In KatataK, a 2D rail shooter from UK developers Pixel Spill, you can either indulge the popular internet obsession with cat-themed comedy, or enjoy blasting the little creeps to bits. You control a gamer geek leading the resistance against invading felines from outer space. You’ll shoot your way through war-torn London streets, kitty corporate headquarters, and a flying saucer to squash the hostile takeover. As you play through both the story and endless survival modes, you unlock an international cast of mercenaries, and expand the arsenal available to your primary character. The side-scrolling play style and 8bit art suggest a retro slant, when in fact, KatataK represents a way for a small handful of today’s self-made web stars to expand their presence.
The game itself is a perfectly entertaining time killer, but its real reason for being seems to simply be the Kardashian-like expansion of the empire of one of the creators into the mobile app realm. Prolific YouTube personality TomSka, AKA Thomas Ridgewell, has a popular channel offering a multimedia melange of DIY action movies, sketch comedy, and cartoons, all with a winking geek chic bent. KatataK is littered with imports from his web existence, including cameos and music from YouTube cohorts, TomSka stock characters like the horseheaded Mrs. Johnson, and of course, Tom himself as the leading man. From the appearance of the internet-famous horse mask to the trendy fixation on cute little kitties, KatataK is packed with meme references and meta humor about the creative team. There is a lot of potential for players to feel alienated by in-jokes or, for wizened ‘net vets in particular, annoyed by what is essentially an overblown Lolcats gag.
Luckily, whether or not you find KatataK funny, it is beautifully assembled. From the moment of launching the app, the expertly animated developer logos let you know you’re in good hands aesthetically. Story mode is driven along by kinetic cut scenes that are both beautifully designed and smartly directed. The fundamentally monotonous game play, with its single-speed scrolling and limited range of actions, is enlivened by crisp pixel art and a decent chiptune soundtrack. Even in the endless vortex of Survival mode, having ten colorful characters to choose from, including a genetically enhanced bear and a weaponized toy robot, keeps things engaging.
Gameplay is the same in both modes; on the left side of the screen, your avatar marches bravely into the onslaught of ferocious felines, and you simply tap on the right to aim and fire. As you progress, you can buy the loyalty of unlockable characters (a one-time spend), choosing one high-powered companion and one lightweight to flank you in battle to help kill off some of the enemies you’ve missed. You’ll have to choose wisely before the game begins to nail the best combo, opening a dossier from the main menu to read the bios and stats of warriors ranging from Eastern Bloc revolutionaries to psychic Indian warriors. You can also select one auxiliary armament from the gun store, which you can swap out in-game with your standard-issue pistol by tapping the button discretely tucked into the lower right–hand corner. Different weapons and mercenary teams are better at handling the increasingly dense herds of cats, which run toward you at different speeds…or plow slowly toward you in little tanks…or hang from jetpacks and shoot lasers at your head.
Overall, There’s not much of a range of play, between tapping to fire, and tapping the lower-left hand menu to launch screen-clearing power-ups you’ve picked up in your path. Aside from the boss fights, your most difficult task is picking off cats clinging to the heads of human hosts—though if you happen shoot the hostage, there’s no penalty, making the task quite a bit easier. All that said, in spite of the game’s simplicity, the pinpoint accuracy and delightful responsiveness of the controls makes this one-trick pony awfully addictive at the end of the day.
KatataK seems to very much want to be a movie, probably of the Shaun of the Dead variety, and like many popular movies, it falls apart a bit in the last act. You constantly earn cash during play, which you initially need to hire the help, purchase guns, and keep yourself in ammo. However, you’ll run out of unlockable options sooner rather than later, and moreover, the ultimate weapon is a laser cannon that doesn’t require ammo. There’s something frustrating about endlessly gathering gold with no goal ahead. There is one obvious solution here: you should be able to purchase power-ups, instead of simply hoping they appear in the crates that spawn in your path. After all, once you’ve reached the last stage, you’ll direly need these to clear a crowded screen of cats while you are trying to focus on the boss. To cope, you’ll find yourself stuck in a death grind, replaying earlier stages or slogging through Survival mode just to collect power-ups to take back to the final fight—and you can only hold onto three at a time, so there’s no stocking up. If only there was something you could do with all that loot in your ledger. KatataK would be more compelling experience to be sure
All things considered, it isn’t especially surprising that KatataK flattens out in the middle and droops a bit at the end. It seems clear that this is less the product of an ambitious developer, and more of a vanity project for an internet dilettante who never tires of dabbling in different formats. Fortunately for the gamer, TomSka is not just vain but also proud, and has managed to deliver a basically attractive and enjoyable game, whether or not it’s just a means of putting his face in front of more fans.
Is it Hardcore?
While it seems like little more than a chance for the creator to extend his web presence to the gaming world, KatataK is fun to play, and pretty cute, too.