Review by MTLH
It's not a bad thing getting trapped in this game.
Catrap started life as a Japanese game called Pitman which originally came out in 1985 for the Sharp MZ-700, today a relatively forgotten computer but apparently well known back then. Pitman was the work of one man, Yutaka Isokawa, who released the game as a type-in program in a magazine and it proved to be popular enough to receive a remake for the Game Boy five years later. With it's unassuming name, hideous artwork on the box and the relative obscurity of it's publisher Asmik, it's no wonder Catrap is one of those games that has continuously flown under the radar. In the West at least, as Pitman still seems to have somewhat of a following in Japan. However that may be, this is a game that deserves more recognition especially as it's readily available from the 3DS' eShop, and has been for a while now, for a mere pittance.
Catrap looks quite simple, which does make the action easy to read, yet it also possesses plenty of character. That has a lot to do with the two protagonists. Both share the same abilities but are nonetheless nicely differentiated through their animations. Catboy moves around more boisterously with his standard pose seeing him holding his arms up as if he is flexing his muscles. Catgirl on the other hand has a more dainty disposition, for instance flapping her arms while falling from on high or jumping up and down after having completed a level. It's admittedly all very simple stuff but it does go a long way in granting the graphics some much needed flair.
The differentiation between both protagonists surprisingly goes a bit further due to each also having his or her own piece of accompanying music. Like all the tunes found in Catrap they are of the bouncy and happy variety but it's still a nice touch. A downside is that in those levels where both can be controlled, switching between the characters also resets the music which can become a tad annoying when that has do be done a lot. The sound effects are effective but not very refined with especially the constant bleeping when rewinding time becoming somewhat grating after a while.
One day a boy and a girl stumble upon a haunted house. They enter it, get lost and in the process anger the ghosts that reside there. They put a curse on the two children which turns them into cats, sort of, and the only way for them to reverse it is to make their way through the labyrinthine mansion and defeat all the monsters they encounter. Yeah, this isn't exactly the highest of literature but as an excuse for having these protagonists traipsing through the game it serves it's purpose.
Catrap is a puzzle game where the aim is to destroy every monster in a given level. Naturally in a game like this, that is easier said than done. Enemies are killed on contact from the left and right side but getting to them is what Catrap is all about. In their quest to do this, Catboy and Catgirl can push aside boulders, demolish specific blocks and climb ladders. In an inspired move, during certain levels they can work together and even use the other as a pedestal to stand on.
The puzzle lays with how these elements are used. When confronted with a level filled with boulders, blocks, ladders and monsters, the aim is figuring out which boulders to move, which blocks to destroy and in which order to do all this. The puzzles start out simple enough with boulders just being used to fill gaps. Towards the end of the game you will be using monsters as stepping stones in order to reach other enemies, move boulders from one end of the level towards the other and back again and tunnel through the scenery like a mole. There may honestly not be all that many elements in play here but Catrap gets a whole lot of mileage out of them nonetheless.
You will most certainly paint yourself into a corner on a regular basis. Based on Catrap's first handful of levels you may think this is going to be an easy ride towards the endcredits but appearances can be very deceiving. The challenge ramps up fast and rarely, if ever, dampens down. This can be a decidedly deceptive game, confusing the player with red herrings and false clues. For example, one lesson that Catrap teaches it's players early on is that not every object has to be used. When you have a lot of boulders in your path and a unreachable platform behind them, the first impulse is to shove all of them around in order to get to that platform. It takes a while to realise that it's not necessary to get rid of all of those boulders nor that they are all useful for overcoming the next obstacle. The reason that such subterfuge doesn't become across as cheap is that the puzzles are in general smartly designed. Whenever a solution clicks into place, whenever the path forwards becomes clear, there is a palpable sense of achievement. Catrap is the kind of puzzle game that can occasionally make you feel very clever indeed.
What surprised me is just how player friendly Catrap is, certainly for it's time. The game offers a hundred levels and, bar the last one, they can all be completed in any order. Getting stuck on one level simply means you can clear your head by trying another. Better still, the password system accommodates this with one being handed out on request regardless of which levels have been done already. What really takes the cake is that Catrap allows the player to rewind and fast forward time itself. When you make a mistake it isn't strictly necessary to redo the entire puzzle. With the press of a button the game rewinds the situation to whenever you want so that mistake can be corrected. That this does away with a lot of potential frustration is a given.
Catrap failed to make much waves when it originally came out which, while understandable, really is a shame. This is a cleverly designed puzzle game with a few features really elevate it to a higher plane. Being free to play the levels in any order you please is a boon, having a password system that accommodates this is a blessing, the time manipulation mechanism helps in decreasing any potential annoyance and occasionally being able to solve puzzles with both characters is a lot of fun. Furthermore, the presentation may be simple but it also possesses quite some flair.
The actual cartridge may be hard to find nowadays, especially seeing that the game was never officially released here in Europe, but as I mentioned in the introduction it's available on the 3DS for roughly the price of a good cup of coffee. I know that price has no bearing on a game's inherent quality but such a pittance leaves little room for excuses If you have even the slightest interest in puzzle games, or the Game Boy in general, do yourself a favour and try Catrap. It's certainly worth it.
OVERALL: a 9,0.
Product Release: Catrap (EU, 10/06/11)
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