Review for Mad Cat’s World: Act 1 – Not by meat alone…
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In these hard times we are living in today, a game that dares to imagine a future where we survive the vortex of chaos that 2020 has become is more than welcome. From Russia, with love, the team at PhobiaGamesNet bring us the first chapter in their debut game Mad Cat’s World, a sci-fi comedy adventure. Set in the year 2048, the story follows Jack, an eco-friendly young man, and WhyNot, a black cat full of secrets, as they end up getting involved in a strange and potentially dangerous experiment being conducted in the town of Edgenerium. It’s an interesting premise on paper, and both the presentation and gameplay are impressive enough, but the overall experience is more of a mixed bag due to a poor English translation of an already underwhelming script.
To prepare for the adventure, there are several ways you can learn about the basic commands: either from a brief summary in the title menu or after a short animated intro, where you help the main characters get back on their feet after a turbulent first encounter that results in a hoverbike accident. It’s your standard adventure interface, with an action wheel that shows you if you can observe something or manipulate it through a single-click . . . or that’s what I thought. There are times where it’s possible to investigate AND use an object, with the action wheel assigning each mouse button a different option. A bit odd, sure, but it doesn’t affect the gameplay in a negative way.
In pointing and clicking the two protagonists back to consciousness, the first thing that caught my eye was the hand-painted art style. Most of the 2D backgrounds are animated with little details like things being gently blown by the wind and machines that are constantly working. The last one might violate the laws of thermodynamics but, boy does it make the environment livelier! Secondary characters are sparse and not the most endearing bunch. The only ones you can talk to are a couple of Jack’s neighbors, and they just give you hints and mock you. Another character who supposedly will serve as the main antagonist only appears twice and very briefly; everyone else is closer to background assets than actual characters but at least they all have some nice wobbly animations while doing things like painting or smoking. It’s not much, but enough to match the overall cartoon aesthetic with their constant bouncing.
While navigating the available locations inside the town of Edgenerium (namely, Jack's apartment complex and a few alleys), I was delighted with the speedy walking pace and the fast loading times between transitions. But even if you are the kind of person who rarely slows down and smells the roses, it’s hard not to take a moment to appreciate the eye-pleasing palette and cartoony visuals. Impressive lighting not only enhances the beauty but also prevents you from feeling lost with natural indicators. For example, the orange glow from a nearby streetlight at midnight gives you a subtle hint on where to go after the crash. Some pesky items blend a little too well with their surroundings, but for that the game has a hotspot highlighter that can be activated with the spacebar.
The day after the accident, your main goal becomes clear: helping Jack to calm down a very scared, hungry and drugged WhyNot, in order to take him to a shelter. Most of the puzzles encountered in doing so are nicely designed and fun to solve; straightforward without being too easy. Acquiring the needed items doesn’t take too long, and there are abundant clues lying around for you to reach the solution in no time, even if the clues are not always clear. Sometimes the game throws out a different kind of task, like dragging your cursor through a specific pattern, either through a maze in order to retrieve a can of tuna or to cut a couple of holes in a box. They may require some patience, but at least the first one (which is the hardest) is skippable after a short period of time. There’s also a quick game of hide-and-seek near the end.
Getting stuck anywhere is quite rare, so the lack of hint system is barely a problem . . . except when you need to rely on the script for information. After ten minutes of seeing labels like ‘wet liner’ instead of ‘clothesline’ or ‘pink glamour’ instead of ‘couch,’ it is hard to feel inspired to check every nook and cranny for clues and funny tidbits. Add some odd phrasing and the occasional misspelling, and talking to people or examining objects quickly becomes dull. Since the humor relies more on funny scenarios than cleverly written jokes, like WhyNot tripping balls after eating some herbs or Jack using a sex toy for fishing, it is still possible to get a few laughs, but not as many as if the game had a better translation.
There’s no voice acting to help save the day, but the public domain music tracks at least do an okay job of setting the mood for each location. Too bad most of the action happens in one place, so for two-thirds of the story you are stuck with the same Caribbean score over and over again. When you do get to move around, it may sound off-putting going from chill techno to menacing orchestra, but the songs are quite generic, which makes the transition from one track to another go almost unnoticed.
The story itself has plenty of sci-fi elements: flying vehicles have ruined the wheel industry; mail and groceries are now delivered through teleportation; smart glasses are the new smartphones; and automated labor is still far away from the inevitable uprising against humanity. However, these details all feel pretty insubstantial, with the possible exception of the ‘Holedeepener-3000,’ which is a wild concept for a sex toy and probably the only futuristic gadget with a genuinely interesting and original design in the game so far (a shame it was only used for one puzzle).
None of these wonders of tomorrow really tell you much about the world either. They are always introduced more in relation to the main character, like when you talk to the intelligent fridge only to learn that Jack is vegan. Jack’s virtual wallet is always empty and his smart glasses are broken, which makes them the center of the same repetitive joke about how useless they are, and his remarks about his neighbors, technology, and even himself make him sound more rude than funny.
WhyNot spends most of the time high as a kite, so he doesn’t get that much chance to shine until the last part of the chapter, where you take control of him after the effects of the herbs have worn off and he regains his ability to speak and think clearly. As WhyNot, your goal is to stop Jack’s plan to take you to the shelter. In the short time you get to play as the feline star, it is easy to find him much more enjoyable than his co-protagonist. There’s no explicit telling of his side of the story, however, only some hints from time to time about his identity and what he’s been through. But this mystery did a good job of keeping my interest in the main story and, personally, it was the only thing that did so.
Reaching the end of the chapter takes about two hours, tops, at which point it’s still only scratched the surface of its premise, leaving the gameplay and visuals to take the spotlight. And while these are solid elements, ultimately what could have been a short and funny experience quickly withers because of the unpolished translation and bland script. It is too soon to tell how the rest of the game is going to unfold, but without a better translation, things don’t look too promising for those who can’t read Russian. As for the ‘meow language’ option in the language menu, which allows you to play the whole game in a fictional language . . . your guess is as good as mine. Is it a joke feature? Is it related to the story? Who knows. But between this odd-as-heck year and the not-so-distant future of 2048, there’s plenty of time for the Holedeepener 3000 to be invent—I mean, for this and other mysteries in Mad Cat’s World to be revealed.