Andrew Braybrook's the man responsible for Commodore 64 classics such as "Uridium" and "Paradroid", so it is with a deal of anticipation that one expects this game to be in the same league. Well.... yes and no....
One thing's for certain, however: there are no alleys with cats in them. That's a different game. No no no... these "Kats" are different.
The cassette inlay boasts of a game about space racing. You have an "Alleykat speeder" and your goal is to win the "Alleykat Finale" at the end of the season for fame, money, and glory.... but mostly points. This is achieved by earning enough money through the season to be able to pay the exorbitant racing fees to enter later races.
One thing to note about these races. There aren't any other speeders on the track when yours is launched, which is somewhat odd. To make matters worse (or less boring, take your pick), there's a bunch of aliens all over the course, and each of them have funny names, (like the "Katerkiller" which looks like a Caterpillar! ho ho!). Additionally there's a whole pile of obstacles dotting all over the terrain on the course, just lovingly put there so your ship can smash into them and give the spectators some gladiatorial thrills, pretty explosions, and death to witness.
I think it's safe to say that without any other racers, a bunch of aliens, and obstacles all over the place, that there is no real "racing" involved. Oh no. This is more like a running of the gauntlet, where only survivors get to win. What this means is that the game is more of a shootem-up like Zaxxon.
The "racing" season consists of months, and each month has different races available for you to choose. Each of the tracks have different kinds of obstacles on them, and these obstacles vary in toughness, and how densely they are placed on the track. Then there are other things to consider, such as how many laps you will do, and what kind of race it is. Depending on the type of race, you will be awarded bonus points based on how well you achieved the aims of the race. These aims can either be related to how fast you completed the course, to how much of the terrain you destroy, to how many of the aliens you kill.
Additionally you can see how much a race costs to enter, and how much you stand to win if you finish it.
Graphically, the game is superb, and the intro presentation sequence is really well done. Your fighter can do loops and rise and drop in elevation. Additionally you can put your speeder into battle mode which unfolds wings which carry extra firepower. All of this smoothly animated. The landscape scrolls smoothly below you, even at very high speeds. The controls are complicated at first, but when mastered make the game fun to play. Getting used to the craft momentum is initially tricky. Once mastered, there's some fun to be had by shooting up the aliens, picking up free money off the track, or replenishing your speeder's energy form the tokons of the ground.
The title screen music is really quite catchy, and after many years I still remember how it goes. The sound effects in the game are interesting, but especially the bullet sounds when you fire your cannons actually make them feel like cannons. Additionally the groaning of your craft as it smashes into a heap really led to the atmosphere.
What lets the game down, unfortunately is the shallow gameplay. As a shootem-up, the game is actually quite good, but this isn't enough to hold interest for too long.
While an attempt is made to vary the races by offering hard courses alongside easy ones, you'll almost never choose the hard ones. This is because the races that offer the most profit seem to be the ones with weak obstacles, so your chance of survival in these races is much higher by default. Should you attempt a course with hard obstacles, you can mostly expect to crash before you finish the first lap. This unbalanced approach to risk-reward when choosing a race lowers the game's replay value.
Secondly, if you choose a course with dense, hard obstalces (like "hard wall" or "skullnia"), it's usually one small mistake or two and your speeder crashes. If you have no money to go on to the next race, it's a quick, and cheap, and frustrating, game over. If you're being smart and picking easy courses through the game until the "Alleykat Finale", be prepared for a quick death when you get there. If you are lucky enough to survive the first lap of the Alleykat finale, you may stand a chance of winning the game. If not, at least your death will be quick.
There's no real incentive to go for the special bonus points in the level. If the course is a slalom course, or a demolition course you'll find that most of the gates to enter are already smashed up by the aliens come your third lap! With unforgiving smashes, it's too risky to attempt to play skilfully or go for the bonuses, and as long as you finish the course in one piece, you'll win. To that end, it's too easy to finish most of the races simply by hacking a channel out on one side of the course with your firepower, and then speeding up to do laps until the end of the course. It's boring, but it works!
Combine all these problems with the unbalanced race selection, and whatever veneer of variety there was intended to be in the game is dashed. It all gets very repetitive after a while.
All in all, however, the game is still quite fun to play if you're not trying to win. Even if there is no real incentive to go for the bonus points, attempt the hard courses, or try shooting up the aliens, the challenge is there.... and of course, you can always play for a high score!
Downloads: Music, Advert
|GRAPHICS - 8/10|
|Great presentation, varied bas-relief styled graphics, and smooth scrolling. Brilliant crash sequence.|
|SOUND - 8/10|
|Memorable intro track that I can still remember after all these years. Solid, thumping sound effects that really fit the game.|
|PLAYABILITY - 6/10|
|Badly weighted race selection. Cheap, unforgiving smashes that finish your game in one hit. Nothing to stop you using the "side-alley cheat"|
|OVERALL - 7/10|
|A beautifully presented game that looks, feels, and sounds great. Let down by thin gameplay.|