I'm getting this one for sure.
How many games can we count that use a time rewind mechanic, or something similar? One of the most notable examples has to be Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, released in 2003 across all present generation consoles of the time, including Nintendo's GameCube. Blinx: The Timesweeper for Xbox is another famous one, trying to make the idea its own, and more recently Braid made itself well-known to players. However, this mechanic is much older than these prominent examples would suggest. The first game to attempt to capture the sense of power afforded by time control was Pitman for Game Boy, released in 1990. This was a port of an even older game programmed by Yutaka Isokawa in 1985 for the Sharp MZ-700, an obscure Japanese home computer. Pitman made it to Western shores on the handheld the same year under the name Catrap and was ported years later still for mobile phones in Japan. Fast forward to 2011, and Catrap has resurfaced, given a new chance to shine on Nintendo 3DS’ Virtual Console.
The premise of Catrap is that Catboy and Catgirl, or Pitman and Pitgal if you're playing the Japanese version, are thrown into a maze and forced to work their way through 100 different rooms to get out of there. A room can only be escaped by solving a puzzle, accomplished by bashing all the enemies on screen from their left or right side. Catboy and Catgirl can't jump, so they have to be standing on firm ground next to an enemy before they can bash them, which is where the puzzle aspect of the game comes into play.
There are several kinds of enemies that don't necessarily behave the same way. None of them move, but some stand on ledges, platforms high above the ground or movable blocks. Others, however, float in the air like ghosts, seemingly out of reach, not falling even if you remove the dirt or blocks they appear to be standing on. Each room in Catrap is made of dirt, movable blocks, solid rock and ladders. Enemies are reached by digging your way through dirt, pushing or stacking blocks, or even by using other enemies as platforms.
Catrap’s digging and pushing mechanics can be compared to Boulder Dash, or even Sokoban due to the fact that you can get stuck by moving important blocks against walls. Catrap still boasts enough originality when compared to other games of its kind though. Most stages not only require that you dig and move objects around, but also that you do it in a very specific way. The more you advance in the game, the more likely it becomes that there is only one order of action that will allow you to solve the demonically hard puzzles. Seeking what to do and in what order is the very essence of Catrap, which proves both challenging and exciting for your neurons. It’s very rewarding when you finally get the right solution and complete a level that you spent a lot of time on.
You can choose between Catboy and Catgirl before entering each level, but this only influences which background music track is played. However, a good portion of the 100 levels feature control of both characters, alternating between the two at the press of a button to make them cooperate. Having two characters aiding each other towards the same goal might sound like it would make things easier, but the most advanced levels all make use of this formula and are well built around the idea, creating a bigger, even more fun, challenge.
As mentioned, it's easy to get stuck by pushing the wrong block, or digging a square of dirt that should have been left alone to reach a certain foe. Some of the later levels being really hard and long to beat, this would mean that you would have to start the level from scratch - but that's where the infamous time rewind mechanic enters the scene.
Indeed, you are able to rewind your actions step by step. Catrap keeps track of your every move, letting you rewind the action back until the very start of the level; an impressive feat for such an early Game Boy title but obviously helped by its very simple nature. This grows increasingly helpful as you progress further. Rewound back too far and wish you hadn't done so? As long as you haven’t yet changed the course of action by inputting a new move after the rewind, a press of the A button can make you move forward in time once more, reenacting the actions you just cancelled. Take the Ctrl + Z and Ctrl + Y actions that many of you will be familiar with on computers as a point of comparison; it works in exactly the same way!
On the visual side of things, Catrap’s graphics haven't aged particularly well, but they still do a pretty good job of representing the environment and the actions of both characters. In this case, better graphics wouldn't have made it a better game. The uncluttered visuals help you to focus on finding the solution and more detailed graphics would probably have distracted the player from the main subject.
One hundred levels are there for you to bite into. While this might not seem like much at first, given how the early levels last a mere 10 seconds, later levels are so hard that they can potentially last you over an hour. Once you beat the main game, there's the possibility for you to create your own levels to experience later, similar to Lode Runner, or to share with your friends who possess the game. There's no save feature built in the game to record your own creations. The game outputs passwords which you or your friends can input into their game to play them. Catrap’s 3DS Virtual Console release adds no new functionality such as sharing levels online. However the saving function of the Virtual Console on 3DS allows you to cleverly save your creations in your system as well as simply saving your progress in the main game. The 3DS notepad also comes in handy to write down passwords, so when the Swapnote functionality of the 3DS finally launches later this year, players will also be able to exchange passwords directly between systems.
Lastly, be warned that Catrap will give you the Tetris effect, the sign of a very addictive and thought-heavy game. Your servitor here found himself seeing little Catboys and Catgirls moving about before his eyelids at night on more than one occasion, trying out different combinations to solve particularly challenging levels.
Simple and very limited, yet super efficient controls, and a mechanic which in terms of quality is right up there with the likes of Tetris, Boulder Dash and Sokoban.
Uncluttered visuals which look outdated but still do the job perfectly. The lack of colours isn't a huge issue but could ultimately have helped.
The music is quite catchy at first, but the limited amount of music tracks and their very repetitive nature, being the same 20 or so seconds of music playing on loop, can get annoying after hours of play.
The amount of time it might take you to beat the 100 levels really depends on your aptitudes. It could easily last you around 10 hours, potentially more. The level editor built-in adds even more replay value.
Catrap is truly a charming little game and a fine example of what the Virtual Console should be all about: giving old gems, especially those which were originally overlooked by the audience, a new chance to shine. It's the kind of game that could truly skyrocket if it was given a proper colourised revival with a user-submitted content sharing system. Here's hoping that the 3DS Virtual Console release will generate enough downloads to warrant a new version for 3DSWare. Similar concepts with comparable physics like Boulder Dash have been expanded upon and have seen countless releases in the past 25 years while Catrap has remained in the shadows, despite being an equally worthy game with loads of untapped potential at its core. Its early unleashing on 3DS’ Virtual Console serves as a good indication of how well regarded a classic it is, and it shouldn't be ignored by fans of the puzzler genre, especially since the original cart isn't as widespread as more well-known titles on the system. This 3DS release costs only a measly £2.60, which is less than most other Virtual Console releases, making it one of the finest investments you'll make on the system - provided that you like a good challenge.
I'm getting this one for sure.