Retro Review: Felix the Cat (NES) – Does It Hold Up?

What happens when you take a 1920’s cartoon character, revive him in the 50’s, and then give him a direct to video movie and video game in the 90s? Well, you get Felix the Cat for the NES. Originally released in 1992 and developed by Hudson soft, Felix The Cat is an action platformer for the Nintendo Entertainment System and Gameboy that has the titular feline travelling through several worlds on a mission to save his girlfriend Kitty from an evil professor.

I was raised on a pretty steady diet of classic cartoons as a kid, which included a few of Felix’s silent shorts from the early days of cinema. In fact, Felix the Cat has always been one of my favorite animated characters for that reason, as I have a lot of nostalgia for those old shorts, and because of the huge impact that his character and character design has had over the years. And because of that, I had a blast playing through the game for this review. While this is actually my first time playing the NES release of the game, I actually grew up with a bit of an admiration for the port I owned on the original Gameboy. I had picked up the Gameboy version of this title back when I was 5 or 6 and visiting my cousins in the Philippines. It came on one of those bootleg multi-carts you can pick up that usually had a few dozen Gameboy ROMs on it. Of the handful of those multi-carts I had as a kid, the one that had Felix The Cat was always my favorite, in part due it having this game.

But… Does it hold up almost 30 years after its release? While one would assume that this game is little more than licensed garbage, given the NES’s proclivity for such releases, I’m proud to report that this actually isn’t the case here. Felix The Cat is, somewhat shockingly, a really solid game with fluid and fast paced action, colorful graphics, and a fairly good chiptune soundtrack. As for whether or not it’s actively worth checking out these days… Well, I guess you’ll just have to stick around and find out.

Gameplay

Felix the Cat (NES)

The NES version of Felix the Cat takes place across 9 different worlds, with each of them having a unique theme to them, such as tropical, western, or Egyptian. However, the objective for each level doesn’t change, as you’ll always be tasked with traversing the stage and trying to reach the goal. While this is all par for the course, especially on the NES, that’s not to say that Felix the Cat doesn’t try to offer a few subversions to the gameplay. The game features a number of power ups that, when acquired via a heart, transform Felix into one of several different forms. What’s great about this is that these power ups stack on top of each other, allowing players to take extra hits with a penalty of losing your powerup and reverting into the previously powered up form that you had. It works a lot like taking damage with powerups in later 2D Mario games and, as one can only assume that this game was created with younger players in mind, makes for a fairly forgiving and approachable mechanic. 

Felix the Cat’s power ups also help complicate the gameplay by way of offering specific advantages to using each specific form. For example, while Felix’s default attack of punching enemies with a boxing glove that’s attached to an extending arm offers the least range of any attack in the game, it can also technically clip through certain objects and damage enemies from behind barriers. On the other hand, Felix’s tank powerup offers increased damage and range, but at the cost of firing at an arc which makes it more difficult to hit enemies at close range. Likewise, Felix also has a powerup that fires stars in every direction and is great for defense play, but suffers from having as much range as the boxing glove. It’s a pretty nice touch and invites players to try and replay the game while relying on different power ups. In fact, I actually want to try and beat the game using nothing but Felix’s boxing glove — a decision that is sure to make for a significantly harder game. 

And, as if that weren’t enough, power ups also come with a time limit that can be extended by finding bottles of milk that are hidden throughout the game. Although, I really didn’t even notice this mechanic until well into my playthrough as it’s actually pretty hard to run out of time with your powerups. You’re simply more likely to beat the stage before you transform into a weaker state, or take some damage and lose your powerup anyway. It’s still a fairly nice touch though, even though it comes across as arbitrary in implementation. 

In terms of performance and how the game itself plays, Felix the Cat is a buttery smooth beast of a game. Unlike some other later NES games, like Kirby’s Adventure for instance, the game suffers from little to no slowdown or sprite flicker. It’s actually a really well optimized game that runs incredibly well. Overall, movement feels pretty quick and snappy, and the game’s hit detection is also solid. I will say that things can occasionally feel a little more slippery than I’d like it to, but that slippery movement is something that can easily be adapted to after a few minutes in the game.

Honestly, the only major complaint I have with the gameplay is what can best be described as some slight screen crunch. I don’t know if this is due to the game being co-developed for the original Gameboy or not, but I can’t help but feel like Felix the Cat needs a wider field of view. While not as bad as stuff like the Game Gear Sonic the Hedgehog games, there are several moments where its easy to take damage, either by jumping into an enemy you didn’t know was above you, or by walking into a projectile that was fired by an enemy that was offscreen. It’s not the biggest deal, by any stretch of the word but it’s a shame nonetheless, as those moments feel pretty unfair. Granted, this issue doesn’t actually make the game that much harder though, as power ups are relatively plentiful and it’s also pretty easy to stock up on lives.

In fact, Felix the Cat isn’t even that hard of a game, probably due to needing to appeal to a younger demographic. The game is a pretty cozy adventure, with relatively short and sweet levels, plenty of opportunities to power up your character, and boss battles that can be steamrolled relatively quickly if you’re powered up. There is a difficulty curve in the game, for sure, but it’s a relatively gradual curve that does a fairly good job of holding the players hand and should allow for newcomers to platforms of all ages to get at least a decent amount into the game, if not beat the game before long. I’m pretty okay with this game’s relatively low difficulty though, as I believe that difficulty is usually hardly indicative of how enjoyable a game is. However, if you pick this game up looking for a challenge, I’d recommend trying to do a playthrough without any power ups or something along those lines to artificially raise the difficulty.

Graphics

For an NES title, Felix the Cat looks solid. The worlds are vibrant and colorful, sprites are solid and well animated, and things are generally easy to decipher and interpret. For an NES game, Felix the Cat manages to squeeze a lot of detail and personality out of the consoles limited color palettes. While it is a little annoying that Felix’s powerups stick to a weird and kinda nauseating salmon and lime color scheme, it’s also not the worst thing I’ve ever seen and is due to a relatively understandable limitation of the hardware.

One of the little details that I happen to think is a pretty nice touch is the fact that, at several points in each level, you can see clouds on screen that are in the shape of Kitty calling for Felix’s help. Little details like this are absolutely delightful to see and do wonders at helping shape this games atmosphere.

Now I could be wrong in saying this, so take this with a grain of salt, but I do have to circle back on the games screen crunch issue. Things just feel a bit too cramped on screen for my liking and like they should be a bit more zoomed out to help players see more of the action. As I mentioned earlier, this is hardly a game breaking issue, but it’s still a bit weird to see be a problem to begin with, especially since the game’s score and lives information is displayed on a card that takes up a lot more of the bottom of the screen than it needs to. My only guess for why this is the case to begin with is that the game needed to run at a lower resolution in order to play smoothly, but I also don’t know if that’s true or not, or whether simply designing the levels differently could have circumvented this issue. At any rate, it’s kinda a shame that this is the case as the game is a delightful looking NES title that would have benefited from being able to see as much of the levels as possible at any given moment.

Music

Felix the Cat also happens to have a pretty great soundtrack for a licensed NES title. None of the songs sound all too similar to each other and are all pretty catchy and enjoyable on their own merits. Some songs are better than others, sure, but I also certainly wouldn’t call any of them duds either. They all have at least one segment to them that gets stuck in my head whenever I play the game and honestly sound really good for the NES. There’s also a really nice detail in this game where the music’s instrumentation starts to simplify itself as you approach the exit of each stage. It’s actually pretty awesome. Besides that, there really isn’t much else to say about the music here. It’s simply solid.

Closing

So does Felix the Cat hold up? Absolutely! As I mentioned earlier in this review, it’s easy to ignore licensed NES titles as there are a lot of them out there that are little more than shovel ware. But that honestly couldn’t be further from the truth when it comes to this game. Felix the Cat has great gameplay, a ton of personality, and makes good use of the NES’s hardware. These qualities, coupled with the relative surprise of it being a good licensed title, means that Felix the Cat absolutely holds up. Expectations can sometimes be weird like that, as having lower expectations for a product can result in you being pleasantly surprised by it.

In terms of pure game quality, I’d likely say that Felix the Cat is a competently made and fairly worthwhile title. However, the inherent value and enjoyment one can get out of the game is raised somewhat due to the fact that people are less likely to want to seek it out to begin with, when compared to trying or replaying more common and well beloved titles like Ducktails. It is worth mentioning though that while I was pleasantly surprised by this game, that extra enjoyment I got out of playing this over something else wasn’t explicitly from the gameplay itself, but rather how I didn’t expect this title to be as good as I had remembered it being from back in my childhood.

Pound for pound, Felix the Cat is a great game and is worth adding to any NES collection or backlog for fans of the platforming genre. It’s a bit of a pricey cart though, so you may be better off emulating this one or using a flashcart if you plan on playing on original hardware. 


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