Freak Da Cat

June 1, 1997
33.6 KB
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Closer Look: Freak Da Cat

By: Dr. Dos
Published: Jan. 31, 2019

Tired: "Press F to Pay Respects" Wired: "Press δ to Act Like a Snake"

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Freak Da Cat

By: Hydra
Published Under: Interactive Fantasies
Released: June 06, 1997
Download | Play Online | View Files

It's very difficult to say what genres ZZT is actually good at. Its RPGs suffer from flag limits preventing a large amount of characters, equipment, spells, and stats. Its action games run out of memory as enemies can't share code if they take more than one shot to defeat. Its attempts at drama run up against everything being a smiling face. Its platformers are played on a rigid grid, with unresponsive controls and clunky physics.

But fortunately, nobody let that stop them and you'll find all sorts of attempts of making these games either in spite of the limits imposed by ZZT or at their mercy. Today we're going to take a like at a 1997 platformer by the renowned Hydra78 of Interactive Fantasies, Freak Da Cat. It's an excellent example of ZZT doing something it shouldn't be doing, not doing it all that well, but still showing enough weird charm that you can't help but love it.

We've seen a few platformers already in this series, which all fell under the category of Lemmings clones. Freak takes things in the more traditional direction: he can jump and he can shoot. Is it ZZT's answer to Mario? As much as any other ZZT platformer really. The genre is notoriously rough, but for an audience of fellow ZZTers this is the sort of thing that could impress people who knew just what the author was up against in making such a game as opposed to outsiders who will struggle more with its flaws.


As a native Dutch speaker, just as in his earlier Indiana Jones game from earlier, the English here is just off enough to feel slightly unusual, but not so much that anything is difficult to comprehend. Freak's release date would imply that the game was simultaneously being worked on with Indy, which has a release date of barely a week before Freak.

The title screen has a scrolling marquee looping the game's name and company. There's a palm tree and some words of motivation below it? The title screen explicitly calls the game out as a platformer, still quite the novelty at the time of release.


Technically speaking, the game starts on the wrong board, but it doesn't actually matter as it starts on the credits board that connects with the game's main menu. The background is Freak in his natural state, doing nothing on the beach.

░▒▓█ Freak Da Cat Credits █▓▒░
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
Freak Da Cat is an Interactive Fantasies

-=< Graphics >=-
             Niels Reyngoud

-=< Music/Sound FX >=-
             Niels Reyngoud

-=< Level Design >=-
             Niels Reyngoud

-=< Beta-testers >=-

-=< Interactive Fantasies Members >=-
(In order of joining)
       Sander Pieterse (Hercules)
        Niels "Hydra78" Reyngoud
          Olivier Cornelissen
       Alon De Maa (beta-tester)
           HM (beta-tester)

-=< Thanx to: >=-

Tim Sweeney
(Without him we all had to search a new

ALexis JAnson, Barney9651, Famous,
Spectrum12, Luke Drelick, Chronos30,
ECreator2, Monthigos, Myth, Nathan
Ridley and all the other great ZZT/MZX
        For their wonderful games.

      For -guess what- playing this.

-=*( Bye! )*=-
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

The game's credits are the usual, everything by Hydra except for testing, and a nice long "thanks to" section that makes sure to thank you for playing his game.

This being the early days of Interactive Fantasies, the company is less a group of prestiigous ZZTers and more a group of friends and family that hang out together and enjoyed making ZZT worlds.


The main menu opens with a pop-up scroll explaining the game's story and how to play it.

-=(|) Freak Da Cat (|)=-
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
-=< The background-story >=-

Just when the hero of our game,
Freak Da Cat, was busy with his favorite
hobbies (eating, sleeping, etc...)
some jerk came up to him and captured
him. The jerk only said that his
plan was to kill all the cats in
the whole world and that his name
was Mr I-Love-Dogs (?!). Right after he
was put into a cage, Freak noticed
Mr I-Love-Dogs had forgotten to lock
it. He escaped, but now he's inside
the garden in front of a huge wall.
At this point you take over control.
You will have to take care of Freak,
and you will have to make sure he
escapes succesfully. Be careful! Normal
cats may have nine lives, but Freak
only has one!
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

ZZT's greatest villain, Mr. I-Love-Dogs, plans to kill every last cat and is a monster. Fortunately he's not too bright and after capturing Freak, gives him an easy escape. Freak's goal is to stop the evil plot by finding and defeated Mr. I-Love-Dogs.


Since this is an early platformer, Hydra has to provide some instructions since the ZZT player will be spending the vast majority of their time in a corner surrounded by arrows to manipulate Freak. Hydra opts for a shooting method that doesn't involve having the player shoot and something getting shot to make Freak shoot, instead simply having the down key touch an object that tells Freak to fire. Freak can only shoot in a single direction, but the game is structured so that this limitation never really matters.

On some boards there are special controls (and oh boy are they good) which replace shooting and are helpfully shown on a portion of the board dedicated to listing the game's controls at all times.


Because Hydra's engine requires the player to be surrounded by objects, pausing the game is an instant soft-lock. The only way to unpause in ZZT is to move, and if the player can't move, that's it. Alternative engine designs can get around this, but this is where Freak Da Cat's challenge comes in, since it means every level has to be cleared in a single segment as restoring a saved game starts the player paused.


The main menu is your usual IF style, a series of passages to play the game, view a catalog of the company's releases, and the credits. The blue/cyan/white fade of boulders is one you'll see a lot in ZZT games. For whatever reason it gained some popularity.


Half the fun of these Interactive Fantasies games is seeing the catalogs.

Interactive Fantasies Catalog
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
Interactive Fantasies Catalog

This is a catalog of the Interactive
Fantasies games for ZZT, SuperZZT and
MegaZeux. The following are finished:


1. The Search For The Lost Dog

For: SuperZZT
By: Sander Pieterse
Size: 238k
Type: Adventure

Your lovely dog has been captured. You
must search it in a strange world, with
strange places and people. You
will visit the Den, the Town and many,
many more.


2. Fantasy Of Freedom

For: SuperZZT
By: Niels Reyngoud
Size: 100k
Type: Fantasy Adventure

You are Gus Turnell. One day, you were
walking through New York City. A sorcerer
came up to you, he casted a spell and you
fell asleep. When you've woken up, you
notice you are in a strange world with
orcs, trolls and dwarfs. Your goal is to
escape from this world.


3. Indiana Jones:
The Search For King Solomon's Mines

For: ZZT
By: Niels Reyngoud
Size: 205k
Type: Adventure

You are Indiana Jones. After your adven-
tures in the Temple of Doom, you tried to
relax. But you feel like you need another
adventure. At that moment, the bell rings.
This is the beginning of another long


4. Freak Da Cat

For: ZZT
By: Niels Reyngoud
Size: 203k
Type: Side-Scrolling

You are Freak Da Cat; the hedonist. Once,
when you were in your alley some jerk
captured you: his name is Mr. I-Love-Dogs.
you've managed to escape out of his house.
Now you are in his garden. Your goal:
Try to escape out of the garden and the
rest of the city!


5. The Incredible Building

For: SuperZZT
By: Niels Reyngoud
Size: 41k
Type: Action

You are Rick Sundyke, and your firm
was researching Artificial Intelligence.
One day it went wrong. The computer
was made so intelligent that it took
over the whole building. Now you're
trapped on the ground floor. Your goal
is to escape!


6. Fireball Engine

For: MegaZeux
By: Sander Pieterse
Size: 110k
Type: Tool

An engine, which shows you how to make
fireballs. It is meant to help
programmers making an RPG with spells.


7. King's Quest ZZT

For: ZZT
By: Niels Reyngoud and MeBo
Size: 286k
Type: Adventure/RPG

You're on a dangerous mission to
kill Ravenlos, the evil cousin of
Manannan. You will encounter Ogres,
Centaurs, Clerics, etc.. in this
new fantasy game for ZZT.


  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

I love these catalogs that a lot of early IF releases included. There's something so charming about them, and honestly I wish more ZZT worlds had them.


The game can begin properly, but there's one last warning about when to save your game in order to not get locked up.


So this is Freak. He moves, he shoots with a recharging cooldown, and he jumps. Each level is a small window of the entire board with a listing of the controls for the level and its title.


The jumping physics are always the most important thing in ZZT platformers, since they're pretty much going to determine how difficult doing anything is. Freak is decently responsive feeling, but his horizontal movement when jumping is extremely limited. This means most jumps are going to be life or death.

Hydra is both kind enough to make sure there are no pits to fall in in this first level, but these platforms begin to fall when Freak lingers for too long. It's definitely possible to have the blocks fall so much that Freak can't make it to the top and shoot at the missile.

Freak can shoot while in midair at least, so it's not very likely to happen at least.

Also, there's a missile. Pretty much every level has some special element to it which gives the game some variety.


In addition to the missile, there's a flying fish that leaps out of the water once Freak gets close and basically acts as an elevator to the newly formed hole in the fence. Freak is kind of a weird game.


Due to the fact that objects can't push objects in ZZT, Freak landing on the fish causes it to just hover in midair, endlessly attempting to continue moving north. Freak needs to jump in order to let the fish keep lifting them both up, but if he winds up jumping too high, the fish will reach the peak of its own jump and begin descending to the water again.


After making it to the gap in the wall, a little victory tune plays and the shoot button disappears so the game's player element can move into a passage to the next level.

The next level begins immediately where the first left off with Freak dropping down the wall and having to get past a house which happens to have a bottomless pit directly beneath the front door. Some small blocks on the door frame move up and down giving Freak a chance to test his jumping with some more serious consequences for failure this time.


The pit has to be crossed three times in total, as once on the other side the path forward is blocked by a lion. I assumed it was a dog, but the object is named lion. Fortunately a switch can be thrown to cause a bomb to fall out of one of the home's windows.

Freak can't actually be killed by the lion, as an invisible object will block him from approaching with a message about the lion being in the way. The object that blocks Freak from the lion is named Tigerb. This is a weird game.


Standing next to the bomb activates a countdown message, but there's no need to move the bomb or escape its blast. One the timer runs out the lion disappears without so much as a kaboom sound or message.

Though I assume the object wants Freak to interact with it directly, due to the way objects can't tell what they're blocked by, it's also possible to activate the bomb (and any other object like the switch) by shooting it. There's no code for handling being shot, but the bullet ends up blocking the object for a cycle and that's all it takes.


The third level is where things get a little scary. Freak needs to make several precise jumps in a row over a pit of bubbling lava. The platforms will fall if Freak stands on them too long so it also has to be done at a reasonably fast pace.


I was pleasantly surprised to make it across in one attempt! This is one of a few levels that doesn't introduce anything new. It's all pits and blocks.


Level 4 makes up for it by being the first level with special controls. Here Freak can no longer shoot, but instead, "Act Like A Snake".


There's an item up top, though it's not clear what it is until it's been collected. The diving mask is necessary to successfully jump into the water and make it to the next level alive.


Bull. I have never lamented that ZZT is a crude ASCII game more than trying to imagine a cat imitating a snake. It's probably adorable.


Instead the player needs to wait until they're up close to the Snake and Freak freaks out. This time the player needs to do the imitation quickly as unlike the lion, the snake will bite and poison Freak if he lingers.

I don't know why a snake is afraid of a cat pretending to be a snake, but it works.


With his newly acquired diving mask, Freak can swim across whatever body of water this is. Underwater the controls are made floatier and Freak can swim up repeatedly.


The shoot meter is replaced with an air meter, and Freak needs to resurface every so often to refill it.


At first glance I thought that Freak just needed to get to the left pocket of air and exit from there, but there's a small switch on the bottom that opens up the first air pocket.


Now Freak can leave the water and continue his quest. I would have liked if the other place to surface was made a little more steep to make it more obvious that Freak can't get out from there.


Welcome to Kananabu Isle. It's got palm trees and see-saws. At a glance the level looks pretty straight forward with some item or object to cross the water, and a see-saw on the other side.


Alas it's no tropical paradise.


I don't know what actually happened here. Coconuts begin falling, but I'm guessing a coconut didn't appear properly and bonked Freak on the head while still invisible. Honestly the code is straightforward and I have no idea what could have caused this.


On my next attempt, the coconut death was much more deserved. The coconuts fall at set intervals with each coconut telling another one to fall once it finishes its descent before it turns itself invisible and rises into the palm tree so it can fall again endlessly.


The division sign turns out to be a spring, which automatically launches Freak on the proper trajectory to make it across, and a mysterious purple object falls from the tree.


A Barney reference in 1997!


Lastly is the see-saw itself, which is perfectly level until Freak shoots the breakable and lets the rock fall directly on it.


ZZT is not designed for the angles to create a convincing rotation here.

Freak is launched into the atmosphere and the level concludes.

Level 7 is nothing more than a short cutscene of Freak being launched into space. I'm amazed the opportunity wasn't taken to have him dodge meteors or something.
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