C64 Retro-Gaming: Alleykat

When I got the C64 Mini console, I said I might do some retro-gaming reviews as I discovered or rediscovered old games I might have played on my Commodore 64 when I was a teenager. I'm not going to stick with the pre-loaded games from the Mini, but when I do, it'll be alphabetically. I'll try to play the chosen game a few times that week before rendering my verdict, but don't expect me to beat the game before I sit down to write about it. So let's give it a try, shall we?

Game: Alleykat
Made by: Graftgold (1986)
Genre: Racing, Shoot'em up
Did I have this? No

What Is It?
Alleykat is a cross between a shooter and a racing game. You choose from a list of races, in which you can take part aboard your Viper-like craft (BSG represent!) - the Alleykat speeder. These have different obstacle courses (that you can sometimes fire on and clear, but not always) and enemy Gravo Crafts (robots?) appear constantly, coming from the rear or the back (one of these is a big centipede that requires more hits, it's called the Katerkiller). If you get hit or you touch an obstacle you lose energy, which can be refilled by collecting energy cells. The game is over if you can't afford to participate in another race.
Gameplay
It's pretty simple, but until you memorize some of the courses, definitely not easy. As the landscape scrolls by under your ship, you can move side to side, or up and down in altitude (a good idea to go up as soon as possible to avoid raised terrain). I didn't know this when I first started playing, and thought I needed to slalom through the whole thing. Kept crashing, naturally, especially since it's not too obvious how high up the obstacles go. Firing the button of course fires weapons, but pressing the button during a move makes you do a loop-de-loop to avoid an enemy coming up from the rear. With practice, you can start to gauge where enemies will appear, back and front sensors pinging with a different sound. Races vary in difficulty. On some, you can just stick to the right margin and finish easily. Others, you're guaranteed a crash in the first second unless you know where to go. At least you can choose, and since not all races have entry fees, you could ride for a while before the end of the game even if you're crashing before the finish line. Each race is geared to give you bonuses for its particular challenge, like endurance, shooting, speed, going under arches, dodging, etc. Big fat "G"s on the course give you extra money when you fly over them, so there is "strategy" involved if you want to keep playing. Taking risks can pay off and let you keep playing.

Graphics and Sounds
Can't ask too much of mid-80s C64 games, but I do think Alleykat is an ugly-ass game. By dressing up as science fiction, it gets away with the fact the obstacles are mostly strange shapes with no real world analog, and not all color schemes are pleasing to the eye (purple on brown, for example). That said, there are some cool elements, like the bigger ship that drops you into the course (it's not needed, so it's just for fun), and the shadow that shows your altitude. Certainly can't fault the game's smoothness, the scroll's ability to go by extremely quickly once you've won (a kind of victory lap) doesn't judder, to the point that it made me light-headed. Whoo! And the crashes leave a trail on the ground, the length of which is determined by one's speed.

While in the race, there's no music so you can better hear warning sounds. Even so, it's not all that easy to interpret these, especially when your low-energy klaxon is going.
The World
As you can read from the back of the box, you're competing in 8 orbiting "Space Stadia" scattered around the Galaxy. Just what are these spaces and what do they orbit? The cover art shows Halo-like donuts, which helps when you have to lap yourself. It's weird, but who am I to judge the entertainment of the future? The same cover art shows a much cooler RED Alleykat, but otherwise, it's a good take on what you see in the game. The "season" is delineated in months with sci-fi names, and each stadium has its own name too. So there's native color. (Is it the same world as Uridium, to which this is a sequel? I don't know. I've never played it.)

Bottom Line
Not my favorite game included in the Mini, as it looks too cluttered and random. Though the races are meant to be different, I'd almost have to write down the specifics on a notepad to make the proper choices going in. When I have the hang of it, I'm not taking any risks and it's boring. When I take those risks to make it a little more fun, I'm crashing all the time. Maybe I've been too spoiled by driving sand boxes to properly appreciate set repeating driving courses (come to think of it, I'm not a big fan of strict racing games on next generation consoles either).

So how did I do? Did YOU, gentle reader, perchance play Alleykat on the C64 back in the day? Do you have fond memories, or lingering frustrations? Let me know in the comments.

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