Quirky strategy game gets the cats out of the lab

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There is probably not a game more archetypical of the early Game Boy era in my mind than “Catrap.”

Produced in the glorious age when no one really had any clue just WHAT portable game consoles were for, it took full advantage to make a game that really couldn’t have fit anywhere else on dedicated gaming hardware. Can Game Boy games be big? Should they be small? Are they a distraction for the bus and car trips? Or is it a real game console that just happens to only be able to render graphics on a dim, pea-soup-green square?

The system launched with Tetris, which invented a whole style of “puzzle” game that has proliferated to pretty much everywhere, but at the time was totally new. Even the old standby of Mario got perhaps his two weirdest games for the system in the forms of “Mario Land 1” and “2.”

“Catrap” turned up in the middle of all of this. It seems to have very little coherent premise. You play as a cat boy, cat girl — or both at once — who need to clear out rooms full of enemies. Supposedly, this all has to do with the cats being trapped in an underground laboratory, but this hardly explains the ghosts, mummies and the hundreds of rocks you’ll encounter.

The game keeps it simple: All your cat can really do is move left and right, and climb up and down when there are ladders. The game is play-from-the-side view like a platform game, so you will sometimes have the chance to hop down from a high place to a low one. All you have to do to take out an enemy is run into it. The difficulty comes from getting to a place where you can do that. Enemies are seldom standing in a convenient place.

In order to get anything done, you’ll need to figure out how to bend the improbable terrain of the so-called laboratory to your own purposes. You’ll mostly do this by pushing rocks. You can only push one rock at a time, so if you slide two rocks next to each other they’re going to stay there. Further complicating all this, you’ll soon learn that enemies are located in tricky places. You’ll probably need to use that irritating mummy as a steppingstone, no matter how much you just want it to go away quickly. In some of the levels, instead of just controlling one character, you’ll control both and need to carefully position both kitty people so they can reach stuff neither could on their own.

Making the complex experimentation and solutions more manageable, the game allows you to rewind time with the touch of a button. This feature looks mind-boggling in a 20-year-old game. It mostly just serves to make the game more fun to play, but it’s definitely notable.

“Catrap” is an amusing and casual diversion. Its quirks, like the rewind mechanic, are honestly what I like about it the most. It’s a weird game that feels both like a forerunner to mobile games on iPhones and the like, and it’s also representative of the spirit of experimentation on early Game Boy. If pushing boxes and untangling puzzles is your thing, you couldn’t do much better than this on the 3DS or Game Boy.

“Catrap” is available for the Nintendo 3DS for an MSRP of $4 at the Nintendo 3DS Download Store (visit ubne.ws/16tObHR), and is also available used for the Nintendo Game Boy and its ilk.

Noah Hinz is an art and game design enthusiast living in Walla Walla. Contact him with questions, game and playing suggestions or anything else related to games at noahhinz@gmail.com.

Video

"Catrap" demonstration

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