At first glance, Pix the Cat appears to be a relatively simple arcade experience. However, this unassuming exterior belies its innovative and addictive mechanics, as well its surfeit of surplus content. Make no mistake, this is an insanely infectious indie which absolutely deserves your attention.
At its core, Pastagames’ latest is an intense arcade experience, which demands a staggering amount of mental wherewithal. You play as the titular cat, and must work your way through mazes, avoiding enemies, collecting eggs, and then depositing them in their rightful positions. Crucially, you can drop off the eggs you’ve collected at any time, but you’ll only get a perfect score if you pick them all up before you begin their deposition.
When you’ve cleared out a level, a small portal will open, allowing you to travel to the next area. What’s more, the better that you perform, the higher your multiplier will rise, so it behoves you to keep on top of things. Ultimately, it feels like a bizarre and utterly compelling combination of Snake and Pac-Man Championship Edition DX. Which is to say that it’ll likely worm its way into your head, and then refuse to leave for days on end.
The game also features a plethora of other modes, each unique and deep enough to be considered a separate game in its own right. The first, Laboratory mode, is a much slower, more methodical experience. You’ll guide the cat around a maze as usual, but when he starts moving in a direction, he won’t stop till he hits a wall. What’s more, you must pick up all of the eggs before you drop them off in their respective slots. As mentioned, this creates a much more measured experience, but one that is still incredibly satisfying.
Nostalgia mode resembles the game’s main experience more closely, but with a few tweaks. Most notably, you can’t drop off the eggs that you pick up. This has the potential to make the experience simpler, but instead the developers use it as an excuse to throw as many new mechanics at you as possible. Indeed, because the levels are discrete, they can each focus on just one or two ideas. Finally, there's the Arena, which provides a suitably chaotic multiplayer experience in the same vein as the main mode.
Perhaps most impressive about the title, though, is its plethora of small but incredibly smart design choices. For instance, the Laboratory mode features a clever and subtly contextualised system which shows you what moves you took on your best run. Another example is the soundtrack, which slowly adds more and more duck sounds as you collect more and more of the adorable amphibious allies. Indeed, the game is absolutely bursting at the seams with similar clever little nods. Individually, these touches aren’t terribly noteworthy, but the fact that it contains so many of them never ceases to be impressive
Ultimately, this speaks to the title’s unprecedented levels of polish. Every single surface has been carefully constructed to work exactly as it should, and nowhere is this more evident than in the game’s presentation. The visuals in each of the separate modes have been expertly tailored to suit their specific styles and contexts, with the film grain crackles of the nostalgia mode being a standout. Similarly, the music is catchy, claustrophobic, and utterly infectious.
Unfortunately, there is one key area in which the game falls down. While the controls work well for the most part, there are times when they seem to be actively working against you. You can either opt to use the directional pad or the analogue sticks to control our fearless feline hero, but neither really does the job properly; the former feels a bit too stiff, while the latter creates the opposite problem. Unsurprisingly, these issues are only exaggerated on the Vita version. At any rate, in a game which demands so much precision, it’s a bit disappointing that such an important aspect feels undercooked.
Pix the Cat is a fiendishly addictive arcade experience. Featuring a bevy of different modes, rock solid core mechanics, and a ludicrous level of polish, it has the potential to devour gaping chunks of your time. Unfortunately, slightly shonky controls let the title down, but if you can look past this misstep, you’ll find hours of leaderboard climbing action.