The American computer classic Alley Cat was initially born as a one-screen prototype made by John Harris, an Atari programmer working at Sierra On-Line. An influential figure at the time, he best known for his work on the successful hit Jawbreaker (Atari PC / Atari 2600 / IBM PC / Commodore 64) and Atari port of Frogger. He was not pleased with the work-in-progress and handed it over to Bill Williams, a programmer friend from Synapse Software, previously known for his Atari computer games Salmon Run and Necromancer (which also got a Commodore 64 release) and then later for Mind Walker (Amiga 1000 exclusive) and Sinbad and the Throne of the Falcon (a multi-platform game which became one of the Cinemaware early hits).
Harris significantly changed the original while working on it and then Synapse Software released the result for Atari PCs in 1983 and IBM PCs in 1984. In the game, you play as a sneaky cat named “Freddy” and your main objective is to reach your feline love interest, Felicia. The ultimate goal is to scale a building, but you jump into various windows to begin a minigame, mostly ones where you cause various types of mischief, as cats like to do. Although it should be noted that the occupants themselves are no better, practicing all kinds of haphazard bizarre things. It seems to be a quite troubled neighborhood overall.
When the game starts, you see a screen where you can choose the difficulty (“Kitten” for Easy, “House Cat” for Medium, “Tomcat” for Hard and “Alley Cat” for Very Hard) and learn the controls (which is great if you don’t have a manual, pressing Ctrl + R to restart the game is not really an obvious choice for a modern player).
Then you start in the alley. There’s a tall fence with garbage bins nearby for you to get past, in order to enter the building through one of the windows, which automatically open and shut. The jumping physics are something you really need to get used to, but once you do, the game becomes easier to control. The design touch with the fence is pretty cool – it’s not just a part of the environment. Aside from featuring many random graffiti, which are a standard part of any city street, it also shows your high score and how many lives you have left.
The game shows the dangerous life of an alley cat as it is – on the very first screen, there’s a dog running around trying to catch and eat you. You can jump on a garbage bin so it won’t reach you, but there’s also a rival cat who tries to throw you out of the can. But once you manage to successfully jump off the bins, there are windows. As mentioned before, the neighborhood is quite troubled, if not gone completely nuts. As the result, someone opens a window from time to time just to throw some garbage at a poor cat, meanwhile ignoring the many mice running left and right on the moving clotheslines (which you can catch and eat for bonus points).
You enter various rooms (five in total) through various windows and get presented with challenges inside them.
First off, there’s a room where you must get three ferns from the top of a bookshelf, which is, for whatever reason, really important for Freddy. It would be relatively easy, if not for the large spider who lives in that very room and strongly disagrees about Freddy’s position about obtaining the ferns.
Another room presents us with a undeniable proof that this is indeed a wholeheartedly mouse-loving community – it has one huge chunk of cheese which fills the whole room. It’s a one big mouse hive, some sort of a paradise for them, and the mouses surely do mind if there’s a cat visiting their domain of pleasure. They even have a guardian – a living broomstick which keeps an eye out for any hunter, also successfully cleaning the floor at the same time. They’re so certain about their bastion (the cat won’t be eating cheese to get to them, after all) and its guardian, so they even tease Freddy, peeking from cheese holes just to tease the cat. Freddy must catch three mouses in order to proceed. The broomstick acts aggressively towards the cat, but is much more obsessed about cleaning, so you can leave some pawprints on the floor to distract it. The broomstick won’t kill Freddy, but it can push him around the room to make life more difficult. Not to mention it can throw him right out of the window.
The next room has a birdcage standing on a table in the center. The hunting instinct of the cat asks Freddy to push the cage off the table and eat the creature while the bird tries to escape. There’s also another living broomstick here and a dog who will try to stop him.
The fourth type of room is highly dangerous, filled with many sleeping dogs, probably the most surreal setup in the game since they are guarding bowls with milk and there’s a levitating milk box which pours some fresh milk into them. And yes, you need to drink everything they have.
And finally, there’s a room with a giant fishbowl, being guarded by the already familiar cleaning-obsessed living broomstick. Your task is to eat all the fishes while dodging the electric eels, who are also happen to live there. Aside from the obvious danger of being electrocuted, you also need to come up for a breathe of fresh air so you don’t drown (the cat becomes pink when it needs it).
Completing the room awards you with a number of points proportional to the time taken to complete it. Once you’ve finished them all and you’re back at the alley, Felicia calls for you from one of the windows. Freddy needs to reach that window where the final challenge awaits him.
The stage is the hardest of them all – it’s a room with platforms made out of valentine hearts, with other rival cats who walk on them. Felicia and all these cats share the same orange color sprite, which is confusing. The top orange cat is Felicia, the other ones you need to avoid, otherwise you fall down a level if they touch you (they, however, do not fall). Of course that’s not all, as there are also static cherubs all over the screen, shooting diagonally at the poor cat, making him fall if the arrow touches his fur.
But if you’re successful and you touch the top cat (which means you kiss Felicia), the level advances by one and you get an additional life. The difficulty increases, and the enemies become faster. The multiplier has a threshold of 30, then it just stays the same. And then you proceed strictly for the maximum high score, as the arcade nature of the game suggests.
The Atari 800 original has the best graphics. The PC Booter version is stuck with CGA visuals while the PC Jr. version has better colors. Plus the main menu no longer looks way too black like in the Atari version. Otherwise the differences between them are minor, most being graphics-related. Take the final screen, for example – the cherubs are animated and now shoot at you from the top of the screen plus Felicia finally has a different color and we learn that she is a snow white beauty. However, there is a bug where an enemy dog doesn’t hurt you when a broomstick viciously attacks you. This allows for an easy completion of the level with a birdcage, if you get all things right to set in a loop.
The game is loved so much that it spawned not one or two, but four fan remakes.
Alley Cat’s Life (Symbian, 2004)
There’s barely any info about this fan game made by Robert Mik (under the label Creator Mobile Games) for Symbian-based smartphones back in 2004, aside from it being withdrawn after initial release since it was unplayable on Nokia Px00 Series due to dependency on the MobiClip player.
Alley Cat 2 (Windows PC, 2006)
A PC freeware game from an Italian fan of Alley Cat who calls himself The Thinker. Despite number “2” in the title, this one is more like a really rough remastered port of the original rather than a sequel, let alone a remake. It’s extremely buggy and poorly made, to the point of being simply unplayable, and feels like a complete mass. There’s a bug you’ll always encounter right from the start – a rival cat who appears from every garbage bin at the same time and just stays on the screen, making it impossible to finish the very first screen in the game. The developer also added a new bizarre empty room with the question “WHAT’D YA THINK?”, with answers “Y” and “N” written on the wall (walking anywhere or pressing either Y or N won’t do anything). Who knows what to do here.
Not to mention there’s a huge design flaw encountered at the beginning – the cat, mice ,and open windows share the same pitch black color, so you can’t see what you’re doing while climbing since they all get mixed up. The art itself is far from coherent and the images seemed to be ripped off from some other games or random Google Images pictures.
And at least it’s actually released, it’s free and it’s still available for download. The author also made some work ripping the assets from the IBM PC port, releasing them for everyone in separate archives (also sharing both versions of the original game).
Alley Cat (Anroid / iOS / Samsung Bada, 2012)
There was also a canceled Russian remake of the game for the mobile devices, developed by Umbrella Game Labs, which also started a crowdfunding campaign to support it. It didn’t gather any attention on IndieGoGo and there was only one backer, some might say it’s because of the poor PR campaign, but it may have been because of the sum they were asking. Asking $25,000 dollars for a small mobile game which is a fan remake of a 1983 arcade game is kinda insane, especially doing so on a less known crowdfunding platform like IndieGoGo. (In 2012, you could buy a new flat in one of the big Russian cities with those twenty five thousand dollars.)
They provided a trailer showing some footage. The lush and colorful art they made for the remake is pretty decent, although it definitely looks more like a scripted animated cartoon rather than an interactive game.
It seems they gave up not just on the game, but on the game development in general – their Twitter account is dead since 2012 and the last series of posts were about that campaign. Yet it’s definitely suspicious that the account was created just for that IndieGoGo campaign and then went silent after it didn’t get any backers. Back in 2012-13, the website had information about Alley Cat remake and some game called Apple Dragon. It’s no longer possible to learn more since the website is now closed.
Alley Cat Remeow Edition (Windows, 2018)