Here’s something that you readers (particularly anyone who recently came into reading Ninja Blues) might not know about me: I am easily swayed to play games. Like, ridiculously easily swayed. If you tell me about any games you think I’d like, there’s a good chance I’ll hunt them down and play them for review somewhere down the line. If you ask me my opinion about any game that I haven’t played it, there’s a very good chance I’ll feel compelled to play it, and then write about my opinion in several thousand words. And if you gift me any games, and you even slightly hint that you’d be interested in reading about it later…
The latter is how, through the ministrations of someone who is either a really good friend or a really awful person, I’ve ended up with… *sigh*. I’ve ended up with Petz Catz 2, a 2007-era Ubisoft game from its inexplicably still on-going Petz series. A game that, yes, deals with ‘taking care of a kitten’ as its subject matter. There isn’t really any joke I could make about this that’s any more intrinsically mock-worthy than the real thing, is there?
(Spoiler levels: Narrative, pfffrrt. Mechanical, LOOK AT THE LITTLE KITTY)
The official Petz Catz 2 font is Comic Sans. Comic Sans. I’m not normally a font snob, but I need all of you to feel this burden with me.
Petz Catz 2 wastes no time getting into the meat of the action. There are no extended intro cutscenes, no settings menus, no profile frippery or logging in. I start the game, and the very first thing I’m hit with is cats. Seven cat breeds, to be precise.
Which one do I want? A grumpy-looking Persian? An easy-going Maine Coon? A regal Abyssinian? A jungle-spotted Bengal?
Next, I can select my new cat’s gender, give it one of three fur types, and pick an optional collar. And a name, of course. All cats are named ‘Blackie’ by default, for some inscrutable reason, but I decide to name my grey-striped Bengal Steve.
All this leads to an official Certificate of Adoption for my three-month-old kitten, complete with paw seal and printer option.
Alright, let’s hit it! Actual game, here I come.
Pop quiz, hot shot: what’s the first thing I see upon loading into Petz Catz 2?
You guessed ‘your cat’, didn’t you? Wrong. It’s actually my comprehensive Pet Journal, a book where I can keep detailed records of everything pet-related!
Two pages for every day include room for pictures, ‘badges’, a cat-related Tip of the Day, and even a section for hand-written notes!
It’s not until after I click this book away that I get to see my cat friend, Steve, for the very first time.
Steve bounds up to me, apprehensive yet full of kitten energy. I might be projecting, but it seems like he’s very happy to see me.
“Help your new friend adjust to its new life. Click and drag across Steve for some loving pets.” Goeth a popup adorned with little hearts.
Really, Petz Catz 2? That’s the kind of riveting gameplay you hope to reel me in with this early in the game? You really think that just clicking and dragging my mouse up and down a virtual cat will OH MY GOD HE’S PURRING. LOOK AT HIS LITTLE FACE, HE’S PURRING AND NODDING AND HE CLOSED HIS LITTLE EYES AND HE’S THE CUTEST KITTY EVER
Alright, sorry, where was I?
NO BUT LOOK AT HOW CUTE HE IS
I can interact with Steve in two ways. I start in a more zoomed-in mode, which draws Steve’s attention and allows to me pet his little face and make him go all purr-like. I can zoom out with the press of a button, which gives Steve more freedom to roam and allows me to pick him up.
Incidentally, zooming back in makes a little girl’s voice call “Come here”, which causes Steve to immediately run towards me. There are several weird things about this scene, but we’ll let them slide for now.
Just as I start wondering what exactly there is to do in this game, Petz Catz 2 hits me with Challenges. Apparently, Steve and I can complete ‘certain goals’, to unlock ‘toys, clothing, and other surprises’. Clothing? But sure, I’m down. Let me see!
Goal number one: ‘Water your pet’.
Jokes aside, sure, I’ll get Steve something to drink. How do I…
Changing my viewpoint in this game is a weird process. The only way of moving the camera involves pushing the mouse cursor up to the screen edges. And even then, the changing viewpoint feels less like ‘moving my head around’, and more like… like I’m rotating around a set central point, I guess? Like, the camera moves around the room in a circular path, always making sure to keep the center of the room in view as much as possible. It makes me feel less like an actual human being inside this room, and more like some sort of cat-obsessed poltergeist.
Eventually, I manage to cast my eyes kitchen-ward. ‘Open the fridge to get some water’. Wait, I’m feeding my cat chilled bottled water? But… but the tap is right there! Cats drink rain water out of puddles, for Pete’s sake! Steve’s not going to know the difference!
And for that matter, why is there only bottled water in this fridge, anyway? Crikey, this game is decadent.
But fine. Click to open fridge, click to get a bottle, click on Steve’s drinking bowl. Steve runs over and greedily laps up the water, and my efforts are rewarded with a… jester cap. A jester cap for me, I can only assume.
Let’s see, what’ve we got for UI? A series of buttons in the top left corner allow me and Steve to move to different parts of the house: the living room, the kitchen, the bathroom, and some sort of park. In the top right, we have the stance-changing button, the Pet Journal and an in-game camera, and a toybox. Ooh, toybox! Right now, it contains a fairly meager selection of toys… but it’s quality that matters, not quantity.
I grab a little purple bouncy ball and hold it over Steve’s head. With a flick of the mouse, I throw the ball across the room! Steve chases it, reaches it, sniffs it a little, and…
…grabs it in his mouth and brings it to me. Wait, what?
‘Use toys from the toy box to play fetch with your pet’, Petz Catz 2 tells me. Petz Catz 2, are you.. are you sure we’re on the same page here? Play fetch with your cat? Have any of you developers ever played with a cat before? Because while I’m not really a Cat Expert by any stretch of the word, I’m pretty sure cats can’t usually be bothered enough to play any game that doesn’t involve batting things around the room. Are you sure you’re not confusing cats and dogs, here?
But wait, it gets more confusing: a final set of buttons in the lower left corner allows me to teach Steve tricks. Let me reiterate that: Petz Catz 2 is trying to tell me I can teach my cat tricks. Stuff like sitting, rolling over, giving paws, and even dancing on his hind legs.
While I sit in befuddlement over Petz Catz 2’s insistence I treat Steve like a literal dog, Steve himself has a few things to say about the matter too. Things like ‘I’m thirsty’ and ‘I need to use the little kitten’s litter’, communicated through thought bubbles of various colour and content.
Petz Catz 2 evokes confusing feelings in me. On the one hand, I’m not sure how I feel about a game that, so far, seems to confuse a young kitten with a particularly picky dog. On the other hand, look at the little guy! He’s all tuckered out from playing fetch and running around the room!
Maybe I should play some more? Maybe I’ll play some more. Let’s see if I can’t teach Steve how to dance, after all.