Here we are with that age-old question – are you a cat or dog person? Admittedly this can get quite binary, as you might love both. Or you may dislike both and prefer parrots or something instead. But lately in video games cats have been stealing the limelight somewhat.
We’ve had the sci-action adventures of Stray, as the feline hero comes into play and steals the thunder from the canines once more. And now we have Cats and the Other Lives which again puts you in the paws of a hero cat trying to negotiate around a family coming together at the wake of a loved one. What could go wrong?
In this 2D pixel art world, you follow the story of Aspen, the cat. His master and patriarch of the home, Bernard Mason, has died. The family has gathered and are found trying to negotiate the problems they have with each other as well as what happens to the Mason estate. Through the eyes of Aspen, we see and hear these stories, as conversations play out across the different rooms of the mansion. But Aspen can also see past memories of this house and young versions of events. Is there a cult and magical forces at play?
The story of Cats and the Other Lives is completely unique. But it is also extremely absorbing as you look to find out about its complex family traumas and relationships. The writing and character-building are excellent. What’s so clever about this game is that it is being told to you through the eyes of a cat, who at times just happens to be in the room at the right time, hearing and seeing these conversations. But at the same time Aspen will be chasing a mouse or scratching the sofa. It’s so interesting to tell a story in this way.
The gameplay works within a 2D world, where the cat can run and jump across furniture and bookcases. However it comes with a bit of an awkward control system for selecting objects or items to interact with that. It doesn’t feel intuitive to start with; maybe a casualty of the transition from mouse to controller. It’s not a huge problem and it’s easy enough to get used to it, it just takes a little while. Get down with it and you can select objects that might allow a person to open up another area. In a simple section, you might miaow several times until one of the family members gets annoyed, opening up a window so you can go outside. You know, like real-life cats do.
In more complicated setups, you might have to use stealth by crawling behind items, moving from one to one so as not to be spotted, working into another area. There’s a great section where you chase a mouse through a series of hunter trophies.
And now and then, in Cats and the Other Lives you get a sense of awareness that something needs to be investigated. Prompts appear, allowing you to follow to find what lies at the end of it. Then there are cat things – this is a cat game after-all – like playing with toys or surprising yourself by adding some water and being shocked by the result. It’s a very creative game made by people who quite obviously love cats. I do think at times the pacing is a problem though – certain chats can drag. Overall it’s a rewarding proposition.
Cats and the Other Lives makes the most of some pixel art treatment that looks great throughout. The cat animations are brilliant, with some superb attention to detail. I love the moments found in the environment and the way the cat sees into the past works brilliantly, with ghostly figures wandering the mansion. The soundtrack is good; pretty solid with all the effects and snatches of vocals.
Cats and the Other Lives is clever and inventive. The whole concept of having a cat as the protagonist and finder of the narrative is excellent. But you always get the feeling that this cat isn’t worried about how things play out, acting as a bystander to the events which fold. The control system can take a while to get used to and there are slight pacing problems, especially in the middle section of the game, yet overall this a fun adventure that allows you to take things in via the eyes of a cat, watching a family drama unfold.
Dogs, you need to step up your game.