Schrödinger’s Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark Review
Sony PlayStation 4Also available on PC and Microsoft Xbox One
Whether your understanding of the Schrödinger’s Cat paradox comes from being a studious scholar of science or from the odd cheeky reference in The Big Bang Theory, the most famous feline in physics is probably well known to all. Designed by Italic Pig and published by Team 17, Schrödinger’s Cat and Raiders of the Lost Quark is a game that in itself somewhat of a paradox. Straddling the line between platformer and logic-puzzler, this cartoony 2D game developed by Italic Pig can’t decide which gameplay theory it wishes to subscribe to.
Curiosity gets the better of Schrödinger’s Cat when he is summoned to help restore order to the Particle Zoo - a molecule menagerie filled with all sorts of subatomic creatures and beasts who have since escaped from their enclosures and cages. Aided by a series of colour-coded quarks, Schrödinger’s Cat must round up the escapees and lock down the Nucleus command centre in order to end the chaos (not the theoretical kind).
Presented through a series of well-animated cut scenes and lively dialogue, the story is basic but no less fun, setting the scene that is exploding with colour and character. The graphics have the neon glow you’d expect from a chemical catastrophe and it’s a warm welcome into a world that that’s just begging for further exploration. As far as 2D platformers go, it fits in well with the current-generation of graphical output, but as time goes by and the levels keep coming, you’ll eventually find the green and purple hue of the game becoming stale and dull.
However, what’s most strange is that Schrödinger’s Cat himself isn’t given any backstory. While the core element of the game strives to replicate the sass and phosphorus nature of other platform heroes such as Sonic the Hedgehog or Crash Bandicoot, it’s hard to feel any sort of affection for the Schrödinger’s Cat when he simply spouts science-based puns and his over-the-top vigour boils away any sort of loveable personality. There’s barely any mention of his owner nor the experiments that would eventually give him his namesake. And that’s just the first stumbling block encountered in Italic Pig’s experimental puzzler.
Levels are split into two types. The first type follows the procedurally generated format, randomly placing destructible and indestructible ledges and barriers throughout for you to navigate and reach the exit. Think about how maps are generated in Worms, only with far more obstacles in your path and you’re on the right track. The challenge in these levels is minimal, with hundreds of respawning quarks lying around giving you plenty of opportunity to experiment and find the best route out.
The second level type consists of a specially designed map for which you must put on your thinking cap and use the limited quarks available to carefully choose the best path for fear of getting stuck. If you do find yourself caught in an impossible conundrum, then clocking in the right analogue stick will kill Schrödinger’s Cat and place him back at the last checkpoint. Fun at first, these levels grow tedious after a while, particularly if you are a mere wall away from the next checkpoint, only to run out of quarks, with no way of jumping back.
Either way, you’ll have to rely on the properties of four different colour-coded quarks if you are to survive the zone and complete your mission. Yellow ones can be used as helicopters to transport you up, blue ones dig down through destructible platforms, green ones will protect you from webs of toxic slime and red ones can be used to build platforms. Assigned to each one of the shoulder buttons, you’ll eventually be encouraged to combine these quarks in different ways in order to negotiate some of the trickier puzzles on offer. A bit of trial and error is involved but within the opening few levels you’ll be have already tried and tested all twelve combinations in order to create decoys, bombs, and nets used to corral the gluons and other beasties that have escaped the zoo. Eventually the whole procedure grows tiresome when you realise you’ve mastered all variations before the story has even properly kicked off. There’s even an early level where you are given free reign to experiment however you like.
As a platform game, the mechanics are solid. Schrödinger’s Cat can run, jump and duck like any other 2D character using the analogue stick and the X button to jump. Pressing triangle will give you a better view of the map so that you can prepare yourself with the appropriate quarks and spot how many creatures are left in the level before you can make your way to the exit. But while level designs vary, they become very bland, very quickly. If you can get from one end to other, you’ll do it in the quickest possible time, unless you have a few stray creatures to catch or other characters to interact with.
Along the way you’ll be subjected to overlong dialogue cues with the supporting cast and a wide range of science based puns are only funny the first time you hear them or go completely over your head. It’s great that the game doesn’t talk down to its audience, but many of the punchlines and wit fall flat, unless you’ve an invested interest in advanced scientific history and theory. There are various dialogue options when engaged in conversation but they do very little other than expand upon the story. While the genre may not suit going down the same route as a Telltale Games adventure, you can’t help feel that these conversation are simply there to serve as exposition and drag on for far too long.
During the game Schrödinger’s Cat will shout “Holy Higgs!” or “Scienterrific!” every so often, but his limited number of catchphrases are not nearly as annoying as the gurgling squeals that come from the quarks themselves. Whether you are picking them up or using them to get out of a tight spot, they sound like gremlins gargling dishwater - a noise that goes from the verge of cuteness to the brink of nuisance. Thankfully the PlayStation 4 now has Spotify to drown out the sound.
Italic Pig have bravely experimented with the traditional 2D platformer at an atomic level and to their credit came up with a bold idea, brimming with ideas and colour that works in theory. But while the research is solid, in practice the chemical compounds that make up the game don’t quite gel together. It is the findings of this publication that leave us to conclude that Schrödinger’s Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark is a game brimming with life on the surface, but take a peek inside the box and you’ll eventually come to accept that it’s a little dead inside.