Developer: Jurlo, JetPackGone
Review Context: I love finding the beautifully surrealistic or artistic, RPG Maker type of games. They can sometimes go beyond what the program is and create wonderful worlds and stories to be told.
Date of Playthrough: January 20, 2016
PC Specs Game Played on:
OS: Windows 10 64-bit
Processor: Intel Core i7-5700HQ CPU @ 2.70 GHz
RAM: 8 GB
Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce 840M
Resolution: 1920 x 1080
Sometimes the most simplistic of games can have the most complex stories and intricate design work. We are in the age where imagination can take flight, and a lot of indie developers have done a lot with what they have. RPG Maker games, while looked down upon by a lot of people, shine in their visual and narrative flair. Games like Ib and Mad Father may not have been the most intricate in the way of gameplay, but they have shown time and time again that they are memorable and worth the playthrough. Surrealistic approaches to storytelling and the aesthetics of these types of games helps to differentiate them from other titles, yet they are becoming increasingly popular and more mass produced. In this ever-changing medium of unique indie games, does Stray Cat Crossing stand out among the overwhelming masses?
Stray Cat Crossing in its essence is best described as Alice in Wonderland with a discernible plot. It focuses on a nameless woman who stumbles upon a girl and takes her back to her house. Once she enters, there is this insane world of fantastical creatures waiting for her. The further she delves into the house, the more she starts to see an even greater mystery unfold before her and you as the player. That is the beauty of this short but impactful story. Without any prior knowledge you traverse the house and find out who the little girl was and what this house is. It’s that mystery that invites you to play for the two and a half hours of playtime. Every creature is mentioning something important, and every action taken tells you more about the mystery. Developers Jurlo and JetPackGone create a game that is a nice surrealistic journey into a world created out of boundless imagination.
What makes this world seem alive is the beautiful 16-bit pixel art and their coupled portraits. Each creature puts you more and more out of ease when you meet them. Whether it is the monstrous child and adult body snatcher and its pale face staring at you, or the giant caterpillar that looks like it has a Japanese Noh mask for a face, they create both a sense of dread and intrigue. When the action sequences show up that dread is nearly immortalized in physical form. Are the action sequences particularly good? Well, with there only truly being one in the entire game, I feel it overall hinders the progression, unlike the puzzles the game presents. The controls of the action sequence and the obstacles makes it hard for the initial run and even potential subsequent runs, since it is escaping a creature and jumping over pits and the like. If the controls were tidied up a bit, or the obstacles more doable and placed in an easier fashion, the grotesque art of the creature and the score would have easily given the player a sense of dread and urgency. Instead it is left as the single biggest blemish on the game.
The puzzles on the other hand are short little nuggets on the way to the conclusion of the story. The more puzzles you solve, the world feels stranger and becomes more aggressive. Whether it be traversing an ever changing hedge maze, finding the name of a creature, or discerning the important elements from a play, these puzzles will keep you guessing to the story behind the house. They add to the sense of progression, instead of hindering it much like the RPG Maker game Ib. Especially in the ending segments will this become the most apparent, as the house seems less threatening and seems more inviting all because of the puzzle it presents. The OST mimics the tone present, very subtly from the background. It will always feel unnatural, yet over the time will create a sense of warmth and comfort in some areas, particularly ones that seem more normal. It covers a variety of styles, whether it is the haunting synths used in “Clear Blooded,” or the chiptune upbeat theme “Waiting.” You won’t notice it initially, but you will find the music oversee your perception of this world and help guide you hand and hand through the mystery.
That is what this game does so well: creating a story and world through its inviting visuals and haunting OST. There are no core gameplay aspects, as it focuses more on the adventure and its puzzles. When the short two and a half hours are up, there is the emptiness followed by a sense of warmth. You must leave this world, but hopefully you as a player will not forget your times being chased by creatures or conversing with other ones. The length of the story will be a bit off-putting for some who want to be further enveloped in the world, but that is just a small nitpick, as most games of this nature have. Every image and every bit of dialogue is important to telling this story, and none of it must be overlooked. I can’t praise this story any more than I already have. It may have some technical hiccups, such as the game crashing, which are easily fixed with the help of the forums. Don’t let one technical hiccup stop you from experiencing this enchanting world though, as it easily stands out among the best story-based indie games. Stray Cat Crossing is an enchanting and mystical ride into a world filled to the brim with beautifully creative art and music design, and a well told story for the short amount of time spent playing.
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