There is something undeniably charming about every Vector Unit game – just see the likes of Beach Buggy Racing 2 and Riptide GP Renegade. This is even true when their latest game, MouseBot: Escape from CatLab sounds like a dystopian nightmare: cats have become sentient and have devised challenging mazes in a laboratory to kill mice using lasers, mines, axes, acid and more.
The mice they are using now are only robotic, but the intention is clearly there. This is where you come in though; can you navigate these robotic mice through the myriad of traps and save humanity from being under the control of cats?
MouseBot: Escape from CatLab isn’t really as sinister as that. At least not on the surface, as it presents itself as a cute little platformer. Originally available on mobile devices, this premium version for Xbox consoles comes with a few new features but is largely the same game. A motorised little robotic mouse will propel itself forward and it is up to you as the player to jump, dodge and swerve out of the way of the obstacles designed to put an end to this less furry version of a rodent.
Things start off simply enough as you only have a few mousetraps to manoeuvre around, but it won’t be long before you encounter cheese graters, laser beams and much more, where even the slightest nick can prematurely end a run. There are ten ‘blocks’ of levels and each one bar the last one will introduce a new obstacle to avoid.
Each new set of levels is humorously introduced with a little cutscene of Boss Cat dispelling the previous cat scientist in favour of a new feline brainiac with an original idea to stop the MouseBot. Make it to the tenth set of levels and Boss Cat will take it upon themselves to finish you off once and for all with some truly devilish level designs.
There is a real difficulty curve to MouseBot, something that the cartoon graphics wouldn’t lead you to believe when first playing. But trust me, it is more than apparent as you progress. This is because rather than remove an obstacle after you have bested that particular set of levels, it simply adds the new device into the repertoire. That means towards the end of the game you will find yourself jumping over cheese graters whilst mines go off either side of you, and you’ll need to stick that landing because otherwise a laser beam or a pool of acid will gladly take care of you.
But rather than infuriate because of its difficulty, it gives players that “one more try” feeling that can easily whittle away hours striving for flawless runs and par times, or passing the controller between friends.
Whilst it is one thing to complete a level, MouseBot has several more objectives for you to complete: collect all the cheese, find the heart chip, beat the goal time and complete a level without dying. The cheese found throughout the levels can be used to unlock a suite of new skins and accessories to customise your MouseBot however you would like, but it can also lead you to more dangerous paths so there is a risk and reward with it. Never, ever go for the cheese on a mousetrap though, otherwise I think you can guess what will happen.
Heart chips are also placed to divert you from the safest path but collect enough of these and you can increase your maximum number of lives for each level. This is something that you will very much need should you wish to succeed, as you only start off with three. There are checkpoints in each level, but lose all your lives during a run and it is back to the start.
And if you thought completing a level without dying would be the hardest challenge, it is actually those par times that will cause the most retries. You will not only need a flawless run but will also have to hit the corners right on their apex, and hope for a little bit of luck to beat these time trials.
Your reward for escaping CatLab is the newly added Arcade mode which offers yet another challenge. In this almost survival-like mode, your MouseBot has been sped up substantially and must collect as much cheese as possible, starting with the very first level. It follows the levels sequentially like the main game and you can collect heart chips again to increase the number of lives you have, but this time they don’t reset after each level. You only have the one pool of lives to see how far you can get.
Arcade mode keeps track of your best score in terms of amount of cheese, but only locally. There are no leaderboards to compare yourself with the rest of the world.
I won’t say there was an attachment there, but by the end of MouseBot: Escape from CatLab on Xbox my suspicions regarding how evil cats are were confirmed, and I took on a personal challenge to make sure my MouseBot escaped. And in doing so, I had a lot of fun. The challenge is certainly present in MouseBot, but it never feels unfair and with the near instant restarts any failures are forgotten almost immediately, not only as you strive to do better for yourself, but also your little MouseBot too.
Can you evade the obstacles in MouseBot: Escape from CatLab on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One?