“Felix the Cat,
The wonderful, wonderful cat!
Whenever he gets in a fix
He reaches into his bag of tricks!”
The character “Felix the Cat” will turn 100 years old in 3 more years. Let that sink in for a moment. Felix the Cat may not be as popular as he once was or as recognizable as he was in the 20’s or 50’s, after his revision, but we’re dealing with an icon of animation from the silent era, before cartoon characters had voices. Felix is older than the Disney, the company.
With that in mind, we approach Felix the Cat, the anthropomorphic anachronism, and his first and only video game knowing that this is going to be an obscure title for many readers. It was released by Hudson Soft in 1992 on the NES (and later for the Game Boy), only three years before the official closing of the NES library. Fun fact: the NES was discontinued on August 14th 1995, my birthday. I turned 10 years old. Yes, I am a piece of gaming history.
Felix the Cat plays like a standard side-scrolling action-platformer. There are few things to say about the game’s mechanics in respect that it is fairly simple and easy to pick up. Traversing through the game’s nine worlds and each world’s stages and fighting bosses may seem familiar, because it is. It’s virtually the same format from Super Mario Bros.
But as Super Mario had his Fire Flowers and Super Mushrooms, Felix has his magic. Specifically, his magic bag.
That marvelous magic bag turns into cool weapons depending on Felix’s environment: on land stages the bag turns from a punch-glove into a top hat and cane which shoot stars into a car which blasts soundwaves into a tank that fires bouncing ammunition; air stages begin with the punch-glove again then it turns into a hot air balloon which allows you to throw frisbees and then an airplane which shoots cannonballs; ocean stages begin with the punch-glove then a dolphin who spits balls; underwater stages begin with the punch-glove then the bag becomes a turtle who blows bubbles then a submersible shaped like Felix’s head which fires torpedoes. One of the final stages takes place in outer space, where Felix’s bag of tricks transforms into a UFO.
Felix can upgrade his magic and transform his back by gathering items. The game doesn’t say what these items are. They simply look like Felix’s head in purple orbs. Collect enough and milk can be obtained for extra points. Collect even more and a heart item pops out, which upgrades your magic to the next level respective to your environs.
If Felix gets hit, his magic goes back down a level until you upgrade it again. If Felix takes another hit when he’s at his lowest form of magic, then he loses a life.
The game’s objective is to rescue Felix’s girlfriend, presumably. Between each world, the titular cat receives a phone call from the Professor, who has Felix’s GF tied up. The Professor just taunts Felix, but he never mentions that he kidnapped Felix’s main squeeze, nor are we even told that’s who she is, other than a portrait of her hanging up in Felix’s house. Maybe the Professor just has some random female kitty tied up in his lab to get his kicks. And why does Felix return home between each world to answer his phone? How does he know she’s kidnapped if the villain never tells him? Why doesn’t Felix just get a cellphone and cancel his landline? Why not just turn your magic bag of tricks into a giant frickin’ robot, march straight up to the Professor’s door, blow him half to hades and take back your woman?
Ladies and gentlemen: Felix the Cat.
The 8-Bit Review
Since this was one of the last games to be developed for the NES, it is one of the better look titles on the system. Gone are the pitch black backgrounds of several other contemporaries, replaced with animated bubbles, stars, clouds, ocean waves and so forth. The enemies themselves aren’t particularly intricate but Felix wears his trademark laughing face throughout the game. The objects are well-defined though they suffer from frame fading on occasion. Still, there were already far prettier looking games being released on the SNES. Cinematic visionaries like Another World had already been on the market for years and Felix the Cat looks dated by comparison. So while it was one of the best looking NES games, it paled in comparison with other contemporaries for the next-gen consoles of the time.
Felix the Cat’s theme song is going to get stuck in your head because it is all over this soundtrack. Nearly the entire OST is lighthearted and adventurous, with a circular musical pattern that reminds one of showmanship and old vaudeville performance flair. I think only the Underwater theme is in a minor key. Everything else is a big, catty, black and white smiley face.
The transformations of the magic bag seems exciting at first until the realization sets in that there really are only a handful of different forms. The game could’ve stood to have a few other options in this regard, especially on the oceanic levels where there is only one transformation into the dolphin. The different magical forms merely serve as an extra hit for Felix without there being too much variation on his attack patterns and strategies.
Felix the Cat features a decent amount of dialogue, particularly for a platformer from the time. It has more dialogue in it than Super Mario World, a Super Nintendo game, for example. But even with so much talking in it, there’s little indication of what’s going on. And even what is going on isn’t particularly interesting or even beyond the norm. It’s essentially saving the princess from the castle, something so synonymous with gaming and ubiquitous in early platforming that it’s like the default storyline. That’s somewhat of a shame considering Felix the Cat has enjoyed many decades worth of stories and the characters who appear in his game go pretty much unnamed. I remember the Professor and Poindexter from the animated movie, but beyond that I haven’t the foggiest.
It couldn’t get much more basic than jumping and attacking, and the NES controller only had two buttons besides for select and start and the D-pad. It’s easy enough to understand what’s up with the mechanics of magic upgrades and taking hits during the first level or so, and you’ll learn quickly that it’s not enough just to jump on your enemies’ heads.
There are more difficult NES platformers out there, hands down. It takes about an hour to run through Felix the Cat. Many of the flying levels you can just float your way through, avoiding enemies and obstacles at the top or bottom of the stage, Kirby-style. The bosses, though fairly numerous, are extremely easy with simple patterns that are instantly recognizable and slow attacks that are child’s play to evade. The final fight with the Professor especially is an example of this. He hovers around in an arc riding his aircraft and lobbing bombs, but if you time it right (which is easy) you can slip under him and he’ll just bounce over you from left to right, allowing you to land a hit on him each time he passes over you. Plus, collecting the plentiful Felix-head items earns you several extra lives, since you get a 1up where you would normally upgrade your magic if it is already at max level. Giant magic bag warps in each stage (think pipe warps from Super Mario) contain dozens of such items, so it’s easy to rack up those 1ups and you’ll finish the game with far more than nine lives.
Though it’s a platformer, of which there are many, and though it relies heavily on the most basic format of video game storytelling, there really isn’t another single example of Felix the wonderful Cat in gaming. Building upon animation history and using the likes of one of the earliest cartoon characters in America has to lend Felix the Cat some brownie points. And while the upgrades to his magic bag of tricks aren’t exceptionally inspired, they do represent a unique form of power-ups for a video game.
My Personal Grade: 5/10
Whenever he gets into a fix, he reaches into his bag of tricks. But you know what he really needs to pull out of that magic bag? Something that will make him relevant again. I always remember Felix the Cat from the NES days, but I’m not sure why I do. There isn’t really anything remarkable about it and playing it for the first time feels like you’ve done it all before, just not with the iconic character of silent cartoons. His ship has sailed but at least he left with a grin. Or… I did read that Dreamworks acquired the rights to Felix, so maybe we haven’t seen the last of the jolly ol’ feline magician. “Righteeoh!”
Aggregated Score: 5.6