Review: Catlateral Damage (Sony Playstation 4)

Catlateral Damage
Genre: Sandbox/Action
Developer: Manekoware
Publisher: Fire Hose Games
Release Date: 03/22/16

Complicated, challenging games are certainly a wonderful thing to have available, but sometimes you just need a game that lets you turn off your brain and wreck everything in sight for a while. That’s certainly the charm behind a lot of games, to varying degrees, and it’s also part of the appeal of Catlateral Damage as I understood it from the impressions of fellow staffers Alex and Crystal. As a concept, the game certainly seemed like it was a fun enough one; I like cats, I like breaking stuff, and the game combines the two in a way that’s simple and easily understood while also offering a novel framework and procedurally generated houses so you ruin different locales every time. What’s not to love? After a fairly well received PC debut, the game has finally come to the console market through the PS4, and having spent some time with it, I can definitely say that I see where the love comes from. The game has a definite appeal in a reverse Katamari Damacy sort of fashion, and for ten bucks it definitely gives you a fun and interesting experience to play with. That said, though, while it’s a fun game, it’s also a limited one, and if you’re looking for something that’s a little more involved than knocking stuff over this might not be quite what you’re looking for.

On cats and mischief

The basic concept of Catlateral Damage is based around a real life cat, Nippy, who is apparently something of a disaster, as the game portrays your cat as being a giant jerk from jump. There’s not really a plot here beyond “something annoyed me, so I’m going to make the humans pay,” to drive play forward, and while there really doesn’t need to be, all you’re left with is the play modes to keep things moving. The game is based around two core play modes in Objective Mode and Litterbox Mode. Objective Mode has you go through a series of stages and knock down a set number of things within the time limit, and offers you some specific unlockables to find by doing this. Litterbox Mode allows you to jump into any stage you’ve unlocked and make a mess without any specific time limits or requirements, meaning you can just break things at your leisure. You can also browse your collection of goodies and your stats if you’re interested in what you’ve done with the game, but honestly, your gameplay choices come down to “knock over specific amounts of stuff on a time limit” and “knock over stuff at your leisure,” and with no plot to carry things or variety, that’s not a great start.

Aesthetically, Catlateral Damage looks… fine? It’s hard to really know what to say about it visually, honestly, because the simplest way I can describe it is “it looks like the developer really likes Katamari Damacy” but we’ve already been to that well in the last two paragraphs. Anyway, the game has a very blocky, purposefully low-res vibe going for it, where everything has this cel-shaded aesthetic combined with a specific lack of detail that lets you know what things are but doesn’t really provide much detail about them. It works artistically, in the sense that a cat probably doesn’t care about the specifics of the things it’s breaking in your house, and this is probably done to allow the game to scale as large as it does, but it’s hit-or-miss in terms of whether or not you’re going to get anything from it. Aurally, the game is honestly in much the same boat, as the music is very much there and it’s serviceable for carrying the experience forward, but it’s nothing that stands on its own. The sound effects are also fine to the extent that they exist, as breaking and dropping things sound correct and power-up appearances have decidedly attention-getting arcade-style sounds associated to them, and the meows your cat can make are cute enough, but that’s about it.

On knocking over or breaking everything you see

Playing Catlateral Damage is honestly pretty simple, especially since there’s a fairly comprehensive tutorial that walks you through the basics right from the get-go. You play from a first person perspective, and moving around is exactly as simple as you’d think, with the left stick controlling movement and the right stick allowing you to look around. Your objective is to knock around all the different crap in the house you’re presently in so that it ends up on the floor, and it’s fairly easy to make this happen based on the tools you’re given. You can jump up onto various different surfaces as needed and your cat can bat at things in front of them with the triggers, as you can use the front triggers to push things forward and the rear triggers to swipe at things with the associated front paw of the side you’re using. You can also use the Square button to pick up things that are either not moving how you want or not moving well at all to drop them on the floor if you’re so inclined, and the button also doubles as a bite (for things you can’t pick up) and a meow (when you’re not aimed at anything) when needed. As far as play mechanics go, that’s really about it, and the game makes these mechanics pretty simple to pick up in minutes, so basically anyone can play the game without much effort if they play through the tutorial or experiment a bit.

The general objective of the game, no matter what mode you’re playing, is to knock everything you see onto the floor of the location you’re in, which is often easier said than done. In the beginning, your cat is fairly limited in capability, so you might not be able to reach everything easily and it’ll often take several swipes to knock things down as you’d like. Fortunately, the game offers you power-ups to collect that improve your stats for interacting with various things, like plants, cat tubes, scratching posts and more, so you’ll be able to power up your kitty’s performance with little trouble, especially in Objective Mode so you can keep pace with the time limits and objectives. The game also offers more temporary power-ups, like space gravity and shields, at random to keep things interesting, as well as special objectives such as hunting a mouse or collecting a power-up in a set period of time, so you’re not just knocking things about the whole time. Objective Mode gives you specific requirements of things to knock to the floor before you can complete stages, but also allows for side objectives (such as knocking down specific items) to complete, and also offers hidden items that can take you to secret stages if you hunt around enough. Litterbox Mode, on the other hand, just allows you to putter around without any real objective if you want to make a mess on your terms, so you can experiment or just goof off and not feel like you’re under any requirement to knock stuff over if you don’t want to, and it allows you to use any stages you’ve unlocked to do so.

On replay and cat novelties

You can probably complete a single session of Objective Mode in about half an hour, give or take, assuming you’re successful, but unlocking everything will probably take you a good few hours at least, possibly longer if you’re not focused on doing so at the expense of all else. There is a lot of content here to unlock, including a whole bunch of cats (many based on Kickstarter backer cats), stages and pictures of even more kitties, so those who love to spend their time finding things to collect and unlock will have a ball here. Beyond that, the game honestly has a lot of novelty to it, especially for cat lovers or small kids, so there’s definitely reasons to come back to it long past completing everything there is to do. Litterbox Mode alone is definitely a fun novelty that just allows you to trash a room that can be created using a “Seed” (or just randomly) at your own pace with no objective beyond that, and it’s pretty easy to see how that can be a fun time waster. The game also has all sorts of novelty rooms, like a mad science lab and a museum with a giant T-Rex bone display, to play around in, and that’s just hilarious no matter what you’re looking for.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for something a little more complex than what Catlateral Damage has to offer, this is probably going to be a bit of a letdown, because there’s just not that much here at the end of the day. It’s a cute experience, for sure, but it just feels like reverse Katamari Damacy in thought and deed, with less overall novelty to it. It also doesn’t help that the game isn’t as tight mechanically as it could be, which can make playing more frustrating than it should be, particularly during Objective Mode. Some objects are borderline impossible to move around effectively and take way longer than they should to bat about, and in the case where a high shelf is positioned over another object (like a couch or bed) you’ll need to knock things down twice to make them count, which gets annoying fast. Also, if you’re into the collectibles or replaying just for the novelty of it, the game only has about an hour or two of stuff to show you, and for ten bucks that can be hard to justify.

Honestly, if you have a lot of love for cats or some small kids, Catlateral Damage is worth the asking price, as it’s a cute novelty that’ll occupy your time nicely, but anyone looking for something a little deeper or more involved won’t find it here. The game is cute enough in its presentation and concept, and while it’s not really memorable aesthetically or aurally it does what it does well enough to make the game work. The mechanics are simple to understand and learn, and there’s enough to do here whether it’s unlocking the content, completing challenges or just goofing around in Litterbox Mode. That said, the game only has a couple hours of full content to show you, and with only two play modes that might wear out its welcome fast, especially since the mechanics could use a little polish and the game itself feels very light on meaningful content to experience for the price. If you love cats or you have a little one (or several) who loves to play games but isn’t great at them yet, Catlateral Damage definitely should be on your radar, but for everyone else it’s probably not going to hold your interest as long as you’d want.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Catlateral Damage is a cute, fun experience if you love cats a lot or have some small kids to unleash on it, but anyone looking for something a little more complex won’t find it here, which limits its appeal a bit. The design is pleasant enough, and while there’s nothing especially memorable to it, it more than serves the purpose beautifully. The gameplay is simple enough to understand in minutes, and there’s also a lot to unlock over the course of the game to keep you coming back, especially if you enjoy knocking things around as a cat enough to do so. On the other hand, the game only really has about an hour or two of unique content to show off, and only offering two play modes that are mostly identical leaves the game feeling shallow, especially when the core mechanics feel like they could use more work overall. Catlateral Damage is certainly a fine game if you’re into what it does, and cat lovers or smaller kids will probably love it a whole lot, but anyone looking for a more meaty experience, sadly, won’t find it here.

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