Handheld gaming is more than a compromise of power and portability. Whether it’s the ability to play anywhere, multitask or hold an entire console in your hands, it’s a special experience consoles have never replicated. In a world where high resolutions and teraflops reign supreme, we take a look at a portable relic every month and reflect on what makes it memorable.
Anyone who pays attention to details and actually reads my features may recall not too long ago I raided a bargain bin filled with forgotten Game Boy Advance titles that were purchased strictly for this feature and how else is an eleven dollar stack of handheld games going to turn into a tax write off? These assorted titles are still in the original generic white plastic bag the store gave me, and when it’s time to pick a game to write about for the feature, I just reach in and pull out whatever title my fingers blindly grasp. The title in question for this month is Catz, which is a game whose existence I was unaware of prior to its purchase, though I do remember a series of Nintendogs existing at one point in time, assuming those games were real and not a trick being pulled on my memory by that Sinbad genie Shazam.
A little known fact about cats is they originally evolved from salamanders, which is why they are properly spelled with an S at the end, for salamander. Not only did the developers of this name not know how to properly spell “cats” there is no mention anywhere in this title of their salamanderian heritage. This is what happens when schools don’t teach evolution. Despite the major red flags such as worrisome spelling and misinformation provided in this title, this game actually is rather cute and endearing, kind of like actual cats. The same can be said of the game’s soundtrack in regards to mimicking the feline experience, which is catchy, upbeat and will drill itself inside a player’s head to the point of driving them to insanity but loving every second of it. Catz has the player take control of a character who happens to run into another person and their pet cat. As what tends to happen in a situation like this, she runs home to talk to her parents about how she must now get a cat. Her parents do not allow better judgment to prevail, and it’s off to the pet store they go where a player has to pick out a kitten from a variety of choices, along with an allowance of coins to purchase items for the kitten, such as food.
Once the little feline furball is back at the house, the player then has to feed and interact with it to increase its stats, which are Mood, Friend, Punch and Looks. These stats are a bit strange, but the names kind of make sense. Mood is how good of a mood the cat is in, so the higher this score the happier the cat. Friend is how friendly the cat is to the player and other people, so if this game were to behave like a real cat give it lots of treats and catnip and it will love the player unconditionally on the condition those goodies keep coming. Punch is how powerful the cat is, so a higher score here means it is a stronger cat that can dominate the kitty fight club. Looks is how healthy its fur looks, so this score will determine whether it looks like a raggedy stray or a shiny healthy pampered fluffball.
What is odd about Catz is the constant attention the player has to give their little feline. Giving the kitty toys, attention and food are all things that need to be done with actual cats but they only require slightly more attention in raising them then pet rocks require. Some people claim houseplants even respond positively to speaking to them, cats tend to just stare at you and wait for the person to stop making noise. The goal is to be a good kitty keeper by raising the cat’s level, which is done by increasing its stats. Better food will increase the cat stats, as will different toys and grooming it. Using combs for example can increase the Looks stat but items like nail clippers will increase the Looks stat but lower the Punch stat. There is a shampoo option for grooming, but based on experience with real cats this isn’t something I wanted to try unless the Punch stat was down into negative numbers even though this is a purely digital cat. The scratching post is the most accurate item at the player’s disposal in Catz since the player can’t make the cat use, it will either be ignored completely or the cat will scratch it when it wants to, not the player.
Bonding is important with any pet, and this is achieved mostly by showing affection to the feline. Initially there are just a couple options, like petting its head and stroking behind the ears but as the cat grows more friendly toward the player more options open up and the player will be able to carry the cat. An absent option is the belly rub, and this would have been a great gamble bonding opportunity. How I think this option should work is there is a chance doing this will vastly increase the cat’s Mood score or it will make the cat very angry and spring into a violent rage. The chances of what action the cat takes will depend on its friend score, so if the player tries this with a cat that likes them it will probably be a good bonding experience, but doing this with a kitten fresh from the store is a good way to lose an eye. It’s also a good practice in this game to keep the litter boxes clean and the house in general good sanitary order for the cat’s overall well being.
When cats like their owners, they bring them gifts, typically dead rodents and bugs. These offerings tend to repulse their human servants, but possessing these gifts somehow opens up the option to pick from a larger variety of kittens at the pet store. The girl the player ran into at the beginning of the game tends to check up on the player to make sure the cat is well taken care of, and threatens to take the cat away if it is starving, sort of like a pet equivalent of DCFS. After the time it takes the kitten to grow up (roughly two weeks), the cat leaves the nest and tends to go off and join up with other cats, probably cats involved in organized crime since higher level cats can become the mob boss of the alley cats. This ending is just messed up beyond belief. You don’t raise cats in hopes that they spread their wings and become shot callers in alley cat criminal activity, you raise them so they end up becoming fat and lazy and keep your feet warm when you sleep at night. The cycle of Catz involves the player getting a new kitten every couple of weeks to bond with it and raise to venture out into the world independently and take on criminal enterprises. But these crimes went unnoticed because people were too concerned about trivialities like sex scenes buried in inaccessible depths of coding within M rated games while our children were going through pets like toilet paper while contributing to organized crime. Making a tough cat with a high Punch score to become The Mob Leader or Boss of the Alley Cats is just unsavory behavior, and the pet store owner is in cahoots. Presenting the gift of the hit cat’s target makes the pet shop owner aware the player is good at training killers and this cycle of crime and violence will continue as the player keeps on raising ultra violent crime cats. At least that’s one interpretation of the various endings, it may differ slightly than what the developers intended. In seriousness, Catz is a cute pet simulator geared toward younger gamers.
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