How Metroidvania is it? Perfect Fit. There’s a great story that is told through cutscenes, and there are a lot of “Quest”-like objectives, but the world structure and map is exemplary of the genre.
Primary Challenge: Melee Combat
Time to beat: ~10 hours
Review Info: The review code for this game was received through Steam Curator Connect.
Buy Catmaze if you like…
- Slavic Mythology
- Endearing Characters with Excellent Development
- Whimsical Charm and Atmosphere
- Large Maps with some sequence breaking potential
▼ Review continues below ▼
Whatever the title “Catmaze” invokes in your mind, I want you to put it aside. Catmaze is one of the best uses of an established mythology I’ve seen in a video game, with one of the best uses of Metroidvania tropes available. While this game does get more difficult as you progress, it provides generous options to help keep it accessible. It’s pretty rare for me to come across a game that I could recommend to just about anyone, but Catmaze is truly one of those games.
Catmaze uses Slavic mythology as inspiration in the creation of authentic characters who are placed in an intriguing world and engaging in relatable struggles. The story presentation and pacing is completely spot-on. As the game opens, Alesta the Protagonist and her supporting cast are quickly cast into a series of conflicts that grip the player’s attention and never lets it go. The mythology creates situations that are sometimes laugh-out-loud hilarious while still staying true-to-life and therefore endearing. Best of all, contrary to the Metroidvania Genre’s usual despondent atmosphere with dark and often gothic themes, Catmaze remains optimistic and uplifting even in the light of the tragedies that set off the hero’s journey. This game is translated from Russian, so there is an occasional awkward word choice – for instance Alesta calls another character a “Silly Goosie” after he performs an act of dangerous heroism. But in my opinion that kind of thing only adds to the sense of character authenticity.
The Metroidvania map compliments this story perfectly. You get a terrific feeling of adventure as you explore its grandiose caverns, forests, and mystical corridors; seeking for power-ups but also discovering equally rewarding interactions with people in trouble. The map is huge and you’re given almost complete freedom to explore it. There is some gating involved with the story points, but in a lot of cases it’s merely an illusionary gate, leaving the game open to sequence breaking. The treasures I found from my wanderings were almost never disappointing, especially since the game gently encourages you to find upgrades by making the enemies in each new area have a substantial increase in power. If you remain vigilant though, the frustration that those power increases might create is mitigated by your own equal increase in power. (It’s also fun to completely trash earlier areas as you level beyond their challenges.)
Within these challenges, the enemies telegraph their attacks well, and virtually all of the bosses are a good challenging test of your skills. Alesta’s familiar attacks take some getting used to, and there are a few areas that are slightly plagued with enemy spam, with a couple of “Variety” sections that I thought were a bit excessive. But even if the game’s difficulty becomes too much for you, you have an NPC “Aunt” that’s willing to sell you defense and attack potions that handily mitigate the difficulty for players willing to use them. I think even a low level run is certainly possible.
The game isn’t without a few nitpicks however. While the music is whimsical and always appropriate, the sound effects feel a little bit lacking. The combat is relatively consistent and well-done, but it lacks the crunchy feeling that games like Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight have (And I suspect that some tweaks to the sound design would help with this.) There was also a puzzle or two that, at least in my play through, the physics were a bit persnickety, forcing me to repeat it multiple times even though the solution had already become clear to me. None of these things detract from this game being absolutely great, but they are representative of room for improvement.
Similar to its Castlevania inspirations, the Catmaze’s greatest strength is in its large open world; exploring to find wonders and surprises. In terms of story-telling, Catmaze is one of the best I’ve found in this genre. If you’re a fan of either well-told fantasy tales or Metroidvanias, buy this game.
Combat is simple, but well-telegraphed with a decent variety of fun options
There are some tricky sections here and there, but mostly fun and engaging
Map is huge with a lot of rewarding visuals, as well as secrets that advance your character and the gripping story
While not a focus, there are some majorly head-scratching spatial reasoning puzzles to get through
Pacing and structure is spot-on, and characters feel authentic within the well-established Slavic Mythology world
Pixel Art is absolutely beautiful, contributing to the atmosphere of magic and whimsey
Music perfectly matches the tone of the game with relaxing or sometimes foreboding tunes
Sequence breaking seems to have been taken into account, providing a few options for subsequent playthroughs
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