IMPRESSIONS: Cat Lady Early Access

Friday, December 13th, 2019

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Ever since I got hands on time with Cat Lady, I’ve been a fan. It was immediately apparent this was a game with a lot of style and substance, as well as a passionate team developing it. As a fan of twin-stick shooters and the rogue genre, it instantly struck a chord with me. But it’s easy to impress a gamer at first blush, the real challenge is maintaining that sense of wonder and joy as the game grows and evolves. So I finally set aside some time to play the Cat Lady early access, and here’s what I’ve found.

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First off, the early access build of Cat Lady is immediately more of a challenge than earlier builds, especially the bosses, which hit faster and much harder, and aren’t afraid to swarm the field with minions. I remember easily putting down the giant teddy bear boss in both of the demos I played, and this time around, he had me fighting for my life. Though I can’t confirm it, I suspect the bosses in Cat Lady have more health now, as well as putting up a much fiercer fight. Their windup to initiate attacks seems sped up as well, meaning you need faster reflexes.

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Besides that challenge, there’s other new elements in the early access. You can still find Kibble, which is used to purchase upgrades from Dum-Dum’s shop for your current run, but there’s also something called Spirits. These lovely specters stay in your inventory even after you die, and you spend them at the HUB shop to unlock items for future runs, as well as permanent boosts to your stats such as overall health. Once I figured them out, I really loved the inclusion of Spirits, and found they did a good job of drawing me in for just one more game whenever I lost. And I did lose a handful of times here, unlike in the demos. While the starting point of the Basement isn’t too rough, the second and third areas get much harder much faster, with enemies spewing so much firepower the game can briefly become a bullet hell. This took me by surprise, but in a good way. My biggest worry was that Cat Lady couldn’t keep up the momentum, and might get too samey after playing for a while. I can say that after playing the early access for an hour and a half, I suspect the final build will be bursting at the seams with replay value.

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I liked the amount of variety of the many adorable kitties that serve as your weapons in the game. Each one has different capabilities, though I tended to prefer the ones that enhanced my firing speed or gave me homing capabilities. You start with your primary Mildred, and your secondary Marshmallow, and both are pretty basic. Milred is a rapid fire kitty, Marshmallow is a AOE bomb. As for other secondary weapon cats, there’s a large variety there as well, and not all of them seem to be exclusively feline. One is a robot that fires lasers at foes, another is clearly a poofy dog that runs up to enemies and licks them to death. But each one, whether primary or secondary, offers new ways to play the game.

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Another nice feature is that every couple floors you’ll come across a wandering cat who will offer you one of two upgrades for absolutely free. Usually they’re both upgrades, but sometimes one will be a bag of Kibble you can use to buy things from the shop. This really reminded me of The Binding of Isaac in the best way. These upgrades become vital in the Boiler Room and the Courtyard areas, both which have many unique foes and a totally different visual aesthetic.

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One thing that drew me to Cat Lady initially was the vibrant and cartoony art style, which is strongly reminiscent of the Game Boy Color era. The color palette isn’t very complex, but they accomplish a lot with it. There’s typically one color for the backgrounds and black with white shading for everything else. For example, the Basement is dominated by light blue, while the Boiler is bright yellow, and the Courtyard is a mellow green. What I didn’t realize was that the game designer behind Cat Lady also worked on Plunge, which also drew me to it at PAX with its style. The main Cat Lady artist is Jake Fleming, and his style is cartoony and refreshing. Suffice to say, this is a very pretty game, and even if you inexplicably don’t like retro, I still think you’ll find it appealing.

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Musically Cat Lady is equally fantastic. The amount of buoyant chiptunes in this game already is impressive, as each dungeon seems to have multiple tracks it will alternate between as you change floors. I never got bored with the music here, and found it expressive of many different styles. For example, the Boiler music is generally more high energy, whereas the Courtyard is more classical and even reminded me of some of the music from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Honestly, so long as you don’t hate chiptunes for whatever reason, you should enjoy the music here.

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I admit I haven’t focused previously on the humor in Cat Lady, but it’s prevalent pretty much everywhere you look. From the silly plot to the goofy characters, there’s a lot of fun being had. There’s even a shit ton of puns, because of course cats can’t avoid saying things like “purrfect” and the like. I also appreciated how silly the grandmother in the game is, who at one point wants to invite a defeated boss to dinner. It’s all good natured, and does a lot to contribute to the fabric of the game world.

Cat Lady | Stage Geometry

Bet you can’t tell which objects here you can pass through and which you can’t.

Now, while I did have a wonderful time playing Cat Lady’s early access, there were a few rough spots I encountered. I fully acknowledge these probably will get fixed before the final build, but I still feel I should mention them in case the team missed anything. A small issue, and one that might not be a glitch, is the aiming in the game. I found turning around to be a bit slow and sticky, though it’s possible that was an intentional design choice by Rose City Games. A more serious problem was when, only a half hour into the early access, an enemy spawned outside the room I was in. Considering you need to beat all foes in a room to unlock the doors, this was a problem, though I lucked into killing the foe with Marshmallow, since his explosion isn’t limited to the geometry of the room. Another time, I suddenly stopped firing bullets even though I was still holding the trigger. Much more pervasive was a glitch at Dum-Dum’s shop. More than once, I would enter and be unable to move the cursor left or right, meaning I had to leave and return to the shop to check out all of Dum-Dum’s wares. And while this last one isn’t a glitch, it’s important. Simply put, it’s not always clear what parts of the stages are permeable and which aren’t. Sometimes you’ll see pipes you can just walk through or bushes that somehow block your path. I do think these could be fixed with some minor graphical tweaks. Hopefully the fine folks at Rose City are able to fix all of these before the final game launches, but even with them there, I still had a great time.

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All in all, I’d say my opinion on Cat Lady is pretty unchanged. It’s still a promising indie game that looks and plays great. Sure there’s some glitches, but that’s what early access is for. I know there’s more updates planned soon, and I’m sure that will make the game even more entertaining. I give lots of kudos to Rose City Games and VIZ Media for putting this game together, and can’t wait to see where it goes!

Cat Lady | Complete

About Josh Speer

Josh is a passionate gamer, finding time to clock in around 30-40 hours of gaming a week. He discovered Operation Rainfall while avidly following the localization of the Big 3 Wii RPGs. He enjoys SHMUPS, Platformers, RPGs, Roguelikes and the occasional Fighter. He’s also an unashamedly giant Mega Man fan, having played the series since he was eight. As Head Editor and Review Manager, he spends far too much time editing reviews and random articles. In his limited spare time he devours indies whole and anticipates the release of quirky, unpredictable and innovative games.