“If we make a fly-on-the-wall review of our history and connect the significant scenarios from our memory, we can develop a comprehensive pattern of our identity that throws a whirl of light on the secreted framework of our life.” – Erik Pevernagie
Cats and the Other Lives is an interactive fiction and casual adventure game in which a troubled family reunion is observed by their adorable house cat, Aspen.
Developer: Cultic Games
Released: 21st November 2022
Platforms: Windows, Mac
Available on: Steam
Cats hand the Other Lives has quite linear gameplay that mostly consists of Aspen exploring the house and observing events and family interactions. Aspen can interact with a range of objects, scratch furniture, lap up puddles, chase mice and jump on tables amongst other things which nicely capture typical feline mischief and makes controlling Aspen a lot of fun. Aspen can also sense important goings on in other rooms, as well as follow scents from specific items, both have visual indicators to direct the player. The casual nature of the gameplay is broken up with a selection of sporadic puzzles and minigames that also add an element of challenge. There are also a large number of collectable memories to be found.
The game uses minimalistic, simple mouse-only controls that are pretty intuitive for the most part. However, there are some sections in Cats and the Other Lives that are quite tricky, such as a mouse chase, or a climb up a perilous tree. These tasks require some speed and good reactions from the player which gets a bit cumbersome with just the mouse and even a bit frustrating at times. Luckily this did not make up the bulk of the game and was only a minor inconvenience amongst an otherwise stellar experience.
Cats and the Other Lives centres around a tense family reunion that takes place after the death of the patriarch, all witnessed through the eyes of a delightfully playful ginger cat, the feline protagonist, Aspen. A lot of time is spent eavesdropping on family conversations and much of the story is delivered in this unique ‘fly on the wall’ manner as Aspen witnesses turmoil and disarray amongst the remaining family members. Aspen also witnesses pasts events via ghost-like forms that appear around the house, revealing context for current events and providing a good amount of backstory for the varied and interesting characters.
The game presents a mysterious and slow-building narrative that creates suspense. The result is an overall feel that is quite casual, despite the elements of drama and the presence of hard-hitting themes such as alcoholism, death and mental health. This makes for an intriguing, engaging and emotional experience that uses its gentle narrative delivery to avoid being too intense.
Cats and the Other Lives features some truly stunning pixel art, highly detailed and primarily in dark, moody colour palettes that really show off the atmospheric lighting. The walls are littered with pixelated recreations of famous paintings such as The Lady of Shallot by John William Waterhouse and these are a visual highlight within the game. Aspen is animated wonderfully in a way that captures feline movement, agility and playfulness. Similarly, the human characters interact with the environment and each other with intricate animations that have a real sense of life to them, adding to the overall immersion and believability.
The music is slightly ominous and works well to build the atmosphere and accentuate the sense of drama with heavy piano, low-pitched droning and eerie twinkling sounds. Ambient sound effects such as crows outside and doors creaking give the game a subtle creepy feel and add to the sense of drama and turmoil. The voice acting in the game is extremely minimal and only occurs on a handful of occasions with questionable quality making the addition feel somewhat superfluous.
Cats and the Other Lives is a unique and touching experience that will take anywhere from 5 to 10 hours to complete depending on play style. The gameplay is pretty casual for the most part which serves to mediate the intensity of the drama-filled narrative, though sporadic puzzles and minigames add some interest and variety to the mechanics. The aesthetics are a true highlight of the experience with intricately detailed pixel art and fantastically believable animations. The music and sound effects also add a lot to the atmosphere and increase the tension where needed. Overall, this is a varied and enjoyable game that offers something original with its ‘fly on the wall’ style of narrative delivery and mischievous feline protagonist. I highly recommend this game to fans of interactive fiction and cat -lovers alike!
If you’re looking for more cat-themed games you may enjoy these reviews:
Catoise – An Adorable Portal Based Puzzle Platformer – A Castle Full of Cats – Can You Find the Cursed Felines? – Cattails – An Adorable Open-World Cat Survival RPG