decent SFX, deprives the title of a lot of atmosphere and makes it seem duller than it actually is.

Looking back on what I wrote, it seems like I am overly harsh on that game. There actually were a couple of things that I really liked. The animation is good, at times even great; the bright color scheme gives a good first impression and captures the feel of the original cartoons, and the controls work fine for the most part, even if the collision detection could be a bit better. But little diversity, annoying gameplay decisions and an overall lack of atmosphere prevent a higher rating. With a little more polish, it could have been quite enjoyable. As it is, however, it is a rather dull platformer whose only memorable moments are the more frustrating ones.

SCORE: 5 out of 10

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