As someone with no patience, there’s always room for the ‘grazing game’; the one that I can spin up for ten to fifteen minutes at a time. Perhaps Elden Ring is taking an age to download, or I’ve calculated roughly fifteen minutes before my eyelids start drooping and I have to pop to bed. In those moments, the grazing game gets booted up, and everything is right with the world.
A fair few games have taken that role in the past year. Solitaire TriPeaks Flowers and Hatsune Miku Logic Paint S have been our time-wasters. But now we can add Hidden Shapes: Animals + Lovely Cats to that illustrious group. Like the others we’ve mentioned, it’s not a complicated game, or even a particularly good game, but it’s so easy and satisfying to play. It’s as frictionless as a water-worn pebble.
It really couldn’t be simpler. Imagine a line-art picture of a cat. Aww, right? Now, map that line-art picture onto a grid of squares, with those squares being as small or as big as you like. Now, turn each of those squares 90, 180 or 270 degrees. That cat picture looks a mess now, right? Barely looks like a cat at all. Well, now’s your chance: hop in and turn each of those squares until the picture of the cat returns. Easy, right?
Yes, it is easy, and that’s (likely) the point. Hidden Shapes: Animals + Lovely Cats is nothing more than a jigsaw puzzle where all the pieces are in the right place already but spun in different directions, and your job is to turn them the right way. While it might seem pointless, difficulty-less and other ‘lesses’, there’s something oddly satisfying to the whole process.
First of all, there’s the opening moments. These are the best because – if Hidden Shapes: Animals + Lovely Cats does its job – the picture could be anything. It just looks like a crashed game of Tempest on an old Amstrad. This is the only part of the puzzle that is difficult: you have to find something – anything – that looks recognisable, so that it can be the anchor for all the other pieces. An eye is a good example. Get that right, and all the other pieces can flow from it.
Then it’s the easy, barely-a-game stuff, as you’re turning squares so that line-art continues from one square to another. There’s no real defending this part of the puzzle: it really is ridiculously, banally easy. See that line going up and to the right? Well, the next piece will need to continue the line going up and to the right. And so on, and so forth.
But while we can’t defend it, we still find it soothing. A picture emerges from our twiddling, and we feel a low-grade surge of joy. Ah, it was a cat in a basket! Ah, it was a jellyfish! We don’t exactly feel like Miss Marple, but it’s a mystery that’s satisfying to solve.
The other bit we like is the ending. The last piece snaps into place and – wait! – the puzzle hasn’t finished. We’ve done something wrong, so we backtrack to spot some white lines that just don’t quite fit. Which sounds frustrating but isn’t: through some alchemy, Hidden Shapes: Animals + Lovely Cats manages to draw pictures that could only be drawn one particularly way. There are no annoyingly similar squares: every picture is clear-cut.
But we’re not so blinkered and stupid to ignore the shortcomings. Hidden Shapes: Animals + Lovely Cats is not long. For a game that is, let’s be honest, some images from clipart jumbled around a bit, there’s only forty levels to play. Apologists might say that there are eighty levels – you can play each image twice, with much smaller squares the second time round – but it’s an argument they’ll lose. There really should be hundreds of puzzles, and we can’t be bribed by a continuous drip-feed of Gamerscore and a bargainous £3.29 asking price. It’s close, but no.
There’s not much variety in the pictures, either. The levels are split into cats and animals, and the cats in particular feel repetitive. It’s the same cat, hugging humans, playing with wool, hiding in baskets, and we hankered for something more interesting. Give us the Taj Mahal or the London Underground map. We’d lap that up. Instead, we got the same cat, with the same stupid eyes that make it easy to complete the puzzle each time. At least the animal puzzles are a mix of birds, underwater beasties and more.
And, one-hundred percent, it’s not going to be for everyone. Some people will be reading this review, wondering what we’re on. There are plenty of games that we’ve scored lower, yet this one feels like it’s been fudged together in an afternoon. But you know what? It did something for us. It became our grazing game for a few nights, and we spent the moments before dozing off completing pictures of flamingos and cats, and we were more than okay with that.
So, if the idea of a meditative, borderline ASMR puzzle about cats tickles you, then pick up Hidden Shapes: Animals + Lovely Cats. It will soothe you to sleep with the occasional bloop of Gamerscore. But if you demand slightly more from your gaming, then you might want to give this a wide berth.
You can buy Hidden Shapes: Animals + Lovely Cats from the Xbox Store