When I was a child, my grandfather insisted that animals could not be intelligent. They couldn’t really make meaningful decisions and their feelings, no matter how they seemed, weren’t worthy of our serious consideration. As a programmer, he was one of the most intelligent men I knew. So, in spite of the fact that I grew up in a world where gorillas could speak sign language, I conceded that animals must be stupid. That was back before I was a cat owner.
They knew when you were talking to them. You could tell by the dismissive twinkle in their eyes, the cocky way they’d dip a shoulder, wave their tail, and wander in the other direction, unplugging the most important thing you own while they were at it as a power move. I’d tell myself that I couldn’t possibly be mad at them. They were just animals and it wasn’t fair but deep down, I knew better.
The cats in Kitty Tactics are every bit as frustrating as the real thing without being any less irresistibly charming, no matter how many times they bring you to your knees. You can’t be mad at them, after all. They’re just cats.
Kitty Tactics reminds me of the best parts of a bad time. Like many indie games today, it harkens back to an era that I wasn’t around for but was born into, all the same. I was four years old when I saw my father’s NES on the living room carpet for the first time. We couldn’t afford internet and cable. In fact, we could hardly afford food but between the comedic relief offered by whatever cassettes we’d rescued from the Disney Vault and the steam we’d blow off by taking pot shots at the Duck Hunt dog, we got by.
Visually, Kitty Tactics directly transposes the simple sort of silhouettes and designs that had originally been born of that classic unforgiving pixel economy upon modern hardware with perfect precision, for better or worse. Case in point: at any given time, there are between five and eight cats on screen, including yours. Which is great, right? Who doesn’t like cats? Now, what if I told you that they all look the same except for the color of their outlines and their hats?
There are only eight color schemes available, which is pretty reasonable, all things considered. After all, there are only so many basic colors. In practice however, this becomes something of a hassle to deal with because the screen constantly morphs into a gordian knot of similar hues which can easily be mistaken for one another. Now, I do think that it is debatable whether this should be seen as an inherent conceit to the simple presentation or a shortcoming of its design, but it remains a distinct challenge to be overcome either way, particularly because it doesn’t make particularly strong use of screen space.
In keeping with the economical use of assets, the music and sound effects are simple and cyclical. They’ll become extremely familiar in a matter of minutes. At first, it was mildly grating. The songs loop more often than a Hot Wheel track and, while it isn’t exactly anthemic, it is sufficient. Its minimalist design balances a compelling melody with a restraint whose consistent groove is effective at helping to immerse and cement the player into their zone.
In essence, Kitty Tactics is a very simple game with a great deal of depth and replay value. Much like Blizzard’s Hearthstone, Kitty Tactics plays out like a board game with moving parts. Your objective is to claim a certain portion of territory for yourself but in order to do so, you will need to fend off the neighboring felines, forming dynamic relationships reminiscent of Shadow of Mordor’s Nemesis System, while gaining experience in order to unlock a range of classes and abilities. It really is worth every bit of effort it takes to get a hang of it if you’re willing to give the manual a healthy workout as you initially orient yourself to its systems because the exact way that the combat interacts with the territorial and social dimensions aren’t immediately obvious in the abstract.
The fact that your abilities are timed, and the other cats move every single turn lends a constant sense of dynamic tension as you determine how you ought to invest your time, in what amounts to a charming splice of Persona’s looming calendar and the spatial component of Chess. In yet another amusing parallel to Persona 3, you can set the equipment and classes of your allies, although you never get the chance to directly control them, though in this case it is a perfectly understandable decision that keeps the game somewhat balanced while they manage their own domains, only coming together to help with the occasional scrap.
One often overlooked fact about cats is that beneath the fur, they are merciless, lean, mean, killing machines. Appropriately, Kitty Tactics is, too, a cruel mistress in which death is never more than a hair’s length away. Unfortunately, as wonderfully tense as most of the game is, once you’ve surrounded yourself with allies, the tide tends to turn in your favor, creating a sort of snowball effect that causes things to wrap up rather abruptly, perhaps even somewhat anticlimactically. While seeing the screen congratulate you upon victory does come as a tremendous relief after the struggle of staying alive, amassing power, and finding meaningful friendships in an indifferent universe, it doesn’t really give you much in the way of reason to play again immediately.
While the core mechanics are rock solid, providing constant opportunities for deviation and incentivizing experimentation, it doesn’t provide you with an external set of achievements or objectives beyond the stated mission of winning by way of claiming territory which is only disappointing because the potential it has is obvious. It would fit the computer form factor a little more comfortably with a variety of more restrictive game modes and challenges but the way that it is reminds me of the ultimate version of the sort of game I loved to play on my iPod Touch as a teenager on the bus ride home.
Speaking of bus rides, that brings me back to the subject of visiting my grandfather. He was always more of a dog person. He liked them because they were easier to train. He wasn’t really interested in herding cats but I always have been and if you are, then Kitty Tactics is definitely a game for you. While PETA will tell you that its morally objectionable to own a cat, Kitty Tactics developer Ibe Denaux will have you know that it isn’t even possible anyway. They’ll get their claws in you long before you could ever hope to beat them, toying with your heart strings like a ball of yarn.