The Mega Cat Chronicles
A blog series by Scrobins
Episode 1: Diamond Thieves
In the beginning, homebrew was the hobby of mad scientists experimenting with their own limited resources. There were no supply chains. Donor carts were the norm. But the community’s potential increased dramatically with the arrival of publishers offering molds for new cartridges, technical expertise to polish a game’s code, and a range of services, including the printing of quality labels, boxes, and manuals, and distribution through their online storefronts. Homebrewers were no longer constrained by their own means but could tap into the resources of others, such as RetroUSB. InfiniteNESLives, Broke Studio, the 6502 Collective, and Mega Cat Studios.
Sibling to the defunct 8 Bit Evolution, Mega Cat Studios has grown to become one of the biggest platforms for homebrew, as well as games for modern consoles. In addition to its own passion projects, the Mega Cat portfolio includes a number of commissioned projects as well as the initial or follow-up releases of other devs’ games at a greater scale. It is in that spirit that Mega Cat has cultivated new collaborations to expand its presence and broaden homebrew’s reach with partnerships such as 8 Bit Legit with Retrotainment Games, and a brand-new opportunity with Video Game Sage!
It IS the game
That’s right, VGS is teaming up with Mega Cat Studios to release homebrew games and promote their developers. Mega Cat combines its thick rolodex of developers and its publishing & distribution muscle with the talents of VGS’ staff, including my writing, and CasualCart & BortLicensePlate’s artistic prowess, and our collective promotional reach to help bring new physical releases to gamers that might not otherwise see the light of day.
And to think it all began with a miscommunication.
On September 22, 2021, Nemezes tweeted about a limited release (just 5 CIBs) for a new game from Mangangá Team: Ladrões de Diamantes, or Diamond Thieves. I messaged him about getting a copy for myself, unfortunately international shipping costs made worldwide distribution prohibitively expensive. Nemezes hoped to find someone who could distribute his game beyond his country. That search was apparently fruitful, because on October 27, 2021, no less than James “Mega Cat” Deighan emailed me, saying Amaweks (another prominent member of Mangangá) mentioned I was interested in buying a small run of Diamond Thieves.
I was confused at first, I just wanted a copy for myself. It’s worth noting here that James and I were hardly strangers at this point; we have met in person and emailed back and forth over a number of projects. So I think it’s safe to say we were already good friends. And like our many other emails, this email wasn’t just a quick transactional back and forth, but a full-on conversation, catching up with each other on top of talking about the game itself. Eventually the conversation pivoted to an interesting idea: what if VGS partnered with Mega Cat to release Diamond Thieves and other games in our own joint series?
A flurry of emails, forum threads, and video calls followed as the excitement of what we could do to play with this opportunity was fleshed out. We would have a lot of leeway to put our mark on these releases. Both Mega Cat and we could draw on our respective staffs’ talents and communities to encourage brewers to release games they might like to publish but, for whatever reason never took that step toward Kickstarter or any of the other publishers.
This collaboration has been such a blast! James enjoyed CasualCart & BortLicensePlate’s new art so much, that he asked them to put together a storyboard for the release trailer. And Diamond Thieves, with its premise of aliens and robots fighting over gems, you can imagine how much we sank our teeth into making fun art and text for the box. We are excited to launch this series and are proud for Diamond Thieves to be the first game to herald what more there is to come.
BortLicensePlate’s Box Design with CasualCart’s Cover Art
To help shed light on the games getting a physical release through our collaboration, I’m also launching a spin-off to my homebrew blog A Homebrew Draws Near! To highlight the publisher who makes it possible, I’m calling this series The Mega Cat Chronicles. So let’s get started: for this entry, I’m covering Diamond Thieves, a platforming adventure for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, developed by Mangangá Team. As of the time of this writing, CIBs of the game are available through Mega Cat Studios here.
Original CIB Design by Saruzilla
Diamond Thieves first popped up on our radar with an October 31, 2020 tweet, in which Nemezes teased the beginnings of an “alien game.” Its title was announced in another tweet on November 8, 2020. More news entered our orbit over the course of the following year, sharing gameplay mechanics and occasionally crowdsourcing input on sprite design, such as how best to distinguish the various keys needed to complete each stage.
On September 22, 2021, an initial CIB run of 5 copies of Diamond Thieves was announced. Given the shipping/export costs associated with mailing out of Brazil, the reach of these carts was understandably limited. Enter the Mega Cat, with an assist from VGS.
Early Development Screenshot from Diamond Thieves
Diamond Thieves is a platformer with a pinch of puzzle work. You play as an alien adventurer, locked in the eternal struggle against robots in a race to scoop up the diamonds scattered throughout the universe. You must make your way through each stage, collecting diamonds, finding the keys needed to unlock your path forward, and defeat the robots who would enslave you. Climb ladders and boxes, jump on springs, push buttons, do whatever it takes to reach the checkpoints that mark your progress. Every step counts but watch out for the creatures and pitfalls of each level because these worlds won’t give up their gems too easily. At least there are hearts to replenish your health, and coins galore (10 of which will grant you an extra life)! You aren’t completely defenseless; armed with your laser pistol, you have a fighting chance in such hostile territory, but be careful not to waste your shots or you might be caught in a sticky situation while waiting for it to recharge.
The game’s controls are intuitive. Left and right on the d-pad moves you accordingly, while up and down will help you climb any ladders. The C button allows you to jump and jump off ladders while the B button shoots the laser pistol, but only when the laser bar in the HUD is full. Start pauses your game. And of course you can reconfigure the controls to your liking in the title screen menu.
Screenshot from Diamond Thieves
Diamond Thieves is a hefty scoop of colorful cuteness that easily could have been the genesis of a 90s Saturday morning cartoon. This is a game well-suited for players of all ages, serving as the kind of simple platformer one can turn to as a relaxing escape. Reminiscent of family-friendly forays like Kid Chameleon and Toe Jam & Earl 2, Diamond Thieves is a light, fun adventure that knows some homebrew fans want to pass their nostalgia on to younger generations and will need games with low barriers to entry to appeal to them. Adding to its low-pressure ambiance, Diamond Thieves offers a password system so you can pick up & play, then drop it down & return at your convenience. But don’t interpret this to mean that the game is easy. The limits of your laser attack make you especially vulnerable if you aren’t judicious with its use. And more than once I fell into the trap of assuming that because each key has a distinct color and number that is consistent across each stage that means they are to be obtained in that order every time, forcing me to backtrack to obtain a key I thought I was supposed to leave for later.
As I’ve mentioned, the graphics are cute and colorful, despite the landscape’s tricky terrain. There’s something amusing to how the platforms hovering above water wiggle to warn you they’re about to plummet. The backgrounds add an other-worldly layer to the landscape, and its parallax scrolling adds the sense of depth only found while galivanting in deep space. Meanwhile Diamond Thieves’ music taps into the sounds players love that only the Sega Genesis provides. Those deep bass riffs we’ve come to expect from this 16-bit console, paired with the music’s higher pitched twangs and sound effects perfectly articulate the soundtrack defined by the keywords “cute”, “spacey”, and “fun.”
Stay tuned for part 2 of Scrobins' Mega Cat Chronicles: Diamond Thieves Interviews!