Cat Quest is a game that sounds daft and is daft, but it is also one of the most enjoyable non-AAA ARPGs I’ve played in a long time. Managing to succeed where many others fail, The Gentlebro’s construction of a cat-led world is an expansive, amusing and imaginative take on the genre.
The game begins with an unfortunate shipwrecking, tearing apart our nameless protagonist and his sister, who is kidnapped by the evil feline Drakoth. It’s a very efficient start; within the first five minutes we have a generic baddie, a big world map to explore, and a reason for running to all corners of it.
Alongside our protagonist is a guiding spirit; a floating cat orb. With our avatar silent, this spirit makes up for the lack of personality, snapping at Drakoth as he explains his evil plan and guiding us around the world. There are puns and self-conscious humour aplenty, but to its credit, most of the time they hit the mark.
In order to get our sister back we must slay three dragons. Luckily, as a cat with ‘dragonblood’ flowing through our veins, we are the perfect candidate for the task. Cat Quest’s silly lore is all about such cats and how these dragon-slaying kittens came about. In the gameplay, this merely translates as getting to wear weird armour combinations, and cast a few limited spells, but where would the fantasy genre be without a convenient backstory explaining why you in particular are special? Think Skyrim, but with whiskers.
As well as the kingdom’s capital, there are several smaller towns dotted across the map, each with a slightly different character and backstory. Side quests can be found on the quest boards of various towns, along with a place to sleep and replenish health. Only one side quest can be active at a time, which simplifies the usual RPG confusion of what needs to be done next and for whom. Once a side quest is active a white arrow directs you to the right area of the map, meaning that very little memory or thought is required at all.
The varied and imaginative quests make up for the more lacklustre elements of the main story. Whether it’s gathering meat for a feral bunch of kittens, or spying for rival sibling chefs to get secret recipes, there is more to these side quests than first meets the eye. Most take the shape of several parts of an overall story; playing all the quests in a narrative rewards the player with some satisfying twists and turns, and each one fits nicely into the context of the world as a whole.
Completing these quests is made even more enjoyable through exploration of Cat Quest’s best feature, its vibrant setting. If you’ve ever been the kind of fantasy reader who eagerly opens the front cover of a novel in search of an illustrated map, this game will send giddy shivers down your spine. Laid out on what looks like a zoomed out topographical map, Cat Quest’s setting gives the impression of expansive spaciousness whilst enabling the player to run across the whole map in very little time. This limits the usual boredom of the staple RPG fetch-and-carry quests, as running across the cutesy world in search of catnip is fairly easy. The soundtrack adds to this, shifting between cheerful when roaming the land, mystical when upgrading spells, and dramatic when fighting, helping to keep you entertained.
For the most part Cat Quest is self-assured in its simplicity, but when it comes to its fighting system, a little bit more tactical thinking is required. Unless the enemies are much lower level, the fights cannot be button mashed through. Often it is better to hang back, learning the enemies’ attack sequences before fighting. Once you’ve got this down, fighting becomes a lot easier.
Battles are made trickier by the health bar, one of the only aspects of the game in which you’re not let off easy. If our knight in kitten armour dies the player is sent back to the last save point, and the game can only be saved at resting points in town. It’s easy to get caught out with a low health bar, so it’s worth keeping an eye on. The only method of healing, a spell, is pretty weak, but having to think about health engages the brain a little more. Just make sure you don’t run into fights paws down.
According to its developers, Cat Quest is due to come out on the Switch some time in 2017. This is great news for a game that perhaps will work a little better on a smaller, handheld screen. While performing well on the PC, Cat Quest is a good mindless game, and it is not meant as an insult to say that it’s also great for time wasting, perhaps benefitting from having some football on in the background while you play.
Having said this, Cat Quest’s only weak point is this tendency to be a little lightweight. With an attempt at a heartfelt redemptive arc for our generic villain Drakoth, the main quest is missing some of the high-energy imaginativeness of other aspects of the game. However, as a whole, Cat Quest surprises and impresses. After completing the main quest, the world remains open to further exploration and completion of side-quests, and it is a credit to a great game that I’m compelled to keep my paws on the keyboard.