Once upon a time, around 1996, LucasArts released a little oddity called Indiana Jones and his Desktop Adventures. The idea, it said, was to create a kind of randomly-generated adventure that people could start and finish in ten minutes: a coffee break RPG if you will. Truthfully Desktop Adventures wasn’t particularly good, but I always liked the idea of a game succinct enough, yet broad enough, to feel like you could do something meaningful in a short amount of downtime.
Oddly, it’s not an idea that ever really caught on. These days if you’re looking for a game to fill a little bit of time, your options are generally some lightweight match-3 frippery or, if you'd prefer something a bit more substantial, a quick blast of a rogue-lite. As much as I love the latter, I find them so bound-up in the concept of defeat that I usually walk away feeling like I haven’t achieved anything at all.
Cat Quest immediately and unexpectedly reminded me of Indiana Jones and his Desktop Adventures. Like that game — and the PSP’s excellent Half-Minute Hero, one of a few others to attempt a similar trick — it entirely encapsulates the idea of a coffee-break RPG, a game determined to give you a thorough adventuring before your beverage of choice goes cold.
You won’t finish Cat Quest in ten minutes but the basic questing loop, borrowed wholesale from its bigger, more bloated RPG brethren is streamlined and simplified to perfection. Each micro-quest — wherein you pick an objective, kill some baddies, gather equipment, and level up enough to tackle the next big challenge — is satisfying in its own right, and rarely takes more than a couple of minutes.
Cat Quest isn’t a game of astonishing depth (it is, after all, coming to mobile, as well as PS4, PC, and Switch), nor is it one that likes to hang about; within minutes of washing ashore at the start, the breakneck tutorial has whisked you through what would take a normal RPG several hours: You’ll murder a field of enemies, visit some towns on the overworld map, meet a king, pick up some quests, even level up and learn a few spells. It’s a completely fat-free experience, and the irrepressible forward momentum is surprisingly compelling.
One of Cat Quest’s greatest tricks is that it keep virtually all of its action focused on the overworld map. There are a handful of times when you’ll head inside — when you’re getting new spells and armour, or exploring a dungeon — but for the most part it maintains its frantic pace by letting combat, recuperation, quest collecting, exploration, and other RPG staples play out in the open air.
Combat in Cat Quest occurs entirely in real-time, and is brilliant in its simplicity. As soon as you near an enemy on the overworld map, battle begins. There are no separate arenas, or fiddly UI elements: instead, you’re given an attack button, a roll button, and a small selection of spells, and expected to fight it out then and there.
Once you aggro an opponent, they'll charge in and initiate an attack, causing an area of effect circle to appear around them. Your only option is to roll out the way as quickly as possible then dive back in and land a few strikes or spells.
And that’s it. No unnecessary complications, just a brisk, fun fight. That’s not to say Cat Quest is brainless: enemies charge in groups, meaning that good observation and reaction times are crucial to survival, and there’s a lot of satisfaction to be had in nailing the rhythms of evasive then offensive combat.
There are hints of deeper strategy in the spell system too: magic uses mana, and spells have their own areas of effect, adding another small tactical layer by forcing you to think positionally and deploy sparingly during battle. It all adds up to combat that’s exactly as deep as it needs to be.
The same can be said for pretty much every other RPG trope that Cat Quest swallows and spits back out in super-streamlined form. You recover health and save your game in towns but, rather than moving back and forth between elaborately constructed locations, Cat Quest simply has you slump down on the map for a few seconds before hurling you back into action.
Then there are the dungeons: simple maps, barely more than a few screens wide, that house a couple of treasure chests, a handful bad guys, and a boss — they'll take you a few minutes to conquer then, boom, off you go to do something else entirely.
Even armour and weapon acquisition is fuss free: instead of buying specific new gear you simply cough up a few coins and the game throws back random, level-appropriate loot. There’s no agonising decision making or elaborate strategising, you just make the most of what you’re given, using buffs and resistances when possible.
I know I’m being very positive so, to be clear, Cat Quest is absolutely a game of limited depth - it’s not going to satisfy anyone looking for a full-on RPG experience, and I’m not even sure if it’s substantial enough to entertain for very long on PC and PS4, where extended play sessions would more likely expose its flimsiness.
It looks like a mobile game, and to a certain extend it feels like a mobile game. But its combat and questing have an arcade spirit that feels just right with a physical controller, and it managed to ensnare me in its furry little paws far longer that I expected it to. It's the kind of thing that'll work wonderfully on Switch, a platform particularly suited to these bite-sized, but no-less-smartly-designed games.
Cat Quest is a cute little critter, offering a core loop that's brisk enough, but satisfying enough to feel like ten minutes well spent — perfect for bus time or break time, in other words. If you used to love RPGs but the modern 100-hour ‘epics’ just don’t fit your life anymore, then this may just scratch that itch.