Cat Quest (PC) — An Amewsing Adventure



 

[ Edit: Cat Quest is releasing today, August 8th 2017, on Steam, and then on Nintendo Switch at a later date in 2017. ]

“Oh no,” I thought, “This is one of those mobile games that tries to shove itself onto a bigger screen and doesn’t quite work.” Honestly, that was my reaction, as soon as I saw the cutesy theme and glossy finish of Cat Quest, a new indie game out on Steam and Nintendo Switch by The Gentlebros.

Alas: I was wrong.

Cat Quest is described on its homepage as “a streamlined and concise open world experience,” and it delivers as advertised. This is a pleasant little hack-and-slash RPG video game that somehow manages to blend tight combat with feline-flavored charm, all in a breezy package that tips its hat to some prior classic titles.

The player takes the role of the Dragonblood, member of an ancient line of dragon-slaying kitties. Your sister is kidnapped by Drakoth, an evil wizard and master of dragonkind. Why, in fact, you must slay three dragons under his control before you can have a chance at rescuing your beloved sibling.

 

Is this an epic tale, rich in lore and expansive in its breadth of literary merit? No, it is not, so anyone looking to sink their mind’s teeth into a deep new fictional universe might be disappointed. However, Cat Quest never pretends to be anything it is not, and is wonderfully self-aware. When it resorts to genre tropes, it sometimes makes light of this, whether bemoaning the generic nature of the villain or the tedium of yet another fetch quest.

Our hero gradually grows in power, both intrinsically and by equipping helm, armor, and weapon items. There are numbers to increase, always numbers, ever increasing — and isn’t this the grand hook of most games, anyway?

The formula still works. There are ratings in Health, Attack, Magic, and Armor to increase. Slain enemies drop tokens of experience points and gold. Gold can be exchanged for items, spells, or spell upgrades. More experience points, gold, and item chests can be found throughout the overworld and in dungeons. The steady climb in strength, combined with choices of character taste (do we want our armor set to emphasize magic power, or would we be willing to sacrifice armor in favor of all-out attack, or…) can reach a nigh-intoxicating fever. “Just one more side quest,” I found myself mumbling to, well, myself, late into the night.

 

The combat is the make-or-break element of this title. I thought it was well-designed, with an intuitive simplicity yet room for tactical reward, but I would be curious to hear others’ opine on this area. There is a button to attack, and a bottom to roll-dodge. Enemy HP can be seen as a progress bar, with a display every time hit points are taken. The numbers are red if the enemy is weak to what you are doing, or white if not, or even shades of orange in between. Your MP is restored through successful hits of your melee attack. Enemies appear both on the overworld map and in dungeons. Their attacks are telegraphed beforehand, with radiating planes of red warning the player exactly where and when they will occur.

Spells can be assigned to four different buttons, and all have an instant impact. The ones that affect enemies are area-of-effect spells that may, for example, damage and weaken all enemies in a fiery circle, or damage and freeze all enemies in a horizontal line. One thing I found helpful was that enemies often use the exact same spells you do, so you always knew what they were up to.

Altogether, this means that combat is a fast-paced, twitchy sport of stick-and-move strategy. High-risk movements that barely escape enemy strikes reward the player with faster kills (and thus faster level-ups), while patient maneuvers can enable takedowns of stronger foes.

 

And so the wheel turns, in its constant cycle of baddie-slaughtering and token-grabbing. If you want to just follow the main storyline, you can, but there are loads of side quests to bide your time as well (and, frankly, are rather valuable in quickly granting extra XP/loot). A pickier player may find the “move to this spot, kill all the enemies, rinse and repeat” gameplay rather repetitive; in my case, I was surprised to find myself hooked and compelled. Your mileage may vary. I can be easily amused at times.

Oh, and puns. You must be warned about the puns. They are everywhere. The location names, lines of dialogue, characters, there are puns everywhere. Constantly. Beware.

And I’m not sure the whole Cat motif is really played out that strongly? Sure, it’s another little hook that some people may enjoy (I’m not a big cat guy myself, really), but while you’re playing the game it’s not like you’re always thinking “I am a cat!” It’s not like you’re swiping with claws and licking your fur. You’re equipping swords, killing monsters, and traversing a fantastical landscape. Typical hero fare. You just habit to inhabit a cat-flavored world while doing so.

 

Speaking of the environment, this is indeed an open world title, writ small. Towns (well, Inn/Shop/Sidequest Board/NPC intersections really), dungeons, monsters, and natural landscapes all blend together to form your setting. In fact, rather than have a true map, the game has a button to… just kinda zoom out. Which is fine, usually, if not all-encompassing as a solution. Although you can zoom out and see most of the map from the very beginning, the game still manages to reward exploration and tuck away some secrets. Area gatekeeping is handled through gaining powers such as waterwalking to enable travel over bodies of water, and let’s just say the Quest really opens up (in my opinion) once you figure out how the larger chests are opened. You can be on one quest at a time, and for your current task you always have a map marker letting you know where to go next. Taking a cat nap at an inn restores your health and magic points, along with saving the game. Autosaves are generous enough, but do not occur in dungeons, so be especially careful venturing into these challenges in the middle of a side quest. Dungeons have a suggested level for entry, but do not lock players out if they are underpowered.

The in-game economy is kinda nifty, in a way. At a shop, you can pay 50 gold to open a small chest, or 5,000 for a large chest. Opening a chest grants you a randomized item. Now, at first, I thought this was a really crappy way to do things. But the beauty of all the chests being randomized is that items stack, rather than duplicate; in other words, if you get the same sword, rather than having a Cool Sword x2 you now have a Level 2 Cool Sword. Oh, did you have a Level 2 Cool Sword already when you found a Level 3 Cool Sword in a chest? You now have a Level 5 Cool Sword. This means that not only was I not sticking to the same set of items for half the adventure, but occasionally I’d get the same nice item in quick succession and find myself feeling pretty danged strong for a while. Maybe it’s been done before, but I liked it.

I thought I was immune to this sort of humor, but ‘Cara Loft’ made me chuckle aloud.

Cat Quest is an exercise in efficiency. Exploration and combat blend seamlessly together. Fighting is snappy, frenetic. Side quests are never very long at all. If you want to blaze through the plot and get to the dragons quickly, you can. If you want to dally around and get to know some weird NPCs doing odd things in their lives, you can. As I said earlier, this is a game that does as it says. If you do a little research, you should know exactly what you’re in for. Fortunately, it is something I suspect many will enjoy.

This is not to say Cat Quest is perfect, though. In a game-design process that feels like it was focused on Tightness of play, I feel a few considerations may have been left neglected. For example: When you pick up an experience-points token, you get a quick read of how many XP you just gained, along with a glimpse at a live status bar on your progress toward the next level. In fact, your current level is always visible. However, when you pick up a gold token, you get a quick read of how many gold you just gained… but no indication of your current total. Maybe I truly am the only person who would like to see my total gold count without having to access the menu, but I found that UI choice intriguing. Also, not having a map is fine I suppose, but I would have appreciated more documentation on other things like how the items stack, which I don’t think is ever quite explained in-game.

There are definitely aspects of Cat Quest you just have to ‘buy into’ if you want to maximize your enjoyment. Only being able to do pursue one goal (main or side quest alike) at a time? Hey, that’s just how Cat Quest works. Not having any on-screen indication of whether or not all of a dungeon’s chests have been raided yet, despite gaining a Key item that will allow you to go back and grab many large chests you had to bypass before? Why, that’s just how Cat Quest works. Since dialogue is automatically triggered by proximity sometimes (efficiency!) yet some lines are very short, I found myself accidentally skipping dialogue at times, despite being the kind of person who would enjoy reading every word. But maybe I am the exception, and Cat Quest works just fine this way.

Now, all that being said: I have definitely enjoyed my time spent playing Cat Quest this past week. It has been fun. I can appreciate a lighthearted action RPG with combat that demands both my mind and my reflexes, and… puns, puns everywhere. However, at the moment, I still do not know what price the game will be released at, and I do not believe I am alone in this quandary. If this is a $30 release, I would balk at dropping the funds. But if it’s a $5 game, I would certainly feel comfortable recommending it to anyone who’s into This Sort Of Thing. I suspect the truth will be somewhere in between.

 

Cat Quest honestly plays like a 2D Zelda game with enhanced RPG ingredients and much smaller (but more common) dungeons. It plays fast-and-loose with both its gameplay and its distinctive cat-egory of delightfur puns. Even a completionist will find it hard to pull more than 25-30 hours (if that) of this thing at its most, but there is some replay value if you’re like me and wonder how far you could go with a magic emphasis or maybe the ninja items that sacrifice armor.

Cat Quest was reviewed using a Steam key provided by the publisher.

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