Making your console debut in such a crowded marketplace is incredibly tough, and trying to stand out amongst the video game masses isn’t easy either. But that’s the position in which Ukrainian-based publishers and developers Vidroid find themselves. Fortunately, they’ve got a puzzle game up their sleeve that’s already been out on Steam, winning awards for innovative gameplay and visual design. So, are we in for a treat with the puzzling Molecats which is now available on Xbox One? Or does Vidroid’s inaugural console offering fail to make its mark creatively?
Whilst Molecats could bring back yesteryear’s memories of Lemmings, it’s certainly a game with plenty of its own clever ideas to ensure a fresh venture is to be had. That doesn’t mean all is great though, with a few aspects really hindering Molecats from being up there amongst the best of the genre.
The titular Molecats are the focal point of the game; these cat-mole hybrids spend their days traipsing through underground caverns in search of food, treasures and their Molecat buddies. That’s all we need to know really, with some simple cutscenes every so often, barely divulging much more to be honest. Essentially though, Molecats are adorably weird and easily manipulated, which is handy because it’s going to be your job to guide them through each level in order to reach the exit door.
The 50+ levels are made up of tiles and the Molecats will keep walking their current path until they reach a dead end or a hazard. Depending on the tile type, it may be possible to rotate it to ensure the route within it lines up with a surrounding tile, thus enabling a smooth transition for our cutesy creatures. What’s a bit of a pest is that you have to move the camera to place the tile you wish to interact with right in the middle – something that becomes mildly irritating. Nevertheless, it’s almost like an obscure version of Pipe Mania to begin with, but there are more far more strings to its bow, so to speak.
Eventually, extra abilities are introduced and additional Molecats will be dotted around the caverns, just waiting to be picked up. Such abilities include the option to reverse the direction in which they are travelling, make them run faster by simulating a tremor, stop them dead in their tracks and speed up time to get things going more swiftly. Scaring the Molecats stops them from interacting with items and jumping down shoots, whilst halting their motion or reversing it could be handy for hitting switches.
The controls are straightforward enough to grasp and everything is quite chilled – despite still being challenging – particularly with no chance of failing a level. Sure, there are enemy-like beasts and troublesome obstacles like locked doors that can cause hassle, however that’ll merely delay reaching the exit and momentarily mess up your planned route. It’s enjoyable to explore every tile in a level, looking for shrooms, fellow Molecats and collectibles, all in aid of garnering the coveted three stars for completion. Accidently finding secret tiles where it previously appears there is none provides joyous moments. Unfortunately, there’s a point where the complexity of the levels just gets turned up to 11 and then it really sucks the life right out of you.
It’s at that point that you find yourself with too many tiles to take into account, switches that move other tiles and the potential to endlessly loop the same section, which slowly but surely drives you insane. To add some context, levels go from taking a couple of minutes to upwards of half an hour, before you realise it’s best to switch it off and try again another time with a fresh mind. Naturally, games get harder, but the steepness in difficulty is mind-boggling; that being said, hardcore puzzlers will appreciate the toughness.
In regards the visuals, designs for the 2D caverns throughout are rather lovely with excellent lighting ideas, little environmental objects that add to the setting and character models that stand out well enough to bring the areas to life. When you consider how cute the cartoony protagonists are, then there’s nothing worth complaining about in the art department. And the same lack of complaints can be attributed to the audio, which simply complements the music that offers a decent, yet strange, beat.
Overall, Molecats is a puzzle game that tries to do something different to the masses and for a short while delivers a very enjoyable tile-based challenge; one that initially gets the balance right between being difficult, rewarding and fun. Don’t pre-judge it on the simple concept of getting the Molecats to the exit because the influx of abilities and optional collectibles, buddies and shrooms to find help things tick over nicely. But whilst the Molecats are almost instantly likeable, it’d be good to know more about them via a story, which isn’t present here. Even disregarding that as a drawback though, the tile selection is a bit of a hindrance and the sudden spike in the complexity of levels is off-putting for those who prefer a more casual puzzle experience – and wish to retain their sanity.
For its ingenuity alone, you should consider Molecats on Xbox One and weigh up whether you’ll be able to handle the toughness it delivers.