I’ve seen an increasing trend to call science-related cats Schrödinger these days; it’s an awesome name to read and to speak out loud. MouseCraft did it, and the same happened with Digital Devil Saga. Unlike those two games though, Schrödinger’s Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark does deal with the actual life-death kitty. So get your room-wide blackboards and chalk ready, people, because this week’s theme is physics; the awesome, explodey,dangerous, and wacky type of physics.
Published by Team17, I was initially making the assumption that the Worms people had worked on Schrödinger’s Cat, as many of the artistic cues and several of the game mechanics (such as parachuting and bomb trajectory puzzles) reminded me of my time playing with Worms: Armageddon. Saying that this game shares such similarities, though, is a very positive point, because it shows how carefully the developers worked on the gameplay design which, by the way, is as fun as it is clever, but I would’ve done certain things differently.
To start with, our protagonist, the hero Schrödinger, like the cat in the titular thought experiment, has the innate ability to be dead and alive at the same time. Therefore, every time he dies, he instantly revives at the last checkpoint. It’s the same mechanic of “infinite retries” we’ve become accustomed to in the last few generations, but with the addition of an actual explanation. Clever! Now, our little hero has been called to assist the Particle Zoo, where all hell has broken lose andhe’s the only one that can stop the madness.
Armed with feline agility and dexterity, Schrödinger is capable of swiftly dispatching foes with flurries of attacks, but let’s not forget he’s dealing with escaped Zoo attractions, so knocking them out is only half of his job. To get ourselves through the messy Particle Zoo and help Schrödinger secure the escaped the rogue particles (Gluons, Leptons and Bosons) we deal with a quartet of particles known as the quarks, colorful little fellows that love to help while speaking in voices that sound close to a drunkard trying to imitate the Teletubbies. These quarks have different qualities depending on their color; there are Up quarks (Yellow), Down quarks (Blue), Bottom quarks (Red) and Top quarks (Green).
The game tells us that Ups love to move things, Downs love to destroy things, Bottoms like to create and Tops like to protect. It also tells us that Schrödinger can combine a trio of quarks in order to create helpful bits of matter. This is where player agency enters the scene, as we’re told to mix and match quarks to create different combinations; a simple guide in the tutorial explains how each combo can be achieved, such as how the Missile will always be formed by Up and Down quarks regardless of order. Combos will get us through puzzles, chasms, traps and some of the more unreachable or tougher enemies, while also providing us with the method of recapturing the escaped beasts by using the Net combo.
While all that is certainly imaginative and quirky to say the least, and the mechanic opens up tons of possibilities for whacky puzzles and interesting battles, the linear stages offer little in the form of variety. Every new screen you visit consists of largely the same task: Recapturing Gluons (the bulk of the escaped exhibitions) and defending yourself from Leptons (which unlike Gluons ARE aggressive) so you can recapture them as well. The stages are built from both indestructible and destructible materials, but indestructible materials are usually used to frame the levels rather than to impede, leaving us with little reason to experiment alternate exploration routes when we can just blast our way through with missiles and drills. There were hardly any instances where I found myself needing to use the more elaborate combos (like Traps and Decoys) when the two aforementioned beasts are all taken out with a single punch or at the most a couple blasts. I appreciate the Zoom-Out function which lets you detect where the remaining baddies are, because getting killed means having to go get them all again if you didn’t reach a check point in time.
One glaring aspect of the level design is how lazy the non-critter-specific zoo areas are presented to us. In order to get from the hub level to the plot-relevant areas, we must first progress through 3 preceding areas. This is supposed to serve as the main meat of the game, since the bulk of creatures is dispersed among these preliminary areas, but they are all the same. When going to the “LaGloon”, I found myself going through the very same area three times in a row, with perhaps two or three key differences that in the end were just the developers having cut-pasted the template, as if all 3 areas were the very same room in a house but with its furniture rearranged. I thought nothing of it at the time, but after having to go through the approaches to the Lepton and Boson focused areas I simply couldn’t ignore it any longer. There was a lot of missed potential here; especially considering these are the areas where we can have “Loads” in our entourage of quarks.
Even the boss areas scream repetitiveness, as three times I found myself in a fast-paced side-scrolling race for my life, having to start over and over and over again each time I missed a jump by a few pixels or the ridiculous stun-animation after a hit allowed my pursuers to instantly kill me. I have to say the final boss was a breath of fresh air at least, as it deals with none of the mechanics you’ve been taught so far but at least it is properly executed and carefully implemented.
With a load of quirky characters, great comedy value (I seriously laughed my chops off at the awesome dialogues and amazing voice acting) and original game ideas, Schrödinger’s Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark could’ve been an easy 5-star entry, but I’m afraid the developers did not fully take advantage of all they could offer us, to the point of insulting my craving for challenge, instead giving me unwanted repetition for the sake of extending the game’s duration. I sincerely commend them for their effort, and I know they can do even better if they work on these things I mentioned. I would definitely buy a sequel if it came out.