The NES has no shortage of quality action platformers. Contra, Ghosts n’ Goblins, the Castlevania and Mega Man series, all while being among the most well-known action entries on the 8-bit behemoth, only scratch the surface of the assemblage of titles that are really worth playing. There are a host of lesser-known classics available that deserve their time in the spotlight. So, let’s start with a simple-but-fun title developed by Atlus in 1991 named Rockin’ Kats, released on the Famicom as the cringingly-titled N.Y. Nyankies.
In Rockin’ Kats, you play as Willy, who is pushing pavement trying to rescue his girlfriend from a brutal mobster. Armed with a spring-loaded cartoon fist, Willy can punch bad guys, pound the ground to bounce higher into the air and grapple and swing from ledges ala Bionic Commando, although the feel of the swinging is more akin to Ristar. You select your stage at the start by choosing from a list of TV channels, and then you begin your adventure. The levels are mostly standard platforming fare, but there are a few auto-scrollers, and we all know how great those are…
In terms of overall quality, Rockin’ Kats fits squarely in the fun-but-quaint category. There was obvious effort put into this game but it does show its age a little more than something like Mega Man 2, with it never really taking any risks but still succeeding in providing a fun platforming experience that keeps me coming back. It is the sort of retro game that naturally encourages you to improve your skill over time. Some platformers, by the nature of their design, are more successful at this than others. What makes Kats interesting is the grappling mechanic, which adds a layer of technicality that requires some skill to master and can open the door for some swift tricks to speed through levels and skip sections of each stage.
There are some notable differences between the NES and Famicom versions of Kats and it really just comes down to performance. To me, the Famicom cart seems to play a little better. This isn’t uncommon for faster games or games that require a lot of timing as the Japanese versions can occasionally have slightly differing framerates and controller latency. Emulation can often mask this, but if you play a Famicom and NES copy of Super Mario Bros. back-to-back, on-hardware, the difference is subtle, but it’s definitely there. The Famicom option is certainly worth going for here anyways considering the cost hurdle for the North American release.
For collectors, the NES cart of Rockin’ Kats remains in the gap between “very uncommon” and “rare”. It’s a subtle place for games that aren’t exactly hard-to-find on the market, but still fetch a high price due to demand (see: Fire n’ Ice). This game is sought-after and regularly brings with it a hefty $100+ price tag but you can generally find several on sale on marketplaces like eBay. The Famicom cart is significantly-cheaper, though, provided you have the necessary hardware to support it, so for most serious collectors who focus on simply being able to play the game on original hardware over their collection’s total monetary value, the import is probably the way to go This is generally the case with very uncommon or rare games from Japan due to a lot of these imported games having been either shipped to North America in limited quantities (as was the case with Rockin’ Kats) or ported very late in the NES’s cycle after a majority of the gaming market had since migrated to contemporary 16-bit platforms.