Thursday, 8 September 2011

Download of the Week: LaserCat

Between Steam, PSN, WiiWare and Xbox Live Arcade there are a huge variety of games from a variety of genres available to download - some from professional big-name developers, others from independents and bedroom developers. Every Thursday in 8brit's Download of the Week we highlight one such game and discuss why we think you should play it. We do not limit ourselves by release-date, price or even metacritic score - the only criteria is that it should be downloadable and enjoyable. This week it's the Xbox Indie Arcade oddity, LaserCat.

In some ways, LaserCat, developed by MonsterJail Games, is guilty of indie games' worst sins - it has a quirky sensibility, catchy soundtrack and slick faux-retro graphics. But, the reason that these are indie gaming's worse sins is not that they are bad things in their own right but rather because they are often used to mask shallow and uninspiring gameplay and game mechanics. So, the question is, does LaserCat have enough substance to justify its existence? Considering it's our Download of the Week, I guess you already know the answer to that question, but let's not get too far ahead of ourselves.

LaserCat stars a cat whose owl friend Owlfriend has been kidnapped by an evil space frog, Wizzord. The ransom is one million British pound sterling (the game places great emphasis on the fact that Wizzord is only interested in our esteemed currency). Unfortunately LaserCat lacks the appropriate funds to pay the ransom and so sets off intrepidly to rescue his friend.

The gameplay references games-gone-by such as Metroid and Castlevania. The game world consists of a sequence of rooms navigated in a screen-scrolling fashion. Each room features obstacles such as platforms, enemies, lava and zippy-air-transports (that might not be their actual name) and as you explore the rooms they are revealed on your map. Your goal is to collect the keys necessary to save your friend, a task made all the more difficult by the need to answer a general knowledge question each time you find a key.

It is a simple but effective game, compulsive and entertaining without overstaying its welcome. The gameplay is embellished with, as mentioned, a charming soundtrack and a humorous sensibility. Each room is titled, more often than not in a funny or cryptic way ("Robot Cat Attack", "Waste Pile"), and there are various other messages scattered throughout the game such as a ghost warning the player to "brush your teeth everyday". 

Graphically the game is again simple but endearing. The visuals refer back to old 80s titles you'd likely play on a Spectrum or Commodore 64 but with, as you'd expect, a much higher definition and resolution. 

Perhaps the key thing the game gets right is treading the line between homage and imitation, LaserCat is an enjoyable retro experience because it is fun to play, offering a decent challenge but being accessible in a way most modern games simply aren't. The fact that it references so lovingly the platforming and exploration tropes of yore is a bonus, one that has a nostalgic appeal that could only be improved if it came with the screeching squealing noise of a cassette loading on the Spectrum ZX.

LaserCat is an example of how an indie game with relatively low production values can be an enjoyable, compelling and basically fun experience. And you know what? It's only 80 MS Points, so why not give it a go.

LaserCat is available from the XBox Live Indie Games section for 80 MS points, alternatively you can give the demo a whirl for free.

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