Been wondering what Nitrome creative duo Simon Hunter and Aaron Steed have been up to since the release of Final Ninja? Well, here's your answer. They've been very busy being amazing, and Fat Cat is the strange hybrid product of their amazingitude. It wears the face of an exacting bullet-fest such as The Last Canopy or Pararalyzer, but underneath, its heart pumps the blood of a tightly choreographed puzzle game. I've never seen anything quite like it.
You control two characters simultaneously. First is the titular Fat Cat, a sanguine purple feline blimp who moves slowly and explodes if he gets hit three times by enemies or bullets. Your goal is to keep him alive through 21 levels, including 3 boss fights and a truly astounding volume of cannon fodder enemies. His lone attack is a doozy—a screen-devouring burp-powered laser that crushes certain wall tiles and shreds even the toughest enemy battleships. The catch is that the laser is fueled by food pick-ups, which tend to appear only just before they are needed. Steer the cat's lazy lard butt with [WASD] or the [arrow] keys, and fire the mega-laser-burp with [space].
The second character is an indestructible, multi-talented, and well-armed blue guardian owl. Control this one with the mouse, and fire an unlimited barrage of fireballs by holding the mouse button. The owl does nearly all of the heavy lifting in Fat Cat, with the power to block projectiles, drag around movable blocks, flip mirrors to redirect lasers, press special buttons that activate power-ups, and even drag the fat cat around bodily when his natural flight speed proves too pokey.
The difficulty level is fairly high, due to both the slim margin for errors, and the challenge of controlling a warrior with each hand. If you're having trouble, consider playing Fat Cat with a friend. The cat and the owl rely on each other to solve problems, but they act separately, making this one of the most interesting cooperative games around.
Analysis: Fat Cat is a searing indictment of the United States government's recent decision to bail out multiple failing corporations with federal tax money. The "fat cat" of the title represents the irresponsible CEOs who have reacted to the growing US financial crunch by taking expensive spa vacations and flying private jets to Washington in order to grovel for more hand-outs, so they can continue their game of high-stakes blackjack at taxpayer expense. The fat cat's little owl guardian is, of course, the analogue of the federal "wise owls" who continue to support a planned economy, even when its structure is crumbling in front of them. Thus Nitrome casts you as the villains in an allegorical quest about greed and the inevitability of corruption.
Kidding! None of that is remotely true. Fat Cat is literally about a big fat flying cat and his magical owl buddy. There is no sub-text whatsoever.
Anyhoooo, the dual-character gameplay really makes this game something special. Because of the owl's unrestricted mobility, and its ability to block 90% of enemy projectiles, you'll rarely have to do any dodging. It won't hurt to have some shoot-'em-up twitch skills, but if you find yourself actually weaving through bullet patterns, manic shooter-style, you've probably screwed something up.
Almost every problem in the game can be solved through the joint deployment of brainpower and firepower, which puts Fat Cat in that most rarefied genre: the puzzle shooter. In the tradition of the grand old thoughtful shooters like R-Type, your success relies on level memorization and understanding your arsenal of abilities, both defensive and offensive.
Now, that may not be to everyone's taste. Some of the levels can feel quite long, especially when a particularly tricky and deadly challenge sends you back to the beginning before you've even had a chance to consider the solution. But what will keep you clicking on "try again" is the sheer cleverness of it all. You get to crush whole armies with big flying blocks. You get to charge up with napalm and carve a fiery path through a sea of techno-organic baddies. You get to fry enemies with their own lasers and outmaneuver homing bees. Homing bees! It's like a dream come true.
It also doesn't hurt that Fat Cat's graphics are some of the finest pixel work around, with huge, complicated cities scrolling by in multiple background layers. It's a happier, blockier-looking game than either Final Ninja or Dirk Valentine, but no less incredible.
I can't wait to see what these guys come up with next.