Game of the Week (5/6/18) – Cat Trax

Remember that sort of obscure Exidy arcade game called Mouse Trap which was ported to the Atari 2600, Intellivision and Colecovision home consoles? In case you don’t, let me refresh your memory. Mouse Trap is a maze game where you control a mouse that must eat all the blocks of cheese on screen while avoiding hungry cats. You could power up your mouse up by eating bones which turn your little fearful mouse into a big fearsome dog, thus turning the tables on those pesky cats. It also had a unique game feature where you could open and shut different colored doors by using the corresponding buttons, thusly creating barriers between you and the cats. Mouse Trap may not have set the world on fire and likely came off to many as a Pac-Man clone but overall it’s a fun game and plays well on the Intellivision and Colecovision thanks to the extra buttons on their controllers and the use of the overlays to tell you which buttons corresponded to the various colored gates. So what does that have to do with this week’s Game of the Week from the Arcadia-2001? As I had alluded in my previous post, most Arcadia-2001 games were simply knock-offs of more well known titles since Emerson was either not able to or else didn’t try to get third party licensed games. This meant that the developers tasked with creating games for the Arcadia-2001 were likely instructed to make similar, yet different, games already available on competing consoles (pure speculation on my part, admittedly). When I play Cat Trax, the more well known game that comes to mind isn’t Pac-Man like some have suggested, but Mouse Trap.

With the Arcadia-2001 games, Emerson pulled out the old cartridge numbering trick that the Fairchild Channel F most notably implemented in the late 70s. Each cartridge box lists a “cart #-xx” and that same number can also sometimes be found on the bottom of the cartridge’s back label. Cat Trax happens to be listed as cart #1. In Cat Trax, you play the game a cat this time and the dogs are your tormentors. According to the back of the cart (I don’t own the manual), the little dots you’re trying to eat up are catnip and the little glass beaker looking thing that pops up in the middle of the screen and grants your cat invincibility is supposed to be a fish. I swear it looks like a round bottomed chemistry beaker with blue-colored fluid in it. There are 3 different colored dogs chasing after you in the maze and by eating the fish/beaker looking thing that pops up periodically, your cat turns into a little Dog Catcher truck and you can now move around the screen faster while also being invincible. Once “caught”, the dogs are sent to the doghouse located in the top/center of the maze. There is a handy little timer in the doghouse that counts down to let you know how much time you have left as the Dog Catcher. This is useful in determining how much time you have to loiter around the upper section of the screen since the dogs are let free from the doghouse when the timer runs out and can easily trap you if you don’t move away in time. The length of this timer changes as the levels increase similar to how long the ghosts stay edible in Pac-Man shortens with each successive level.

Cat Trax has other notable gameplay features such as gates that can be opened and closed using the keypad on the Arcadia-2001 controller. The game’s overlay indicates which buttons perform which task. I don’t find the opening and closing of gates in Cat Trax nearly as useful as it is in Mouse Trap where it’s a primary game feature. Here it feels sort of tacked on. There are also tunnel exits on the sides of the maze that immediately send you over to the other side of the maze similar. The number of tunnel exits depends on which game variation you use. There is also fruit, specifically an apple, that randomly shows up at the bottom of the maze to eat for bonus points and a warp feature that allows you to get out of a jam by sending your cat to another part of the maze instantly. You only have 5 warps per game, however, so use them sparingly. My only real complaint about Cat Trax is that each level uses the exact same maze, but Pac-Man did the same thing and everyone calls it a classic so I don’t consider it too much of a detraction.

Cat Trax takes the basic Pac-Man maze game recipe, adds a healthy dose of Mouse Trap features and the end result is one of the best games for the Arcadia-2001, lack of originality be damned.

Rating: A-

Currently in my collection: game, box, 2 overlays

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