Re(?)Considered: Tom & Jerry: The Movie

A bad game? Don't you believe it!

On the occasion of his eightieth birthday, I'd like to send a very heartfelt "Happy Birthday" from me to Tom. Not Jerry though. Bollocks to him. He's a little prick. It would be feat of earth-shattering proportions for me to hate that little mouse any more than I already do. Okay, so Tom tried to eat him a few times, but he's a cat! It's his instinct! He should be praised for his restraint, not punished for trying to live his life. Most of the time Tom's just chillaxing and Jerry rocks up with a hammer and smashes all his teeth or something. He's nothing more than a cowardly bully, and if not for my desire to retain an audience, I'd call him far worse.

Crucially, then, Tom & Jerry: The Movie for Sega Master System has you play as best boy Tom, in a mission to pursue and capture the hateful Jerry. While it's named after the risible 1992 flick (in which Tom & Jerry sing a song about how close of friends they are and help a little girl find her presumed-dead father, sorry for the spoiler), it has absolutely nothing to do with it. Instead, it's a rather ingenious chase-'em-up in which Tom has to - yes - catch Jerry across six varied levels.

Somewhat unusually, the controls are closer to the likes of Prince of Persia or Flashback, the "cinematic platformer" style. This may seem strange but it works in practice, as the slightly awkward play control lends itself to humorous slapstick screw-ups, bolstered by the rather good animation. Tom has a "hurt" state for nearly everything, and his cartoony nature is used well. Holding Button 1 makes him sprint, but if you sprint into a wall or platform, he'll flatten against it humorously and lose a life point. Sounds frustrating, but it's an interesting application of cartoon physics to the gameplay. In addition, if you sprint off a platform, instead of immediately falling you'll furiously pedal at the air for a second or two before your plummet. Pure cartoon logic, and it's wonderful.

Also wonderful is the way that while there are defined endpoints to each level (with Jerry cornered), a skilled player can outsmart the mouse and catch him early. Rather brilliantly, he's just ahead of Tom at almost all times, visible moving through the levels ahead of the player. On occasions your paths will intersect, and if you're playing well enough, you can grab the little sod and finish the level early. It makes you feel like a genius, like you're breaking the game even though it's obviously by design.

The major downside to the game is, frankly, it's far too easy. True fact: I was bought this game for Christmas at the age of six or seven, and I saw the credits less than half an hour from booting it up. Despite its simplicity, though, I have returned to it many times - I'm convinced there are more efficient ways to catch Jerry, and it's downright fun trying. My last playthrough I beat the game in less than nine minutes, and that was including one failure/death. It's short! But it's a lot of fun to replay.

While Tom & Jerry: The Movie is lacking in length it has an enormous amount of charm and playability, and it's downright impressive just how well it captures the raucous feel of a good Tom & Jerry cartoon. It even has a level where the pair of them sit on the train tracks and wait for death. Okay, that's not true. But how bleak was that episode?!