[freak.zip] - Freak Da Cat

Author
Hydra
Released
June 1, 1997
Genre
Platformer
Company
Interactive Fantasies
Size
33.6 KB
Boards
27 / 45
Rating
No rating

Closer Look: Freak Da Cat

By: Dr. Dos
Date: Jan. 31, 2019
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Freak lands on what I assume is supposed to be Mars, a new environment with low gravity and alien foes.

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The space levels look a bit nicer to me since they have a background compared to the black void of Earth plus some twinkling stars in the sky. The first thing Freak encounters on Mars is a heart which gives 100 health. Up until this point, all forms of damage to Freak have been immediately lethal, but now things are going to change as Freak starts running into foes to have a shootout with.

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You push the switch....
You wonder what happened..
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Freak can jump his wall up the cliff side via this elevator once the switch has been activated. Having a switch serves no purpose other than to make the level just a little more interactive.

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Once the alien sees Freak, they begin to endlessly fire bullets which take off 10 health with each hit. If ZZT has issues with action games normally, it really has trouble with them in a platformer. Freak's firing rate is pretty slow, and depending on how the stats for the bullets interact, it can be difficult to actually hit an enemy. At the same time however, since the game's internal stat order goes Player -> Freak -> Bullets, when a bullet hits freak, the player has a chance to move or shoot and cause Freak to go from their :shot label immediately to something like :jump, bypassing the hit safely.

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After finally landing a few shots, the alien is defeated and Freak can keep exploring.

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The next challenge is to cross another lava pit, but this time by riding a moving platform. Standing on the boulder will cause it to move down and free the lower pusher. Freak has to take a leap of faith off the edge and land on it, then keep moving (but not too fast) to stay on it.

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I really like this level. The platform is long enough that there's some room for error, but short enough that you do have be careful not to mistime your jump or move too fast when on it. Then there's the final jump at the end where Freak has that one last need for precise timing.

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"Freaky Movements" was good, but nothing in this game is going to top "Space Food" with it's Martian McDonalds franchise.

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You don't get this quality dialog in modern games.

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Oh yeah, and Freak can't shoot in this level, the action instead being replace with BUY/DROP A HAMBURGER.

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The amazing hamburger qualities of this level aside, there is one other really cool idea here that unfortunately doesn't show up again in that Freak can climb up the McDonald's signpost. Being able to climb up certain surfaces could have been a fun mechanic, but it just happens here without warning and never again.

And then to complete the level, Freak has to drop his burger on an alien's head to make them mad enough to punt him to the exit. This is Freak at its weirdest and most creative and I love it. It even makes a splash when it hits. I have no idea if this is supposed to be a condemnation of McDonald's or not.

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Level 11 is where things look scary. There's a long drop at the start of the level, and then crossing a horizontal lava pit, with a single tile wide platform being the only foothold available. It should be extremely difficult, requiring moving at the exact pace of the platform in order to move immediately after the platform does and gravity kicks in, basically requiring Freak to Wile E. Coyote his way across. Thankfully, it's not at all like this, as Hydra just kind of realized how awful that would be and made it so when the platform detects Freak is on it, the controls are locked and Freak automatically rides across in a set sequence of movements. If it wasn't such a bad idea to have the player do this themselves, I'd really be questioning the game itself saying "let me do that for you". And again, it's making me come up with cat based gameplay mechanics, perhaps make it so Freak can cling to platforms with his claws. With climbing and clinging to objects, I'm beginning to think there should be a 2D mascot platformer starring a cat. What could possibly go wrong?

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Freak hops of the platform and the player regains control. This leads to the next obstacle, a trampoline and a boulder. It is also not much of a puzzle.

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Freak is too light for the trampoline and well, I don't think there's much to figuring out this one.

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The boulder gets pushed onto the trampoline and begins bouncing endlessly. Freak needs to time his jump to get on top of it, which can be kind of tough actually. In a more sophisticated engine that could be a fun segment of doing a quick jump on the boulder followed by a quick jump off, but Freak gets to take his time as the boulder hovers in the air once he's on top of it.

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The level ends with Freak entering a rocket to head back to Earth.

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Space Sim.
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
Freak:

"Hey stop it! Don't I know this board?"

Author:

"That's pure speculation!"

Freak:

"Nono! I've already seen this already
Level #7. You're just to lazy to make
another animation!"

Author:

"I'm not"

Freak:

"You are"

Author:

"I'm NOT"

Freak:

"You ARE"

Author:

"Oh well, don't forget you're life
depends on me. If I like, I can put
some nasty traps into the game..heheheh.."

Freak:

"..."
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

Arguing with the author is a time honored ZZT tradition. As is the author calling themselves lazy. Hydra wins the fight by threatening to make things even more miserable for Freak.

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Freak's not wrong though, the animation plays out exactly the same just with a rocket to Earth instead of a cat to Mars.

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Freak is relieved to make it back home, but the feeling doesn't last, as a flying red devil (I assume, intended to be a Red Arremer from Ghosts n' Goblins) is blocking the bridge and also killing people.

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It's a pretty grisly scene honestly. Freak's only hope is to defeat the devil with the help of a new power-up.

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The Turbo Boost makes this fight bearable.

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Meanwhile the devil begins his assault, shooting off pairs of bullets and jumping around.

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With every shot, the devil bleeds some red fakes for blood. Such a violent game!

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The devil hasn't been defeated so easily however, fleeing before Freak can finish him off. Does he have anything to do with Mr. I-Love-Dogs? No. Does he show up again later? No. It's just there. Had it been a fight with Mr. ILD, things might make some sense and give the plot some actual progression instead of just Freak walking ever forward.

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The only "flying" the devil does is walks over the gap in the bridge without gravity affecting him. Freak can jump higher than him.

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The trampoline on Mars looked scary and wasn't, but level 14 is very much as challenging as it looks. Freak needs to make it over five jumps, and is being shot at in the process. The enemy is so far away that getting a bullet to hit him rather than collide with another bullet isn't reliable, and it's all too easy to bonk Freak's head on the clouds. Landing in the water is instant drowning (should have kept that diving mask) and the jumps are very tight. Freak can just barely make them, requiring basically perfect input to survive each leap. It's the worst level, but also the one that's the most satisfying to get through. Freak hasn't really asked much of anything from the player before this, so while it's a huge spike in difficulty, I think Hydra was on to something here, but the lack of mid level saves makes it a bit too painful to enjoy the challenge.

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Throughout the game, Freak has taken ten damage per hit taken. For the rest of the game, the way being shot works is changed. Now Freak can only be hit twice per level. One more and the "Super Doggie Bullets" will kill him regardless of his health. There's some irony in the fact that I arrived at this part of the game with 30 health, so I was going to take 3 hits regardless, and not get any health back, so technically this part of the game was easier than it would have been.

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With bullets now being extremely dangerous, Hydra begins using them in significantly larger quantities. Level 15 is all about jumping over bullets while slowly making it across.

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It's tough enough to die a few times, but feels a lot more in the player's favor than jumping across those springs from the last level. The Super Doggie Bullets still offer the player a chance to escape a hit by moving after all.

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What makes this level feel fair despite the bullets firing sporadically, is the few safe ledges to rest on. Being able to catch your breath for a moment before diving into the next row of bullets helps compared to the never ending danger of the springs.

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Level 16 brings back springs, and with a boulder to push onto them to shatter a wall that blocks the upper path. Bullets are also being shot over the springs, but the bigger danger is that Freak can bump his head on the upper wall and take damage for it. I'm not entirely sure Freak can move fast enough horizontally to make it across without taking damage.

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After the boulder shatters the wall, Freak has to proceed through the gunfire and springs in order to reach a switch to open up the left path where he can obtain a key for the exit door.

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This drain's the player's health which continues to make the SDB counter more of a blessing than anything else.

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Things get scary again with this series of jumps across moving platforms and through gunfire. It's still a more reasonable challenge than the springs, since Freak can manage to destroy the gun by shooting its support (not that I realized until I was already across). Being able to wait on the platforms also helps in letting the player take their time before jumping compared to the automatic movement from the springs.

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It's still a pain though since the platforms cover a huge distance vertically, and being a little off with your timing may mean jumping at a platform that's now moving upward making it even more difficult to cover the distance in time.

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Once across, Freak has to go into a pit and hit a switch to raise the gate blocking the exit. It's a one way trip so the only way back to the top is by riding up on a lava bubble. This is difficult to time not so much in getting back up top, but in getting on the bubble, since it "pops" and turns invisible as it descends to reset the animation. Freak's jumping height means he has to commit to his jump basically the moment the bubble appears.

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It's scary!

-=( Information )=-
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
After you walked through a small passage-
way, you came into a clearing in the
forest. Some sort of racing circuit was
here, with a kart ready for you. On
the floor you found a note. It said:

"To Freak Da Cat,

I've been watching you lately and
I notice you've managed to handle the
few obstacles I put there for you. In
a short time we'll have a match to see
who's the best of us. To escape from this
Kart-circuit you must race three laps
within the time of 40 seconds.

Greetings,
Mr I-Love-Dogs."

Like said in the note you must race
three laps in 40 seconds. You should
be very careful because if you bump into
the wall you won't be able to control
your kart for a few seconds. You'll
turn left and right with the buttons
(Note that this is for the direction
you're moving in, e.g. if you move south
and you press left, you'll move right.)
and you'll accelerate and brake with
the up and down buttons. Success!
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

The game suddenly changes gears and turns into a kart racer! It's a bit strange but the engine is mostly solid.

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The player gets to rotate the direction the kart moves with left/right and adjust the speed with up/down. There's the small issue here where the speed is adjusted by changing the kart's cycle, which means a slower speed also makes the kart slower to respond to commands to turn, but the course layout (and that of the next level) don't really give any need to actually slow down anyway. This first course is a very gentle introduction with most of the course being very wide, but the time requirements are still pretty strict, leaving me with 6 seconds on the clock after completing the requisite laps. Hitting an obstacle causes the kart to lock up for a few moments, but doesn't actually change the speed at all which leads to the curious side effect of hitting a wall at a low speed causing more time to be lost than hitting it at the fastest speed. These sort of engines always have to deal with the player just turning around and passing the starting point repeatedly to count as a full lap, and is done by having a portion of the course that the kart has to move through that's adjacent to a checkpoint object.

-=( Information )=-
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
After you had won the first kart race,
a passageway to a second race circuit
appeared. Again you found a note. It said:

"To Freak Da Cat,

Hahaha! You thought you were good
because you had won the first kart
race? Well, here's another, tougher one.
See if you can beat this!

Greetings,
Mr I-Love-Dogs."

This kart-race is controlled the same
as the last one. Your goal is a bit
different: Now you only have to race
1 lap within the given time. Success!
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
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The final course is just a single lap, but requires some much tighter steering. Another quirk of ZZT racing is that it's more difficult to try and move in a non-straight line. Moving 5 tiles south and then 5 tiles west involves making a single adjustment to steering, moving 5 tiles southwest involves constantly changing direction with every tile traversed. Still, despite any quirks, the racing is fun. This might actually be the earliest instance of a ZZT racing engine, and several other games would include racing segments. Racing as a genre never really took off since it's going to be time trials rather than anything with a CPU opponent, but there are some fun ZZT racing games in the Smiley Racer X series.

-=< Information >=-
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
After you had won the kart-races, a
passage through the forest appeared.
You walked through it and now you are
in the city where you started, again!
You can see Mr-I-Love-Dogs, standing
on top of a huge building. Guess you'll
have to prepair for the big battle!

Author's note:

If you ever the played classic Donkey
Kong in the Arcade or on the NES, you'll
probably recognize this level. The
goal here is to walk over all the up-
arrows, which disappear when you do so.
Eventually Mr I-Love-Dogs will
fall down.
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

The final level goes right back to some early platforming roots with a battle against Mr. I-Love-Dogs on a perilous contsruction site straight out of Donkey Kong.

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It's a tad more basic, with bunch of objects shooting bullets for Freak to leap over while collecting the studs. Timing the jumps to climb upwards can be tough, but it's nothing frustrating. The level is a cute little homage, and also has a proper background! It's a shame more of the game didn't have anything like this, as the level looks far more vibrant than anything else. Unlike Jumpman, Freak can't collect the studs by jumping over them and instead needs to walk on top of them and fall down every time. It's kind of a shame.

ZZT also suffers when it's time to cause the structure to collapse. Here Mr. I-Love-Dogs just plummets down the center while the structure remains as it was. The object count should have been low enough to have some of the structure fall along with him, but Hydra goes for the quick and easy solution here.

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The level ends with a congratulations and nothing more.

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The ending is pretty cute as Freak returns to a life of being a cat and not caring about anything, living his life lazing under a tree as intended.

Final Thoughts

Freak Da Cat is a fun little game! There's really not a whole ton to say about it honestly. It's enjoyable, challenging at a few points, and serves as a nice introduction to a basic ZZT platformer. It gets by on its charm more than anything, but it provides a fun experience. There's plenty of laughs to be had at the bizarre McDonalds levels or acting like a snake that make the game memorable and be worth playing.

On the negative side of things, the graphics are a tad sparse, with a lot of levels having plain black backgrounds. The shooting is slow and rarely useful (and when it is, you tend to shoot things once and be done shooting). The engine has issues with Freak being able to avoid damage. The levels are usually very easy or very difficult, without a smooth difficulty curve. Not being able to save in the middle of a level is a huge detriment when the game does throw a curve ball at you.

But it's a game where you drop a hamburger on an alien and that absolutely counts for something. I may have misled the poll by saying that Freak's catchphrase is "Shit!" when he doesn't say it at all in this game. Alas, that's the sequel where he says it every time he takes damage, but even without an iconic potty mouth Freak is a pretty memorable ZZT character.

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