Full Disclosure: I did receive a copy of the game from the developers for review purposes, however all opinions expressed are my own. You can learn more about my disclosure policy here.
Just before we left for Japan, I had the extreme good fortune of being offered a copy of New Horizon Games’ new puzzle/fighting game mash-up, Combat Cats, to review. I’m generally rather picky about which mobile games I’ll receive to review, since I’m more of less a one-woman team and I’d rather not spend time on something I don’t find worthwhile if I don’t have to. But this game seemed to have a lot to offer: cute pixel-art cats, a fun story about
drugs catnip, matching puzzles, combat and levelling up. Other than that I didn’t know much about the game before I started playing it, other than the fact that it was the product of a successful Kickstarter campaign earlier this year, and that the developers were getting ready to release it on PC and Linux at some point in the future.
I received a copy for my iPad and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the experience. Even Rick got saucer eyes when he say me playing and insisting on clearing the first three levels for me before reluctantly handing me back my tablet. That isn’t to say it’s a perfect game. It certainly has its problems, but the pace of the gameplay and the levelling aspect go a long way to mitigate some of my issues.
My first complaints will probably sound petty and minor to some, but having worked in video game localization and spent hours (and hours, and hours, and hours) finding and crunching language and navigation bugs has made me pretty sensitive to them. Little things like referring to game elements as both “gems” and “blocks” on different screens and referencing elements that aren’t shown in the images on tutorial pages were particularly annoying, especially since they seem so easy to fix. Mind you, the game was just released when I played it, so maybe they’ll get a chance to fix those things by the time you play it.
However, while we’re on the subject of the tutorial, it’s JUST. TOO. DAMNED. LONG. I understand that most tutorials are slapped on as an afterthought, once you’ve finished the game and have nailed down the gameplay, but asking your player to tap “Next” 24 times is WAY too many for a puzzle game. People will skip the whole thing after 5 pages and then they’ll get frustrated when they can’t get something to work. Now, this could just be another personal beef, but integrating tutorial lessons into the gameplay, or using principles of progressive disclosure within your game design just seem to work much better for me and I think provide a better player experience.
The long tutorial was especially annoying for Combat Cats because it came directly after the, admittedly entertaining, story summary. Considering that that was rather text heavy and 5 pages long, I almost got the impression that the developers just expected users to skip both and go straight to the game. Which would be fine, except that there were a few things covered in the tutorial that you do need to know in order to play the game effectively. None of this breaks the game, and most of it can be figured out by trial and error, but in a game where speed and efficiency are of the essence, it seemed like an odd design choice. I also don’t understand why the story appears EVERY TIME you start a new game, but considering you always have the option to skip, it’s really not that big a deal.
However, the bugs in the Pause Menu that lock you into Restarting or Quitting the game if you hit those options by accident (the “No” button just doesn’t work) really probably should have been fixed before the game was released. I would also have liked more feedback when you pop a water-bubble, but such a minor nit-pick I’m almost embarrassed to mention it.
After all this griping, you’ll probably be surprised to hear that I actually really liked the game. A lot. Enough to want to give a copy away to one of my super readers, but more on that at the end of the post. Here’s what kept me playing: really fast and fun gameplay, enticing new pilots to unlock and some really good pixel art. The puzzle combat is both rewarding and challenging, although a lack of indicators means that how many stars you get can sometimes feel arbitrary. While puzzle matching games are a dime a dozen these days, obstacles like incoming attacks that obscure the game board and those darned water bubbles really keep things fresh and hectic. As well, watching your kitty pilot land a devastating attack on an alien fishy feels very satisfying. As well, the ability to upgrade my plane and pilot really did keep me up playing the game so that I could play as “Grumpy Pants” in his charming cardboard plane. What can I say, I’m a crazy cat lady?
Combat Cats is currently available from iTunes and Google Play for $0.99 or check out the Steam Greenlight page to make sure it comes out for PC and Linux. The PC version looks pretty similar, other than a cute background, but I guess it just depends on where you want to game.
It’s currently available from iTunes and Google Play for $0.99 or check out the Steam Greenlight page to make sure it comes out for PC and Linux. The PC version looks pretty similar, other than a cute background, but I guess it just depends on where you want to game.