Name: Zig Zag Cat
Format: Super Famicom
Publisher: ITC & Suntory *
Zig Zag Cat is a very strange idea for a game. Basically, it is a paddle and ball game in the same vein as Arkanoid, Breakout, etc, but wth RPG style elements in between the levels. As anyone with half a brain might guess after reading that sentence, it's from Japan. Unfortunately, the rom has not yet been translated (although I found out about it on the website of Tomato, the translator who has done Bahamut Lagoon and Star Ocean amongst other things) but I am sure it is on a multitude of to do lists, so we should be seeing a translated version in the future.
Despite the fact that it's in Japanese it is still quite possible to play and enjoy the game even so. Levels consist of the main character (who you name at the start) wandering up a road or similar, wielding a huge paddle used to bounce back the ball which flies round the screen destroying blocks. Although the ball looks like.. well, a ball during the levels, in the RPG style intermission sections it appears that the ball is, in fact, a cat. This would sort of explain the title, I guess. Gameplay is at first reasonably simple - a scrolling screen full of blocks, some of which take more than one hit with the cat to disappear. The player moves the paddle left and right, and it is possible to move the paddle upwards briefly, so as to get the ball to travel at a different angle.
To advance in each section, it is not necessary to clear all the blocks off the screen, but to destroy the "black block". This block looks slightly different from all the others, and changes each time you hit it - first one eye opens, then the other, and then it disappears. At this point, the screen will either start to scroll further up, or if it's the end of a stage the hero will walk into the building. Some stages have lot of these black blocks which must be destroyed in order to progress, whereas some are very short. I'm not sure exactly how many of these stages there are in the game, but I'm at the start of world 3 and I reckon I'm a bit over half way through (in some of the buildings there is a map of the circular island, on which you can check your progress).
Later levels spice up the formula by having more than one black block at once, twisting roads, power ups, enemies (there is a health bar at the bottom of the screen) which get in the way of the ball, bosses, blocks which are indestructible, etc. Nothing very innovative, except for the concept of the game in general. The RPG sections in between levels seem to offer nothing more than a save point, an item shop (the only one worth buying is the one that extends your paddle, second from the bottom if I remember), and sometimes a bonus room which can be used to acrue huge amounts of money. You never really need money to progress, and there are no puzzles to solve, so this really is the perfect game for non Japanese speaking people (like me) to play. The game does become very repetitive but I'm sure when the translation is finished, the plot (which appears to involve 3 men with big heads) will enthral you to keep playing. Maybe.
The rom is reasonably hard to find on the net but I'm sure the big databases like cherry roms will have it. It is worth playing, at least for a while, but hold on until the translation patch is released unless you really like Japanese insanity. I'll update this node when that happens. The rom is perfectly playable on Zsnes and probably on most other emulators - it is not very graphically complicated, and so is probably easy to emulate. Unfortunately, I have no idea how hard the original Japanese cartridge is to find.
One final point worth mentioning is the hilarious Japanese voices that speak on the title screen - it may be worth downloading and playing the rom for this alone.
* - I'm not sure if these are the publishers' names, but they appear on the title screen anyway. Anyone who can help me out here?
Sources: Playing the game.
Found out about the game at www.starmen.net/tomato