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Socks the Cat Rocks the Hill

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Socks the Cat Rocks the Hill is one of the most sought after and intriguing unreleased SNES games now that Star Fox 2 has been released. The game was one of many licensed platformers set to be released for the SNES, but its concept has captured the imagination of SNES fans everywhere. What is the story of this lost game? Read on. Thanks to Ellen Fuog for a bunch of the information here, as well as many great scans! Also thanks to billscat-socks, Jonny and Nathan Eveland for information used in this article.

By: Evan G
Last updated: April 1, 2012

First off, I'd like to thank Nathan Eveland who produced an earlier article that appeared on this site for many years. It was of high quality, though as I have dug into this game during the past month, it became apparent there were several factual errors, and I felt it was time to update it.

Socks the Cat Rocks the Hill was one of two games planned by Kaneko USA featuring the Socks the Cat license. A Genesis game, Socks Rocks the Hill, was going to be a completely different game, not a port, and is also unreleased. The Socks the Cat license actually was not owned by the Clinton administration - rather a not-for-profit fan club based in Arlington, Virginia, known as Presidential Socks Partnership, Inc., controlled this license. The fan club was run by Robert Platt and Jay Wind, and their website on Geocities still exists in archives. In exchange for use of the license, Kaneko donated money to charity. The June 20, 1993 issue of the Chicago Tribune gave the details of this agreement:

Then there is Socks, barely out of his first 100 days as First Cat and already starring in two video games-one from Sega and another from Nintendo - as well as appearing as a plush toy and a logo for coffee mugs and key chains. How does anybody go about securing licensing rights to Chelsea Clinton's personal cat?

The answer is, by law, Socks is nobody's personal cat. His image belongs to the person who copyrights it first, and Bob Pratt, of Presidential Socks Partnership, won the race, along with the right to license his image.

Though he didn't have to do it, Pratt has promised a share of his profits to the Humane Society and the Children's Defense Fund, which happens to be one of Hillary Rodham Clinton's favorite charities.

Socks himself didn't even get a bag of catnip out of the deal.
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Kaneko was featured in Playthings Magazine (scan courtesy of Ellen Fuog)

Even back when it was announced, this game was a curiosity, if not scoffed at for its unusual concept. Though at the time of its announcement, Socks was a big deal, and even when I was a kid, I remember the celebrity position that Socks had.

The game was developed by Realtime Associates, who developed a number of games during the 16-bit era, such as Aaaaah! Real Monsters and Beavis & Butt-head: The Game. Apparently the game was complete.

Kaneko gets the Socks The Cat license

Being an upstart video game company, Kaneko quickly latched onto big name licenses to survive in the crowded 16-bit platforming market. The only two games that came out using this strategy carried the Chester Cheetah license, though they had plans to release games based on Fido Dido (the mascot for 7-Up) and Socks the Cat. In the June 1993 issue of Playthings magazine, there is a feature piece on Kaneko's products, and they clearly thought they had a winner in these licenses. Socks mania was in full force, and there was a big demand for anything Socks related. Given the popularity of the 16-bit systems was ramping up by the middle of 1993, it was a logical choice to create a video game.

Without raising a whisker, "Socks the Cat" has settled into his new White House home and created "Socksmania" across the country. In less than four months of the new administration, the White House cat has gained national attention by appearing on numerous episodes of "Entertainment Tonight" and in newspaper and magazine articles including Time Magazine and The Wall Street Journal. Socks the Cat was the hit of the recent International Toy Fair in New York City and now graces everything from his own plush doll likeness to T-Shirts, bumper stickers, and of course, socks. In his video game debut, entitled "Socks Rocks the House", he will venture from the basement of the White House to the Oval Office to create havoc with the President's allergies. Along the way, while the cat's at play, Socks must push Millie the dog out the front door as well as avoid Arab terrorist felines.
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Early box art for Socks the Cat "Rocks the House", from Playthings Magazine (courtesy of Ellen Fuog).

The Playthings article gives an early working title of the game (Socks the Cat Rocks the House), as well as an initial release date of fourth quarter 1993. A later blurb from the June 15 1993 issue of US Today narrowed the release to January 1994 (and the Genesis game to November 1994).

CRUSADER CAT: At least one member of the Clinton clan is as popular today as he was upon entering the White House. Socks has shown up on T-shirts, mugs, stationery. Next up? Socks Rocks the House, a video game from Surge Entertainment in which the four-footed furball searches for an ex-KGB agent intent on detonating the Rush Lim-Bomb and destroying Washington, D.C. The $49.95, 16-bit video game from licensee Kaneko USA, Ltd., will be out in November for use on the Sega Genesis Entertainment System; Socks Rocks the Hill, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System 16-bit format, is due in January.

I tried to find information on Surge Entertainment, but I came up empty. I think it must have been an error.

Socks shown at Summer CES

Back before E3 became the dominant trade show for video games, CES was the primary place for developers to show off new games. At the Summer CES held on June 1993 in Chicago, Kaneko showed off their games based on Chester Cheetah, Fido Dido and Socks the Cat. They held a cocktail party event to unveil the games on June 2nd. Needless to say, Socks the Cat stood out among all of the games shown at the CES. From the June 18, 1993 issue of the Chicago Tribune's overview of the games shown at the CES:

Most Politically Correct Software: Socks the Cat Rocks the House (Kaneko) puts you in the role of the First Cat, escaping "from the basement to the Oval Office to create havoc with the president's allergies." I am not making this up.

The August 1993 Nintendo power also mentioned the game along with the other Kaneko games in their CES overview. It was clear that Socks the Cat was attracting attention. This is a flyer which likely was given out at CES, with a real picture of Bill Clinton playing the saxophone.

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Early advertisement presumably for CES (courtesy of Ellen Fuog)

Late '93 release?

Clearly, Kaneko did intend to push for the release to be in the fourth quarter. It is mentioned in the September 1993 issue of Gamepro that it would be released in January 1994 (probably reiterating what was said at CES). There is a small preview in the November 1993 issue of EGM. A full page advertisement of the game appeared in the November and January 1993 issues of Gamepro. The ad says the game should have been available in Fall 1993.

Call it 'capital punishment,' but Socks the Cat, the nation's first feline, is at play on Capital Hill. Suddenly, 'political party' takes on a new meaning in these two new humorous games for Genesis and SNES. 'Socks Rocks the Hill', is a madcap adventure to save the world from nuclear annihilation.

Socks, the White House cat, discovers the missing portable nuclear launch unit in his favorite napping spot, the basement of a foreign embassy. To avoid mass destruction, he must return to the White House and alert the first family. But, a foreign spy ring has their own political agenda. They want to see Socks run, and not for political office!

The chase begins. Socks must overcome the likes of foreign spies, Enemy Animal Agents, politicians, secret service agents and the ever-present media corp. To keep the party alive, Socks pounces, tumbles, and negotiates his way out of the intricate secret passages and puzzles of Washington. This cat is in a ring of trouble, but not over the hill yet! 'Socks Rocks the Hill' is a one or two player 8 MEG game for Genesis and SNES. Comedic action, scrolling graphics and playful movement make this game a platform to run on, and on and on. Rock on with Kaneko USA's 'Socks Rocks the Hill.' Available nationwide this fall!
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Advertisement for Socks the Cat, from the November 1993 issue of Gamepro (scan courtesy of Retromags).
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Screenshot from the advertisementCourtesy of Retromags
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Kaneko shuts down

Clearly, the game did not meet its original deadline. Nintendo Power had a short preview in the May 1994 issue. In it, they state that the content might be considered a bit controversial, but that enemies were quite comical.

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Preview from Nintendo Power

Reviews for Socks the Cat started to appear in magazines between June and July 1994, indicating the game was reaching completion. From the June 1994 issue of Nintendo Power:

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Review in Nintendo Power (scan courtesy of Retromags).

From the July 1994 issue of Gamepro:

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Review in Gamepro (scan courtesy of Retromags).

From the June 1994 issue of EGM:

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Review in Gamepro (scan courtesy of Retromags).

Clearly, Socks the Cat was considered an above average platformer with some imaginative enemies based on political figures. As a bit of a political junkie, I probably would have enjoyed this cute game. The Ross Perot boss seems to have really impressed the reviewers. The Nintendo Power review mentions that the game can be challenging due to poor control, though confusingly the Gamepro review gives it a "beginner" challenge rating.

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Gamepro review screenshots.
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Nintendo Power review screenshots

Alas, the game was not to be. Kaneko closed its doors shortly before the release of the game. Though the game was reviewed, the former Kaneko employees I contacted say it was not complete. There has been speculation on the Internet that this game met its end because of Nintendo's censorship policies, but this was not the case. I asked Ellen Fuog, former VP of marketing for Kaneko USA about this:

Socks absolutely did not fall victim to any Nintendo censorship policies. Quite the contrary, they liked the idea; they liked the game. Everyone did. Most unfortunately, Kaneko did, indeed, shut down its US office around that time (summer 1994).

Jeff Hill, the former director of product development at Kaneko, says the game was nowhere near completion:

Socks the Cat pretty much headed straight for the litterbox. The game barely got off the drawing board and never got close to being a finished product. All we had at the time development was canceled was part of its first level. Discontinuation of its development had nothing to do with censorship. The game had a long, long way to go and Kaneko closed its US office in July of ’94.

The game was never submitted for approval either to NOA or Sega – and certainly never manufactured. I was the guy who would have submitted it! Honestly, the game was nowhere near complete – and development was stopped at least six months before Kaneko closed the US office. I was there to the bitter end – and about five months beyond (retained as a subcontractor to close up shop).

Someone says they have a copy and like the game! Someone else has a screenshot of the title screen. Amazing – because there was no game other than some early-development eproms (there were screenshots, though!).

I also asked Ellen about the status of the game when Kaneko shut down, and she thought it wasn't close to completion. However, Anne McDonald, who worked on the game at Realtime Associates, says the game was complete:

The game was never released. Kaneko Japan chose not to produce it when Kaneko U.S. was closed. The game did clear Nintendo and was complete. No know copies exist.

I also asked David Warhol, the owner of Realtime Associates:

Yes, we developed and completed Socks Rocks the Hill for SNES. The Genesis version was done by another studio and was called "Socks Rocks the House". I'll tell you this - it was VERY irreverent. The level bosses were main political figures of the time in situations that parodied their political lives. All I remember is that we had Nixon calling in bomb raids and we had Ted Kennedy driving a car around on a bridge. Maybe it's better it didn't come out after all!

So, the developer of Socks the Cat says the game was complete and ready for release. The fact that box art was ready for this game also suggests it was close to production.

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Socks the Cat box - front
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Socks the Cat box - back

Prototype

DreamTR owns a prototype of Socks the Cat Rocks the Hill. There is a short film of one of the levels:

The video supports the assertion by Realtime Associates that the game was near or at completion. The graphics in the level are the same two of the screenshots available from the reviews of the game. In all likelihood, we'll never see any gameplay beyond this shaky video.

Summary

Socks the Cat Rocks the Hill probably would have been lost in the sea of 16-Bit platforming games had it been released in 1994. However, its unique political concept has given it an air of legendary mystique amongst us SNES fans. I for one would have loved to see the Rush Lim-Bomb move.

Scans

Bibliography

  • Gamepro, Review (score: 3.5/5), Publication date: July 1994, Volume: 60, Pages: 100
  • Electronic Gaming Monthly, Preview, Publication date: November 1993, Volume: 52, Pages: 131
  • Electronic Gaming Monthly, Review (scores: 6, 5, 5, 7, 6), Publication date: June 1994, Volume: 59, Pages: 33
  • Nintendo Power, Pak Watch - Summer CES, Publication date: August 1993, Volume: 51, Pages: 113
  • Nintendo Power, Pak Watch - preview, Publication date: May 1994, Volume: 60, Pages: 113
  • Nintendo Power, Review (score: 3.1/5), Publication date: June 1994, Volume: 61, Pages: 102-107
  • Playthings Magazine, featured article on licensing in video games, Publication date: June 1993, Volume: , Pages: 50
  • Socks the Cat on Unseen64 (link)
  • Discussion of Socks the Cat on the Lost Levels forum (link)
  • Discussion of Socks the Cat on Digital Press (link)
  • Discussion of the prototype on Nintendo Age (link)

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