Kitten Squad Review
Binding of Isaac, but relatively less guilt?
How you feel about this game will probably depend a lot on how you feel about PETA. Some people may see this as a noble game intending to educate children about real dangers affecting animals. Others may point out that PETA is an extremist group who also kills dogs. Some may respond that that’s a very specific criticism and while the ethics may be questionable, that does not undo the other work PETA is doing. Then others may respond that PETA’s work does more harm than good. Then some may respond that of course they would say that because it makes them uncomfortable. And then others may respond that that is a silly argument and they are silly people. And some may respond and be like, “Name calling? Really? What are you, a REPUBLICAN?”
And then so on and so forth.
I do not want to make this review about PETA exclusively, for one because I do not have the experience needed to offer useful insight on the company and also that sounds like a lot of work. But I do have experience on games, and that is really what we are here for.
Kitten Squad is the newest parody game from PETA. This one is a twin stick shooter where you, a kitten with an agenda, go from room to room shootings up robots trying to free animals. Each mission is inspired by a real-world cause such as saving whales from tanks or sheep from cages, but really the biggest differences between these missions is the informational video it gives you at the beginning.
The real problem with the game is repetition. There are several different types of weapons and enemies, but with few exceptions, I was running to a corner and shooting behind me the entire time. The small changes to the gameplay do not amount to much.
This game draws heavy inspiration from The Binding of Isaac, right down to the momentary pause when you enter a room, but there are none of the features that made that game so replayable. There is no element of exploration or resource management. Each mission is just a series of rooms. Room after room after room.
There is no progression or growth, either. Enemies and boxes will occasionally drop weapons, and these weapons do vary in type considerably, but the core strategy of running from corner to corner firing behind you remains constant. All that really changes is how much room you leave between you and the enemies chasing you.
The game offers optional bonus missions you can use to gain currency for cosmetics (side note: isn’t dressing up animals generally frowned upon by PETA?), but these do not help much. Mainly these are, “Kill x amount of y enemies,” or, “Use z weapon,” but none of them encourage you to do much beyond what you would normally do. In addition, when I actually turned in my side quests, the game just offered me the same side quests again. Like everything else in the game, they repeat.
That’s the real problem with this game: repetition. There are several different types of weapons and enemies, but with few exceptions, I was running to a corner and shooting behind me the entire time. The few changes to the enemies do not amount to much. I felt a serious sense of deja vu throughout the experience.
“with few exceptions, I was running to a corner and shooting behind me the entire time”
This game does differ from other PETA games in one major are. PETA games are known for taking mainstream games and making them a bit shittier and a lot more gruesome. River City Ransom, but set in an animal testing facility. Pokemon, but about bloodied Pokemon fighting against their masters. Mario Run, but about the Tanooki trying to get its skin back from Mario. Seriously, you play a skinned Tanooki chasing after Mario!
While Kitten Squad definitely is shittier than Binding of Isaac, it takes the opposite approach in terms of gruesomeness. Whereas Binding of Isaac was a body horror nightmare, Kitten Squad is appropriate for everyone. The cutscenes mention tortuous and ghastly practices, but none of that is actually seen in the game. All the enemies are robots, and all the animals, while sad looking, do not have visible injuries or impairments.
Which is ironic because this is the first PETA game I have played where their reactionary approach to creating outrage would have been completely appropriate. Sure having a bloodied Pikachu feels a bit exploitative, but Binding of Isaac was full of disturbing images, so the imagery makes sense. So in comparison, this game feels tame. Why not have animals with needles in their heads and blood pouring out their eye sockets when all of that was in the game you are ripping off?
This approach would have at least made the levels a bit more interesting. The art style is so plain and changes so little that everything becomes monotonous. There are a few different backgrounds, but levels are so long and feature so few exciting moments that these quickly become tiresome.
This is only exasperated by the real problem with this game: too much repetition. There are several different looking weapons and enemies, but with few exceptions, I was dashing to a corner and shooting behind me the entire time. The few differences in layout do not matter much.
At one point, I cleared one room only to go to the next and it was exactly the same. These levels were not randomized, which is why it was a bit baffling that some designer put two identical elements right next to each other and thought, “This is okay.”
Which brings up the real problem with the game: repetition. There are several different variations of weapons and enemies, but for the most part, I was running to a corner and shooting behind me the entire time. Making the situations look slightly different did not amount to much.
The game also feels way too long for the type of content it delivers. The missions go on and on and on, and after a while, I thought surely that I must be close to the end. Surely this excruciating experience of doing the same thing over and over again would soon end. But I would get to the next stage and guess what:
The real problem with this game reared its head: reiteration of the same content over and over to just make it longer. There are several different looking weapons and enemies, but rare was the moment I was not running to the corner shooting enemies following me. The slightly different contexts did not amount to much.
There are boss fights in the game. These are very rare, as the vast majority of levels are just waves of enemies, but they do exist. The first one I fought I beat by, you guessed it, running to the corners shooting behind me. The next one, to the game’s credit, did have ranged attacks and traps to make the encounter more exciting. It did feel like I could just run away as there were more factors I had to take into account, which made for an interesting challenge.
Well, it would have made for an interesting challenge had my character, the boss, and all the traps in the room shortly disappeared after I was hit. In seconds, I was looking at a blank room listening to sound effects. I tried to do it again and the same thing happened. It is almost as if Zeus himself saw that the game was doing something different and said, “THIS SHALL NOT BE,” causing the game to glitch out and die.
I figured that was a good time to stop playing.
What the developers did not really understand about Binding of Isaac is that the combat, at least when taken in a vacuum, is the least interesting part of that game. Even though that game did so many better things in its combat, from making enemies behave in vastly different ways to frequently having boss fights that require acute attention to patterns as much as reflexes, that game is only captivating for multiple playthroughs because of the exploration, progression, and art style, all of which are things that Kitten Squad does not have. Creating a sanitized version of a gross product despite being an institution known for creating gruesome imagery is perhaps the biggest and the weirdest sin this game makes.
At least, besides all the repetition.
(Concerning the score, I know this game is free, but so was your mom’s meatloaf and I sure as hell won’t give that more than a 63)