A recent article I read online led me towards a game called Psychic Cat. From a surface level, it looked alright, and seemed like a semi-interesting idea. You play a psychic cat trapped on an alien planet trying to solve some mystery of some race of giants called ‘the strange ones.’
The game is available on an open-source, game-sharing website, not unlike Steam. What separates itch.io from Steam is its process for posting games. Much like sites like Kongregate and Newgrounds, anyone can make a game and put it on itch.io. There’s no greenlight process, no voting; just make it and ship it.
Which is perfectly fine for budding developers to get their work out there and build their skills as game makers considering most of these games are free. However, it does mean there will be a lot of shovelware to wade through. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but Psychic Cat is a bad game, and while you can get it for free, there is an option to donate up to 10 dollars for it which is nowhere near what it deserves, first attempt or not.
Which is why I find it so odd that the article itself made the game sound so strange and existential. It seems that there’s a recurring notion that one of the games themes is, “is this how a cat sees the world?”
My answer would be: probably not.
Which brings up my question, “do people defend bad games by assuming a message? A message that may not even exist?”
The reason Psychic Cat doesn’t work for me is mostly because it’s just a bad game. Plain and simple. To start, you’re dropped in a barren world, populated by a few random structures and some giant enemies. You’re given no context for why you’re there, why you’re a cat, or why you have psychic abilities.
The control is terrible. You can move the camera with the mouse; however, it’s more sensitive than the kind of guy who watched The Notebook alone. Not only that, the WASD controls don’t conform to the camera, so you have to turn your cat with WASD and move the camera for proper alignment.
Only by checking the in-game menu will you learn that you can spawn cubes for some reason and hurl them at enemies, but even this is a herculean task. There’s no fluid sense of control or aiming when you try to send these cubes to where your crosshair is pointing. You’ll find yourself just haphazardly spawning cubes and chucking them in a desperate attempt to hit something.
While the neon aesthetic is kind-of pretty, it’s nothing that hasn’t been seen in better executed games. What ends up being on-deck is a game with no substance, no playability, no imagination, and no teeth. The game is too bad and too frustrating to illicit any kind of emotional response, or provoke any thoughts on the nature of life from the perspective of a cat. So why are people seeing something that I am not? A quick google search taught me that cats have low-light vision, are colourblind, and mostly near-sighted, so why weren’t those elements inserted into the game to assume how a cat might see the world? Furthermore, a National Geographic article from 2014 suggests that cats think humans are indistinguishable from other cats. This could have easily been implemented into the game, showing humans as big cats who have very bizarre behavior towards the cat main character.
What Psychic Cat seems to be, at least to me, is a kind of 2001: A Space Odyssey story with some Metal Gear Solid Psychic Space cat controlling astronauts. But with no context or narrative structure of any kind, the game could be or mean anything. So it really bothers me that people are just haphazardly attaching meaning to the game as if it’s something so deep and profound. The argument that “all games are art” doesn’t fly with me anymore. We know games have the potential to be works of art, we’ve known that for years and no amount of bluster from a dead movie critic will ever change that.
Of course games can be art, masterpieces even, but you wouldn’t hang a three-year-old’s crayon scribbles next to the Mona Lisa.
Assuming a terribly designed game with a terrible story is something more than it is seems incredibly pretentious. Just call it for what it is: a bad game. There’s no reason to attach meaning to something that isn’t there, in some desperate attempt to call all games ‘art.’