Schrodinger's Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark

"Dying is easy. Comedy is hard." Even though the quote is a little cliché at this point, it is an apt way to sum up my experience with Schrödinger's Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark. It's a hyperactive, odd blend of interesting gameplay mechanics, poor level design, and humor only your high school science teacher would find amusing.

You might find it strange that I'm going to start off my review talking about the comedy and writing in this game; but it's such a large, prevalent issue, that I feel it needs to be the first point of discussion. I realize that comedy is highly subjective; but for me, the humor in Schrödinger's Cat fell completely flat. It's an eclectic concoction of film references, physics puns (yes, physics puns), and groan inducing catch phrases. For example, ourprotagonist, Schrödinger's cat (who I'll just call The Cat from now on) assaulted me with such gems as "Permutastic!" and "Slabam!" and "Cola Bola!" every time I hit a checkpoint. And to provide you with an example of one of the physics based jokes, I'll just leave this one here: "If you were a gas, you'd be inert."

Perhaps I just didn't get it. I was an English Writing major, so I took my Science related prerequisites and never looked back. The writers for Schrödinger's Cat name drop theoretical physicists like Peter Higgs and Albert Einstein and really commit to the physics/chemistry motif. Now, I would "get" a joke aimed at famous authors or a joke about writing semantics, but (and this probably seems like an obvious thing to say) merely "getting" the joke doesn't, in turn, make it funny. There are also a few popular film references, which you probably could surmise from the games title; but they almost feel out of place amidst all the physics puns.

The delivery of all this questionable humor is done via some modest voice acting. It's not too offensive and it's actually impressive to find out that all the voices are done by one guy, but middle-of-the-road voice acting isn't going to save a poor script. The story here is basically a Wikipedia entry. There are quarks and leptons, a Higgs Boson, charm quarks, and a particle zoo. There's something nefarious going on in the particle zoo and Schrödinger's Cat is called in to rectify the problem. The story is... there, but I didn't find myself invested in it. But what pushed me through to the end of this game was the rather engrossing and inventive gameplay.

Even though the level design in Schrödinger's Cat is admittedly bland (more on that later), the mechanics and light puzzle solving are engaging. As The Cat, you're tasked with using combinations of quarks to progress in each area. There are four different quark varieties and combinations of said quarks will yield you with different powers, e.g. a trampoline, a missile, or a parachute. And there are a total of twenty quark combinations at your disposal. Thankfully, quickly pausing the game will bring up a menu with all the possible combos and their effects. The platforming and the various ways you can move around the environment makes for a fairly gratifying experience. For the most part, you'll have plenty of quarks at your disposal. But in the portions of the game where your quarks are limited, you're forced to utilize certain combinations which gives the game a needed degree of difficulty. Given the creative mechanics at play here, it's a shame the level design doesn't warrant the same amount of praise.

The level design in Schrödinger's Cat reminded me of something I created in my one and only level in Littlebigplanet (and no, that's not a compliment). There are random bits of ground sporadically littered throughout the levels that don't seem to have much logic. However, in the portions of the game where your quarks are limited, the level design has some semblance of continuity. And then we have the chase levels... and good lord, they are infuriating. The relatively calm, puzzle oriented basis for the majority of the game is defenestrated, and is replaced with unholy running sequences akin to something like Bit.Trip Runner, but a lot less fun.  Thankfully there are only a handful of these bits in the game, but be prepared to die over and over until you actually memorize the obstacles.

There are things to like in Schrodinger's Cat. The gameplay shows signs of brilliance, but the writing and poor level design ultimately hold it back. For every positive, (like a vibrant art style) there is a negative (like the ear melting sound the quarks make when you pick them up). I could make a loosely relevant joke about Newton's third law of motion based on that last sentence, but I won't. But you can bet that the writer's of Schrödinger's Cat will!