It may be incredibly juvenile, but we can see why sCATch comes with those annoying capital letters in the middle. When your main character is a cat who craps paint everywhere, you probably don’t want the first four letters of your title to be ‘Scat’. It changes the entire mood of the game.
sCATch: The Painter Cat is aiming to be far more wholesome and family-friendly than that. At its heart, it’s a puzzle game that we’ve played countless times before: it’s a version of the ice-slide puzzle, where you tap in a direction and your character moves as far as they can go before hitting something. Then they stop and you do the same again, sliding about an arena depending on where the walls are, aiming for an exit of some kind.
You’ve probably played them in adventure games like Legend of Zelda, and they’re an indie game staple (only this week, we’ve got two of them, as sCATch launched on the same day as Webgeon Speedrun Edition which – spoiler – is the better of the two games).
It’s a gentleman’s rule that if you’re going to launch this kind of game, then you need a gimmick to spice things up, otherwise you risk being just yet another ice-sliding game. sCATch: The Painter Cat duly comes up with one, and it’s certainly colourful.
As you’re sliding around a level in sCATch: The Painter Cat, you’re hitting paint pots. Those paint pots cover little sCATch, and he starts trailing the colour around the level like de Blob. You don’t have to worry about making a mess, as this is what the level wants. On the walls, you can see little paint swatches that indicate what colour the wall should be. So, not only are you moving about the level to find an exit, you are making sure that you do a spot of Changing Rooms and paint the walls the right colour.
A colour bar across the bottom of the screen is an indicator of just how much of the room has been painted. Because if you duck out of the exit before it reaches 100%, then you’re going to get some failure music and an unceremonious restart. It’s your task to paint every last inch of the level in the relevant colours, and only then can you pop out for a saucer of milk.
Paint being paint, the complication is that you can accidentally – or purposefully – overwrite the colours that you have already slathered on the walls. In the opening levels, this is the dominant factor in the puzzles. Forget about the path to the exit – that’s so obvious that you needn’t worry about it – it’s finding the path which overwrites your colours at exactly the right moment which forms the challenge.
Except it’s not all that challenging. sCATch: The Painter Cat is built in a way that you can replay quickly, the number of paths are relatively limited, and you can pretty much explore every permutation in the space of a few restarts. So, if you fancy it, trial and error can become your friend. It slightly removes the luster of sitting there and working out for yourself.
Later levels get cheekier. Conveyor-belt-like squares appear, and they lock you into a particular flow. Then they get a magnitude more complicated, as similar conveyor squares appear that turn clockwise when you hit them, changing their path completely. The last seven or eight levels boil your brains in a bag, and it’s entirely because of these pieces.
More confusingly, around the mid-point, you are introduced to dual-colour paint pots. Having played sCATch: The Painter Cat all the way to the end, unlocking all of its achievements (1000G for about an hour’s work, if you’re interested), we still don’t know how they quite work. Enter from one direction and you become a particular colour; enter from the other and you are a different shade. That’s fine. But there are variations on this rule that we just can’t predict: reversing back into a paint pot seems to inconsistently change our colour, and moving into a paint pot from the north or south, when the colours on the pot are oriented east and west, is utterly unpredictable. It’s a toss of a coin.
Throughout sCATch: The Painter Cat we had that niggling sensation that everything was inexact. The paint on the walls wasn’t hugely clear: did a mix of colours indicate that either colour could be used, or both was needed? Is that tiny little splash of paint an accidental overflow of colour, or something that sCATch genuinely wants me to paint? There are some shaggy edges to how sCATch: The Painter Cat sets out its rules, and we found ourselves asking – too often, we may add – whether the game wanted to do something or not. It’s not a dealbreaker, mainly because the puzzles have a solution that feels right, but it made us realise that we took other puzzle games for granted. They are clear about their rules and stick to them. sCATch: The Painter Cat doesn’t quite deliver that feeling.
As ice-sliding puzzles go, sCATch: The Painter Cat certainly looks the part. It’s cute as a button, and then you pour paint all over it. There’s an easy thrill in slopping paint everywhere and then ducking out of the exit, all within the turn count.
But like the best cats, sCATch doesn’t feel like you’re the one in control. Knowing what to paint is uncertain, and fuzzy gameplay rules mean that you’re often playing trial-and-error rather than paint-the-room. sCATch: The Painter Cat certainly isn’t a bad puzzle game, by any means, but it’s not one that you ever feel like you can truly master, either.
You can buy sCATch: The Painter Cat from the Xbox Store