You may not have realised that you need a hybrid of mobile stalwart Snake and Pac-Man: Championship Edition in your life, but gosh, you really do. Pix The Cat is a PS4/Vita game from Rayman: Jungle Run devs Pastagames, out now, and it's wonderful.
You play as the titular blue moggy, who has fallen into an apparently infinite series of mazes. In each, you're tasked with rescuing a series of ducklings in eggs. Run into them — like Pac-Man, Pix moves automatically until you push the d-pad or analogue stick to change direction — to free them from their ovoid prisons, and then you can guide your quacking charges to circular drop-off points for a score reward. Once they're all safe, a portal opens up, and you spiral down to the next stage (which, brilliantly, you can see in miniature form within the current maze) and repeat the process.
It sounds easy, and at first it is pretty straightforward, because you'll only have a handful of ducklings to pick up and drop off before moving on. But gradually the mazes get more complex, and if you double-back on yourself and bump into any of the ducks following you, you'll lose them all — and, crucially, your combo, which steadily builds as you make it through consecutive mazes without error. Similarly, you won't get the full bonus if you pass through any of the deposit points before you've collected all the eggs in a maze — the remaining eggs will crack open before you reach them, and while you can still pick up the ducks, your prize is that much smaller.
To further complicate matters, the longer you go without mistakes, the faster the game gets. You won't be able to earn the really big scores without reaching Fever mode, at which point the tempo of the background music picks up significantly, increasing the sense of urgency, and making Pix that much twitchier to control. You're given a brief window when you collide with a wall before you lose your multiplier, which is a boon on the trickier levels, some of which invite you to dive back out before coming back in at a different entry point. And then the enemies come in…
Each stage is essentially a miniature spatial puzzle that you're given mere seconds to solve, and that's what makes it so frantic. The levels are mostly the same on each subsequent playthrough, which allows you to learn the optimum route to glory, but then there's some that are subtly different and force you to improvise. And when the floating skulls arrive, you've not just got to consider where you're going but when. And then you'll realise that hiss you hear sometimes when turning is actually a mini boost that you get by nudging the d-pad or stick at just the right time when cornering and oh god why can't I stop.
It's also strangely beautiful in a bright, hyperactive way, and if the giddy thrill of just playing the damned thing isn't enough, there are a bunch of unlockables to motivate you to beat your previous best, from sound tests to announcer voices, player ghosts and whole new game types besides, including the comparatively calm puzzle-led Laboratory mode, the stunningly pretty Nostalgia mode and an arena-based multiplayer I haven't tried yet.
It gets even better if you've got PlayStation Plus — Pix The Cat was announced as one of October's free games. If you own a PS4 or Vita, this looks to me like a future arcade classic in the making.