- Format: PS4 (version reviewed), PC, Xbox One
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: Team 17
- Developer: Italic Pig
- Players: 1
- Site: http://italicpig.com/game/
Game code provided by the publisher
It’s a common misconception that Schrödinger’s cat was meant to explain and support the fundamental ideas of quantum mechanics. In fact, Erwin Schrödinger created his famous thought experiment as a purposely ludicrous argument against the idea that quantum entanglement should remain unchallenged and form the basis of all discussion of quantum theory. Nobody can be sure if the cat is dead or alive, but Italic Pig seem confident of this much; it’s male, bipedal, purple, and sounds quite a lot like Michael J Fox.
The reason that the cat has such a voice is that he’s played by AJ LoCascio (Telltale Games’ Marty McFly) using what, so far as we can tell, is something very close to his everyday voice. Don’t be fooled into thinking this means he doesn’t have much of a range. There’s a fair amount of voice work in this game, and LoCascio plays every single character. He does an excellent job of providing a wide range of voices for the game, and we certainly wouldn’t have guessed it was all one guy if we hadn’t known beforehand.
The story deserves some lingering. It takes place in a subatomic world so small, it’s only slightly larger than the average UKIP voter’s brain. The Particle Zoo – which houses every sort of particle there is – has somehow suffered a huge security breach that’s released all of the exhibits. All, that is, except the one which could end Life As We Know It. Who you gonna call in such a situation? Schrödinger’s Cat of course! The script and, to an extent, the gameplay is inspired by real-life quantum theory. You can get your geek on with references to things such as quarks and gluons, and the more you know about particle physics the more you can appreciate how the fundamentals of accepted theories have been adapted for the game (though such an understanding is definitely not necessary to enjoy yourself). This is a smart and creative story that has more in common with fantasy literature than standard videogame writing, and that is definitely a good thing.
Unfortunately, in terms of story, it’s a comedy with more misses than hits. There are some great jokes in there, but they only shine so brightly because so many other lines fall flat. The script still holds together well, cohesive and well structured; but the humour was clearly designed to consistently support the gameplay, which it fails to do. And that’s a shame, because the gameplay could have done with the extra little boost.
SCATROTLQ is a puzzle platformer. The Cat can jump, and the Cat can punch, but it’s all about the quarks baby. Quarks are sentient little blobs that come in four flavours – each assigned to a different button – and there are literally thousands of them to be found throughout your adventure. In isolation they’re useless, but a group of three can be turned into a one-use item with a limited lifespan. There are a total of fourteen combos for both offensive and defensive uses. You can create platforms mid-air, blast through certain walls, ceilings and floors, shield yourself from deadly goo, and much more. Using the right combos, at the right time, for the right situation, is key to success; but this isn’t always handled as well as it could have been.
Most of the time, it’s fine. You can see exactly where you need to get to next but you can’t get there. So you think. You plan, you throw some combos together, and you pat yourself on the back if you navigate a particularly tricky section first time around. If you fail, you just try to work out what you did wrong, and try again. It’s this last bit where the game sometimes falls down.
There’s a good amount of checkpoints in the game, and most of them are well spaced. Some, however, force you to retread a little too much ground before you get to the place where you’re most likely to have fudged a combo. The fact that you respawn almost immediately upon death helps a little, but not much. You won’t just respawn because you’ve died through bad timing or the wrong combo. A great many sections only give you the exact number and variety of quarks that you need in order to progress, and leave you to work out how to use them. In theory this is fine, but in practice it’s extremely frustrating when you almost make it to the next checkpoint, but find you used the wrong combo earlier, or slightly mistime a mid-air combo, or find that the game hasn’t registered all of your rapid button presses. If you fall past previously navigated platforms having already used the quarks you needed to traverse them, you have no choice but to grit your teeth and voluntarily kill yourself to return to the last checkpoint, thereby respawning all the quarks (and enemies).
Then there are the chase sequences. Mercifully few in number, they task you with constantly running left to right (or right to left – variety!) from something or other, collecting quarks along the way and using them as you run in split-second decisions until you make it to the exit. One mistake, and you start the sequence again from the beginning. These chases are never too long, but the penultimate one is a particularly hateful example that ends in a feeling of relief rather than triumph.
It looks just as great during play as it does in trailers and screenshots (though the quality of background design is frustratingly inconsistent); bright, bold and original. Those are good words to describe the game as a whole – as are ‘frustrating’, ‘short’, and ‘not as funny as it thinks it is’. If you’re hungry for something different, then you’re in the right frame of mind to get maximum enjoyment from this; but be aware that it will sometimes tickle your belly with one hand while punching you with the other.