Mrs.Cat is extremely well travelled. Originally from Earth, she gets to travel to Mars and Neptune in this two-game collection from indie darlings, Ratalaika Games.
Ignore everything NASA and the Mars Rover has told you about these two planets, as Mrs.Cat has got some revelations about how they work. On Mars, things tend to disappear. When you look away, they’ve gone. And on Neptune, gravity is light enough that you can wall-climb and even dash forward like you were a feline-primate crossbreed. And both of them are covered in blocks, portals, buzzsaws and missile turrets. It’s eye-opening. Maybe the conspiracy theorists were right.
Mrs.Cat Between Worlds starts literally between worlds, as you choose which of the two planets – and which of their associated fifty levels – you tackle first. Mars is given prominence, mainly because it’s the better of the two, so we’ll go there first.
What hits first is how snappy and responsive everything is. Mrs.Cat is a nimble customer, and we found that she controlled perfectly. There’s no lag, no imprecision, just a cat who is in full control of all her limbs. If you fail in Mrs.Cat Between Worlds, it’s your fault.
We’re fans of the minimalist aesthetic too. Captured in glorious 4K and optimised for the Xbox Series X|S, it just looks like it’s carved out of diamond. There are no graphical flourishes or wondrous scenes that will have you drooling, but it’s as precisely crafted as a wristwatch.
The same goes for the soundtrack, too. It’s the usual synth-based beats that we’ve grown accustomed to from indie platformers in recent years, but it gets the pulse racing and feels effortlessly cool. The songs all feel like chiptune demasters of the Drive soundtrack, and we intend that as a compliment.
Each world has a different ruleset – presumably to match the differing gravity of the two planets – and those applied to Mars are by far the best. The principal one is that hazards, after a couple of seconds, become invisible. When it comes to spike traps, that tends to be okay. You take a moment to remind yourself where they are, and then jump about the level, avoiding wherever you remember them to be. If successful, you’ll jump through the portal at the end of the game screen and move on to the next area.
But as things progress, the inability to see what you’re getting into becomes a problem. Spinning blades rotate on a set path, and then – blink – they’re gone. So, you’re not just memorising where the blades are: you are anticipating their patrol routes too. There should be a blade right there, and it should be on the other side of the screen by now.
To make things a touch easier, tonics appear in the levels, and these momentarily reveal the hazards for you. They’re a good refresher on where those blades, platforms and missile launchers might be, so you can have a touch more confidence about where to step.
But you will die. And that’s fine. Mrs.Cat has far more than the customary nine lives, so you can restart without much bother. Respawns are swift, and there’s no horrible meowing sound effects that make you realise that you’ve just pulped a moggy.
The Mars levels are all rather spiffing. You may well fall in and out of love of the invisibility mechanic: on easier levels, the invisibility doesn’t really factor in much, and on harder levels you may curse that the flipping blades can’t be seen. But it’s relatively original, and gets you playing in a way that you might have not before; wrestling with whether it’s worth hunting down a tonic, or blitzkrieging to the exit portal without it.
Neptune is less impressive. That’s mainly because we’ve been there before, and the originality disappears as quickly as it would if it was on one of the Mars levels. You can wall-climb and eventually dash, and we’ve done that while playing two other games this week, let alone in a whole year. These aren’t new moves, and the result – when applied to a minimalist platformer – is a little yawnsome. Neptune just doesn’t have any tricks up its lack of sleeves.
What it does instead is tinker with the obstacles, and that – at least – gets some traction. Platforms thud down like Mario’s Thwomps; blocks can be touched to make them disappear; while others become pronged with spikes if you stand on them for too long. Levels are well designed, leveraging the dash move and the wall-climb, often together.
But we couldn’t help feel that Neptune was merely adequate. Fine. We lusted after Mars instead, and skipped back to the main menu to play it. Well, actually, on that note: you can’t quit back to the main menu when you are in the other game. In a bizarre feat of anti-UX, you have to come out to the main menu, quit, and only then can you pick the alternate planet. Hopefully that will get fixed, quicksmart.
So, as they say Gary, Mrs.Cat Between Worlds is a game of two halves. The first, Mars, is a model example of a minimalist 2D platformer. It’s got a gimmick and it knows how to use it, employing illusory obstacles to make the platforming as much about memory as it is skill.
The second, though, is a bland affair that leaves us as cold as if we were stranded on Neptune itself. It’s not bad, it’s just there, and you may find you scurry out of it once the 1000G pops. Which it will do in a few minutes.
Mrs.Cat Between Worlds is a case of good cat, bad cat, and for a blizzard of Xbox achievements, that might well be enough to cough up £4.99 like a furball.
You can buy Mrs.Cat Between Worlds from the Xbox Store