Witch's Cat Review
Posted by Morgan Sleeper
Not many puzzle games are lucky enough to boast spin-offs, let alone side-stories - and though you wouldn't guess it from the title, that's exactly what Agetec has conjured up in Witch's Cat: a side-story in the ongoing Rabi Laby series. This eShop entry picks up where Rabi Laby 2 left off on DSiWare, but where the previous games' puzzles centered around their two separate controllable characters, Witch's Cat features a single protagonist with two forms and level-manipulating magic. Even without the dual-character hook of the original games, Witch's Cat continues the series' tradition of solid, personable puzzle-platforming with plenty of challenge.
Witch's Cat's stars a turncoat Cheshire Cat named Alicia, who longs to escape Wonderland's evil Queen and befriend Alice and Rabi, heroes of the first two games. With the help of Dubois, a sorceress of dubious character, Alicia assumes almost-human form and begins her quest. Though it's billed as a side-story, Witch's Cat's narrative is predictably light, and takes a distant back-seat to the puzzle action on offer. That's fortunate, because the outstandingly impractical shared dialogue box in cut-scenes makes it nearly impossible to tell who's speaking to whom. Still, the charmingly campy localization has some funny moments (as when Dubois tells Alicia humans will think her incongruous cat ears and tail are "cosplay"), and it definitely adds to — rather than detracts from — the experience.
Like Rabi Laby, Witch's Cat is built around a simple concept that's easy to pick up, but quickly fulfills its potential for complex puzzling. Alicia can change between her human and feline forms at any time: as a cat, she can jump much higher, but as a human, she has access to fire, ice, lightning, and meteor magic. These abilities set the stage for Witch's Cat's gameplay, which consists of guiding our shape-shifting star through 50 single-screen platforming puzzles. Various environmental obstacles and enemies make the task more interesting, and the interaction between enemies, environment, and abilities leads to a hugely diverse set of challenges.
Witch's Cat controls entirely with the 3DS' buttons, using the D-pad for movement, the A button to jump, X to switch forms, B to select spells and Y to activate magic. Oddly, the Circle Pad isn't supported at all, and the shoulder buttons serve as redundant "pause" buttons instead of something more useful, like magic selection. It does take a bit of time to get used to the button-juggling required to manage Alicia's dual forms and four spells, but once mastered, the control feels great.
Using your magical abilities depletes a shared Moon Power meter, and each spell uses a different number of Moon units: fire and ice use one apiece, lightning takes two, and the meteor magic needs four. The limited Mana means you'll need to ration your witchcraft as well as pre-plan your platforming to avoid getting trapped - an inevitable occurrence mitigated by unlimited lives and a quick-restart button.
While there's no Game Over screen to worry about, Witch's Cat unfortunately suffers from sudden, serious difficulty spikes, with punishingly perplexing puzzles often bookending comparatively straightforward stages. The game's mechanics compound this, as Alicia's limited Moon Power reserves make experimentation incredibly involved in multi-step puzzles; you'll often find yourself restarting levels with the goal in sight, having squandered the Mana required to lightning a final block into place on an earlier, superfluous spell. And with the hint system from Rabi Laby 2 conspicuously absent, there's no easy way out; if you're stumped, you're stumped, and trial and error can take a long time with these levels. Crucially, however, Witch's Cat never fails to charm, and the game's personality goes a long way towards keeping frustration at bay even as you're restarting the same stage for the umpteenth time.
Alicia's 50 stage journey spans several worlds, with platforming staples like jungles, mansions, and snowscapes all accounted for. Themes change every five levels, which gives a quick sense of progression and ensures that a visual refresh is never far away. Players can also revisit any previously completed level to earn better times, with bronze, silver, gold, or platinum statues awarded depending on completion time. Since many of the puzzles require some serious head scratching on the first go, it's easy to shave several seconds — or minutes — off your best time on a second try, so casual players should have just as much fun replaying stages as completionists and speed-runners.
Witch's Cat retains the graphical stylings of its predecessors, with small sprites and simple tilesets in the foreground juxtaposed with the softer multi-layered backgrounds, while the 3D effect adds depth between the two layers and creates a nice diorama effect. It's an adorably lo-fi look that the game wears well, even if it doesn't feel like a huge upgrade from the series' DSiWare days. The music is a similarly sound fit for Witch's Cat cutely occult theme, with catchy synthesized melodies lending an appealingly old-school feel to the adventure.
Witch's Cat isn't a particularly innovative game, and it suffers from maddening difficulty spikes, but it's still a lot of fun, with a good selection of levels, plenty of replay value, and addicting gameplay that invites "one more try" many times over. Rabi Laby fans will love Witch's Cat, but you certainly don't need to be familiar with the series to enjoy this entry on its own; anyone looking for a cute puzzle-platformer with charm and challenge will treasure their time with this winsome witch.