High on Catnip
Inspired by 8 and 16-bit platformers on the early 90s, MagiCat feels and looks like a spiritual successor to Mutant Mudds. For only $5, there is a ton of game here and a lot to appreciate.
As the title would suggest, the player controls a cat and the goal is to make it to the end of each stage while collecting a bunch of stuff along the way. What makes MagiCat unique is that there are over 60 stages available and every one features a boss battle, similar to any Mega Man game. While you do not gain any new abilities by killing bosses, the player has access to a flutter jump although it isn’t as accessible as Yoshi’s. This makes platforming more forgiving as the player can hover over tough spots. In fact, the entire game is easy going. There are tons of optional items within each stage but the biggest challenge comes from the bosses. However, collecting items isn’t without benefits as the player can spend some of those collected item upon death to instantly respawn, activate checkpoints like Shovel Knight so the player doesn’t have to backtrack through the entire level, and can use the red gems to buy items at the shop. Other than the occasional cheap boss battle and a couple blind jumps, MagiCat features some solid level design and reuses assets in new ways to make each stage feel new despite using the same features.
The MagiCat can attack enemies by jumping onto of enemies or lobbing yarn balls. Unlike the straight shooter of Mega Man, these yarn balls arc. This one small detail provides a new approach to offensive capabilities as the player needs to compensate for gravity. Ducking also releases each ball at an even lower angle, adding one more subtle layer to combat. Balls can also be thrown upward but gravity doesn’t allow them to get very far. The most interesting mechanic, however, is the ability to dash by tapping the shoulder button. However, each dash move will require the use of one glass jar item. Also, these glass jars are used to register checkpoints throughout each stage. If you spend all your jars dashing, the player will not have enough to activate a checkpoint. Since the dash can help release trouble spots, it has a balanced system in place to not break the game. So even though it isn’t a super power as the player has access to it from the beginning, it almost feels like a special item due to its valuable and limited use.
MagiCat can become predictable after completing the first world as everything follows a pattern. Each stage is essentially built into three segments. Each segment, or checkpoint, contains one of the optional red gems to collect. Luckily, the menu screen easily displays all the items that have been collected so completionists will know what they are missing and where. The boss of each level is usually a twist on the basic enemies fought during each stage as well. Further, the game not only rewards the player for collecting everything but can rank them on performance. The player will unlock an icon for not dashing in a level, not restarting during a boss, and even gets rewarded for not taking any damage during a boss fight. There is a ton of replay value that fans of collectathons will love. The overworld map is also like Mario World in that the player is free to choose any level available with branching paths and unlockable areas. This means the player can make to it World 2 by only completing a handful of stages in World 1. Giving the player access to multiple stages at once furthers the friendly nature of the gameplay. There is also a built-in Achievement board from the main menu.
Other than some needlessly difficult bosses and some occasional frustrating stage elements (hitting some switches and some bouncy pads can be annoying), MagiCat is a highly enjoyable platformer. The pixel art is also adorable and the soundtrack is just as mellow as the gameplay. It is actually difficult to believe there is so much well design content here for only $5. The big focus on collecting things might turn off some players, but there is some solid, child-friendly entertainment here that is well worth your time.
Also available on Steam.