One of the more intriguing misfires I’ve yet run across.
Page 56, Game 25: Catlandia: Crisis at Fort Pawprint by catlandia
Normally, my speculation about the next game based on its title and stub description tends to be wildly off mark. But when I saw the description of “Be a cat,” my response was “So, knock shit down, nap in sunlight, and lick myself?”
Catlandia went three for three.
My hopes went up as soon as I got to the character creation screen, which allows you to build your own cat:
So you’re a cat, serving in Fort Pawprint. But oh, noes! The commander’s beloved teapot has gone missing! Whatever shall you do?
Me, I napped.
But once I could be arsed to get out of bed, I immediately set forth on an adventure, featuring dogs and dog factions and angry raccoons and such.
The core gameplay is, believe it or not, a Final-Fantasy-esque turned-based fighter. Your turn comes, you decide what you’re gonna do to the fearsome opponents arrayed against you.
Beat ’em down with the various items and abilities at your disposal, move on.
Fighting is the core of the game part of the game. And it kinda breaks my heart to say this, but … it isn’t good.
Where to begin … fighting does a terrible job of scaling with your increasing abilities. Early wandering monster fights were reasonably tough, and the first mini-boss encounter kicked my ass (after totally exhausting my resources) and forced me to gain a level before I could come back and plausibly win it. But the fights get easier and grindier as the game moves on, even in newly unlocked areas. It very soon got to the point where I was doing everything I could to avoid fights, not because I was concerned about getting worn down, but because I found them boring and didn’t want to bother.
Once you get access to healing magic, that’s when you know you’ve entered grindtown. My largely invincible fight strategy was to just spam-out area attacks, pause to use the basic attack that replenished my mana pool (biting — which has a certain vampiric overtone, come to think of it), and occasionally lay-down a good heal as necessary. Most fights I left stronger than I entered.
I had the main boss fight well before I think the game wanted me to — I had at least two major subquests unfinished and one area completely unexplored. It was no more than moderately challenging.
There are other problems. The fights feature tons of status effects, but no way to mitigate them; I was surprised that there didn’t seem to be any items that cured “Bleeding” or “Poisoned.” Nor was there anything that would wake up your companion cat if they were “Snoozin” — though lemon wedges fulfill the roll of Phoenix Downs, and will revive your partner with a decent number of hit points. It is thus easier to revive a cat after it has been beaten half to death than it is to wake the same cat from a nap. Which … okay, that actually sounds thematically accurate, never mind.
Other status buffs and debuffs were largely opaque; I had no idea what they were supposed to be doing to me or if any particular thing a dog did that didn’t involve direct damage was cause for worry.
Leveling-up is remarkably unsatisfying. You don’t get to make any choices, your numbers just go up. Next time you get in a fight, you’ll notice it’s incrementally easier.
Wearable equipment is flat-out broken. You literally cannot equip gear (such as hats, or costumes, or collars) from the equipment page; you have to sneak up on it sideways through the character page. More annoying, however, is that the game drops only vague hints as to what any given piece of gear actually DOES. You have to equip and unequip while paying attention to your stats and peeking in on your abilities in order to figure it out. This is a huge and completely unnecessary nuisance — particularly given the importance of using the right equipment to give you the right spells. (Not that the game MENTIONS that your spells are based on what you’re wearing — you have to figure that shit out for yourself.)
It’s repetitive, it’s clunky, it’s at least twice as long as it needs to be … and yet. The cat-based silliness never completely lost its charm for me. I actually did have fun exploring this world and interacting with its loopy inhabitants. I wish there had been more of that — or at least it had been more densely packed and made up a larger percentage of the gameplay.
This really is an ambitious game when you get down to it. Even when you’re poaching broad ideas from the classics, making and refining a combat system like this is no small thing. This game’s devs largely failed at it; fights get very samey very quickly, there’s not much reason to switch-up tactics once you find something that works, and the balance is completely wrong. And yet, I respect the effort. They’re really trying to craft something with some depth here.
It’s definitely not as good a game as it could, and perhaps should be. But if the top-level description of “Final Fantasy but with cats” triggers the happy centers of your brain, by all means, go for it.
I had fun. Wish I’d wrapped up a few hours ago. But I had fun.
However, will this prove to be as much fun as:
Page 57, Game 4: 1977: Radio Aut by Alex Camilleri
A retro radio game? I’m intrigued.