Dr. Seuss may have a monopoly on the cats in hats market, but his cat didn’t ride around on a camel or create loopholes in the universe. Hat Cat and the Obvious Crimes Against the Fundamental Laws of Physics has a long name, and there’s a joke in there somewhere, but hidden beneath its simplistic pixel art visuals and infectious chiptune soundtrack is a deceptively simple puzzle mechanic that serves as the game’s backbone.
On the surface, Hat Cat seems simple: There’s a cat. There’s a tent. Sometimes there’s a key. You never physically control Hat Cat, as the anthropomorphic hero continuously walks in one direction, but your goal is to somehow guide them to the tent using rectangular loops made by dragging your mouse. Building a loop around Hat Cat will prevent them from leaving the area, but as they exit to the right, or fall through the bottom, they’ll appear in the opposite direction. It’s a difficult concept to explain, but thankfully the game’s itch.io page has this helpful .GIF.
Trying to compare Hat Cat to another game is also difficult, as it combines aspects of some rather obscure titles like the Wii‘s Ivy the Kiwi, and the recently released Where is My Heart?, combined with the world map of Super Mario Bros. 3. I’ve played a lot of games in my time, and if I have a hard time trying to explain the game’s simple concept, I’d say that’s a compliment; especially in an over-saturated genre like the puzzle platformer.
I always enjoy when developers modernize a classic concept, especially when it’s done well. Hat Cat feels like an NES game that I would have enjoyed as a kid, hitting all the right nostalgic notes and no-doubt frustrating me in the process, but I could easily see my 6 year-old self falling in love with it. My 32-year old self still enjoyed it immensely, but it eventually started to grow a bit repetitious. Puzzle designs were always interesting, so it wasn’t a matter of growing bored at all, but the singular concept of creating loops had me hoping for a little more variety after a few hours. Certain levels do task you with leading a friendly cat around to meow and spawn blocks, and there are even hazards to avoid, like falling spikes, so there is more to solving puzzles than just creating loops, but you will only ever create loops for the duration of the game. Repetition is unfortunately par for the course in the puzzle genre, and Hat Cat is no different, but it has a solid foundation and enough TLC to be enjoyable up to the very end.
Level designs are also pretty bare-bones, featuring a tiled backdrop, your path, and little else. There are a few different themes though, like forests, clouds, and snowfall, but zooming out to get a feel for a level usually revealed just how barren it was. The name of the game is simplicity, and what Hat Cat does, it does very well. It’s a cute, retro-themed puzzle platformer that’s only as good as the sum of its parts, and thankfully it relies so much on its loophole concept –which is very well executed– that many of you will find it easy to overlook its seemingly empty levels and the repetitive nature of its gameplay.
Although the concept is quite simple, puzzles range from very easy to controller tossing, but they can usually be solved within a handful of failures. They always seemed fair in the end, and the sense of accomplishment never faded as I made my way through Hat Cat‘s 50+ levels.
Overall, Hat Cat can start to feel repetitious at times, and I feel it suffers from barren level designs, but it’s such a unique puzzle game that any fan of the genre should jump right in. T-Bone Independent Software Solutions and Funky Ape Studios have been developing Hat Cat in their spare time over the last three years, and you can tell a lot of TLC went in to its art, soundtrack, puzzle designs and loophole concept. Some of its puzzles will have you cursing at your monitor, but there is no finer moment than having it all finally come together. Hat Cat and the Obvious Crimes Against the Fundamental Laws of Physics is currently available in a “choose your own price” format on itch.io for Windows, OS X, and Linux, and is currently seeking funding for Android, iOS, and OUYA.
Bradley Keene is the Executive Editor here at What’s Your Tag?, handling news, reviews, and a bit of our public relations communications. He’s an aspiring video game journalist, Baltimore native, and a diehard Orioles fan that’s completely obsessed with roguelikes, horror games, and point-and-click adventures. His favorite console is the Dreamcast, favorite game is the original Metroid, and he could watch The Goonies for the rest of his life. Contact him by e-mail at the address above, or follow his insanity on Twitter.