Review by Mariner
About as simple as it gets
My review: go watch a 5 minute gameplay video of Cat Quest. Now imagine that 50 or 100 times longer. Voila, that's all you need to know.
You still there? Ugh, fine... OK, so Cat Quest is an indie action RPG starring, you guessed it, cats. You play as a mute cat hero with his cat sword and accompanied by a little cat Navi as he travels the cat world and helping out other cats. Turns out that an evil cat has kidnapped your sister and has started reviving dragons. And as the dragonbor... blood! Dragonblood! Sorry, as the Dragonblood, you have the skill to defeat these dragons, which you must do before the evil cat Drakoth will let you see your sister again.
The action takes place in a cute, stylized open world overworld, all with a fixed camera. Enemies roam the terrain, and you can freely explore to find gold or experience, fight the bad guys, or visit the towns. There's also lots of caves dotting the landscape that you can delve into for more bad guys and loot. Combat is simple: you have a normal attack, dodge, and magic. A shadow will appear around enemies showing where their attacks will hit, and will turn red right before they strike. So you certainly can't call the game cheap, and combat ends up being a satisfying cadence of strike, dodge, strike strike, dodge. Unless you get too cocky and you end up with 4 or 5 baddies chasing after you with their attack rhythms out of sync, but that's your own dumb fault! It's simplistic yet satisfying, and really the only complaint I have is that there's no point in experimenting with the different magic spells when the first one you get is already perfectly effective.
And then there's the standard RPG bits. You know the drill: gain experience, level up, equip armor and weapons, visit towns, purchase ite... wait, no, no items here. So not all the standard RPG bits. You gain experience and money from fighting bad guys and finishing quests (which are helpfully posted on a billboard in each town). Money can be used to purchase new magic spells or upgrade them as well as buying random equipment. See, equipment is basically in the mobile game style, with random equipment in dungeons that stack if you have duplicates (so if you have Level 3 chainmail and find Level 5 chainmail, you now have Level 8 chainmail). There's a main quest that involves fighting dragons and upgrading your movement abilities, but in order to get enough levels and equipment to survive those fights you'll want to do the side quests posted on the various towns' bulletin boards. These quests are usually your standard fetch quests or dungeon diving, with some bits of world building thrown in.
And that's it.
The game is really, really stripped down to its core elements. That's not necessarily a bad thing; the presentation is original and cute, the combat is fluid and fun, the progression system is easy to understand and sufficiently rewarding. But just don't expect variety: all the towns look almost identical to each other, as do all the cats, as do all the caves. Because the actions available to you are limited, there isn't much variety in what you DO during the fetch quests, regardless of how much the writing can dress it up. Speaking of writing, the plot is actually deeper and more interesting than my summary made it sound, but there's no pacing. There's a beginning and an end but no middle, although the middle has plenty of worldbuilding and such that might give you clues to the end. Still, it, like the game itself, is basically stripped down; there's no complexity being built up throughout the narrative, no large colorful cast of characters, just some worldbuilding and summation at the end.
What saves this game, in the end, is that it doesn't overstay its welcome. Cat Quest takes maybe 5-8 hours to complete, with very little optional post-game content (one super high level cave is all I know of other than replaying the game with different challenges). That's long enough to enjoy the combat, figure out how to best utilize your attacks vs magic vs dodging, experimenting with optimizing different stats with your equipment, trying different types of magic, and improving your skills before it all gets too tedious. The map itself is large enough to give a sense of exploration and rewards for greater skills/levels or new movement options, but small enough that the repetition isn't grating or the backtracking isn't boring (except for one annoying questline that has you constantly moving from one end of the continent to the other...). And there's never a need to grind for experience or money. You're steadily leveling up and finding new equipment if you do the sidequests, so you always feel like you're making progress. Sure, it's a short game, but it's all done at a brisk pace and without overstaying its welcome.
So I was serious what I said: a 5 minute video is all you need to know if this game is for you or not. I watched one before I first played it, and my experience was exactly as I expected based off that alone. Does a short and simple - yet satisfying - experience appeal to you? That's the only question you need to ask yourself before deciding if Cat Quest is for you. Otherwise, there's apparently a sequel planned with more variety in it, so you can always wait for that if the basic idea appeals to you but the simplicity doesn't. Personally, I enjoyed it, but I'll probably never play it again. It's a well crafted experience, even if not a particularly ambitious one.
Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Product Release: Cat Quest (US, 11/10/17)
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