Kitten Island is a game that can be reviewed in a sentence. It’s a cute little platformer that feels like it’s been made by someone who only ever played the first Super Mario Bros. That really is it: it’s well made, short, and completely in thrall to the NES classic. If that’s your idea of £4.19 then we’re inclined to agree with you. Go enjoy!
My daughter would probably be more enthused than that. She devoured Kitten Island in a couple of evenings. We might be slightly over-dramatising it, but she grabbed us by the Christmas jumper and told us that we HAD to give it 5 out of 5. She’s never played Super Mario Bros, which is something we’re going to put right immediately. That and we’re going to overrule her.
Kitten Island is certainly adorable. It achieves that baseline of 2D sprite art that we would expect from a budget indie, with the added bonus of having a cute cat as the main character. It’s colourful, the music is as bouncy as you’d hope for, and it’s all just rather appealing. No wonder my daughter fell in love with it.
There is nothing complex or unexpected about the controls at all. You can jump and bottom-bounce, with enemies differing only in how many bum-hits they take. Snakes, scorpions and the like face the wrath of your arse.
Levels are slightly longer than you might expect, probably because there’s only fifteen of them. They are no more complex than some spikes, moving platforms and chained spikeballs circling round. Boxes with cat symbols are littered about, really hammering home the Super Mario references, and some even need you to headbutt them multiple times to glean all of their rewards.
Want more Mario references? An invincibility star – sorry, cat symbol – lets you romp through enemies for a period. A small detail made us appreciate Nintendo’s Classic even more: there’s no audio or visual cue that the invulnerability is about to wear off, which can mean unwanted damage. Even in 1985, Nintendo knew what they were doing.
Instead of pipes we have gates. Credit where it’s due, there’s something neat in the way that they offer a shortcut at a cost: the dungeon you travel through is far more difficult, with spinning blades and traps, but it will save you seconds. So there’s a trade off, and better platforming players will appreciate the challenge. Kitten Island certainly doesn’t have any sharp edges elsewhere.
What will surprise the most is how short and simple Kitten Island is. There are three worlds here with five levels in each. Each level takes a hardened platform-player a few minutes, so – quick maths – there’s only forty-five minutes of play here. My daughter took longer, as she was collecting every last coin and kitty pick-up (they have no value, so we soon lost interest), but there’s a strong chance that you will do what we did and perform a double-take when you reach the end. There’s not even an ending cutscene or ‘well done’ to confirm that, yes, this is indeed the end.
Nothing sidles up to alter the formula. There are no Bowsers, no high-concept levels, no upgrades or meaningful collectibles. This is one of the most straight-down-the-line, unambitious platformers we’ve played. We’d guess that purity is one reason why my eight-year old liked it. But for anyone who has more than a couple of platform games under their belt, this will be too limited.
Kitten Island is a cheap, brainless frolic. As a platformer, it’s colourful and cute, with the difficulty tucked into hidden parts of the level. There are no complicated mechanics to learn, no surprising levels. For a casual player or someone who wants a vaguely nostalgic workout for their fingers, it will be enough.
While my daughter loved Kitten Island, I couldn’t stop the cynicism from busting down the door. Kitten Island had plenty of room for something of interest: some upgrades, baddies that do more than crawl, even a flipping swimming level. But it’s determined. It’s got one platform king trick, and it’s going to keep performing that trick for fifteen levels and forty-five minutes.