Review: Cat Quest31 Aug 2017 4
Review: Cat Quest
Released 08 Aug 2017
Mobile gaming is the king of clones. If there’s a console game, 99 percent of the time you’ll find a mobile version of it. Forza, World of Warcraft, Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, and more have a mobile gaming knock-off, clone, or port. The worst of them copy and paste the aesthetic and call it a day. The best of them streamline and distil. Which brings us to Cat Quest, an action RPG that feels a like a distillation of The Legend of Zelda and is quite a lot of fun. But similar to those NES classics of old, it's occasionally frustrating, too.
Like the original Zelda, Cat Quest is combat and exploration focused, taking place on a large map with enemies strewn about, dotted by various dungeons and secrets, but it abolishes that game’s deliberately obtuse nature with an omnipresent objective indicator.
Combat finds you tapping an enemy to lock-on, then attacking automatically when you get close enough and tapping away from them before they can attack back. The enemy's attack radius being designated by red circles (or crochet patterns for spells) you need to avoid.
You'll also gain spells which have their own literal attack pattern - a circle for a fire attack, a horizontal line for an electric one, and so on. Charging into the middle of a group of magic-prone enemies and popping off a quick spell that kills them all is crunchy and satisfying, and you'll quickly learn the best way to approach the game's ample enemy types. As an aside, you only gain mana by landing melee attacks -- so there’s no spamming magic -- creating a balanced, strategic, accessible, and flat-out fun combat engine.
Alas, Cat Quest's combat doesn't always land on its feet. While you need to memorize attack patterns to successfully dodge and dart your way around enemies, there are frustrating hairballs when it comes to those darn spells. To cast a spell, you need to tap and hold on your character then drag to one of four equipped spells. The problem is that you're obscuring your view via your thumb to cast them. If you're on the move - which you always are - you'll inevitably end up mis-tapping and sending your character into harm’s way.
The more frantic the action, the more damaging these mis-taps become. The game's healing spell is woefully underpowered - even when upgraded - so a single wrong move can result in catastrophe. It's not a deal breaker, because the combat is really good, just frustrating during 10% of the time. It just so happens that 10% seems to be during critical junctures. In fact, the spell system glitched out entirely on me once...during the final boss fight. I couldn't cast any spells, and promptly died - requiring me to replay the ending sequence, dialog and all, after restarting the app.
Thankfully that dialog was sparse, as is most of Cat Quest's story. It's charming, with the occasional twist and turn as you attempt to find your catnapped sister, but it's obvious the developers kept things simple to ensure players won't spend half their commute or litter-box break tapping through story content (which happens with iOS ports of console RPGs like Final Fantasy Tactics or Phantasy Star II). What Cat Quest does have is charm and puns - an upundance if you will.
For example, the game takes place in Felingrad. A character will take a 'meowment' to think, say 'Pawlease' when they need something, and so on. Even some towns and caves and equipment are feline puns. It's all very...squee. I enjoyed it because inside my heart I'm a 12 year anime old girl desperate for Senpai to notice me, but if you hate puns and kitsch, all this stuff is fairly easy to ignore and breeze past on your way to completing quests.
Those quests are all some variation of go here, kill this, go here, kill that, and occasionally come back. Sometimes, you'll have a “path” to follow marked by a dotted red line. Other times, you'll follow an NPC who keeps vanishing. Or you'll find that NPC and they'll summon a variety of escalating-in-strength enemies you need to fall before taking the NPC on, gauntlet style. Occasionally there's a cute plot line in these quests, like when you come across towns that mirror each other, or get instructions from a talking bush. What’s frustrating is you cannot zoom out to reveal the entire world map and your objective, so you will occasionally walk straight into a mountain rage you could have gone around with a bigger lay of the land.
There's also side-quests that play into the main story, giving you the ability reach areas you previously couldn't in order to progress. However, the why of what you're doing is far less important than the what you're supposed to do. And what you’re doing is a repeating and gratifying and timeless RPG Loop. It's all very simple, very accessible, and quite 'MMO'; Killing enemies and completing quests results in EXP Orbs that level you up, and Gold coins which you can use to purchase spell and weapon and armor upgrades which synergize based on what sort of build you want - all affecting your health, attack power, or magic power. It's very easy to understand, and very fun to try out different builds - especially as all of the equipment can be seen on your character.
The quality gameplay and customization, combined with the water-color vibrance of the graphics and fluidity of animation make Cat Quest an absolute charmer. If you put this game out against the SNES and NES classics of the 1990s, it'd give first-party Nintendo titles a run for their money in the charm and polish department. Heck, you could tell me it *is* a first party 3DS title and I’d believe you.
You smile a lot playing this game, as its charm intertwines with your nostalgia for the games it happily pulls from for your enjoyment. Ultimately, if you’re looking for an action-RPG without a ton of soul-crushing depth, a lot of charm, and a really fun (if occasionally frustrating) combat system, and hours of content, Cat Quest is the Cat’s Meow. Is it a ‘core’ title for ‘core’ players on mobile devices? No. It doesn’t even have the depth of say, Battleheart: Legacy or the Shadowrun games. But it’s not even competing with those titles, really. It aims to be an accessible, fun, silly, challenging, simple, worth your five dollars and about 10-15+ hours of your attention. It endeavours to do a few things really well (combat, animation, ‘charm’), versus lots of things mediocre.
Mark Twain once said “If animals could speak, the dog would be a blundering outspoken fellow; but the cat would have the rare grace of never saying a word too much.” And that is the best endorsement I can give Cat Quest.