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August 31, 2017 2 min read
The other day, as I downloaded Darkest Dungeon: Tablet Edition onto my iPad, an icon in the new release list of the App Store caught the corner of my eye. It was for a game titled Cat Bird and it had the titular character in its pixelated glory staring at me, its sweet face almost begging me to give it a try. After listening to the Catdog theme song about five times in a row because that was the first thing that came to my head when I saw the name Cat Bird, I downloaded it. “What do I have to lose?” I asked myself trying not to think about the swamp butt situation the 102-degree temperature was creating in my southern hemisphere, “It’s a free game.” Turns out what I had to lose was an hour and a half; 90 minutes I willingly sacrificed to this charming adventure.
Developed in Stencyl by Ryan Carag aka Raiyumi, with a delightful soundtrack by Julien Mier, Cat Bird is a simple, obstacle-based platformer tasking players with guiding the cute and cuddly abomination to the portal at the end of each stage and ultimately back home. Its graphical style is reminiscent of Cave Story and Fez, part of the delightful pixel-as-a-painting movement that can be visually arresting but is quickly becoming a crutch for indie developers who struggle to find their own signature look. Cat Bird has no attacks, only the ability to jump and slowly glide to the ground to get it past spikes, enemies, falling stones and more in hopes of reaching the end of each level.
I have spent time with many free indie platformers on my phone and tablet over the last year and a lot of them are not worth keeping on my device, let alone writing about. What Cat Bird does right and where others have failed is in the level design. Many of the mobile platformers I’ve given up on feature an uninteresting lead character, often resulting in uninteresting level design.
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