Cat Maze is part platformer, part RPG. It’s an exploratory adventure full of hidden pathways, strange enemies, and cute animals who help along the way. Although it appears simple at first glance, there’s a lot more under the hood than expected, making for an entertaining journey through a magical world.
You play the role of Alesta, a young witch who embarks on a quest to help her sick mother. Further adventures unfold when this simple task becomes more complex, challenging various magical creatures to eventually find your way to another realm. Along the way, you’ll interact with various NPCs, providing some emotional content to the story. Whether it’s a lost girl scared of monsters or a headstrong boy searching for his father, there are several moments that act almost like short side quests without interrupting the flow of the main narrative.
By the way, you’re not the kind of witch who wields a magic wand. Instead, you rely on your animal friends—known as familiars—who attack on your command. One of the most fun aspects of Cat Maze is finding new critters to add to your collection, from a bat to a raven. There are surprisingly fewer cats than the name might suggest, though they lead you to special items and play a key role in finding your way through the land.
The gameplay is solid, with a mix of platforming and hack ‘n’ slash elements. Your initial quest features nicely placed signposts to provide an overview of the moveset. A little more guidance would be appreciated in the beginning in terms of where to actually go. There’s a fair amount of backtracking until you familiarize yourself with the environment, which is initially frustrating. A map shows where you’ve been and question marks guide you to your next stop, however this wasn’t well explained either. Once I knew where I was going, though, I discovered a much more enjoyable and quite addictive experience.
Along the way, Alesta runs into all sorts of creatures, from mushrooms to wild beasts. Some later enemies can be quite tricky to defeat, and some are even a little spooky. For example, the haunted forest is littered with cloaked wizard-like creatures. More menacingly, strange shadow monsters creep out of the ground, reminding me of those sinister demon-like creatures from the movie Ghost (shudders).
As the game progresses, you discover more secrets and open up new areas of the map. One part that confounded me early on made sense when I eventually circled back and uncovered another way through. It’s quite clever, but my advice is to not be put off if you’re stuck; keep checking each section on your map, which highlights entry and exit points. As I said, it makes a lot more sense after playing a short while. It’s also worth noting that Cat Maze has a fair amount of depth to it, with a story lasting well over eight hours. At $9.99, it’s a good value.
Visually, I appreciated the 16-bit style. It feels like a side-scrolling version of something like A Link to the Past, with strange forests, green hills, and villages to discover and explore. This aesthetic is coupled with a cute soundtrack that changes with each location, giving a nice backdrop to your adventure.
Overall, Cat Maze is an entertaining romp into a magical world of potions and animals. Initial frustrations paved the way for an enjoyable adventure, with plenty to discover and a fulfilling story.