RATING: 3 Keys RESULT: Won REMAINING: 2:00
A mixed bag of catnip and bullsh*t left me even more confused than the very notion itself that I somehow qualified for the championship competition of a cartoon cat kingdom in the first place.
Austin Schrodinger rules the Kingdom of Cats. Every year, he holds a championship tournament to crown the wisest cat in the kingdom. Unexpectedly, you, as a human, accidentally join the competition. According to the law of the land, your entrance to the battlefield requires you to complete the tournament or be imprisoned forever. Now, you must solve the cat puzzles or be a prisoner for all eternity.
Ok – so here’s the thing. I. Love. The backstory here. I bet you weren’t expecting that, were ya? It’s wacky. It’s comical. It’s cartoony. It doesn’t take itself seriously. It’s the sort of goofy light-hearted world that you just don’t see often enough in a landscape dominated by “the world’s largest diamond is hidden deep in the zombie laboratory but it’s rigged to explode in just 60 minutes!(!!!1!)
And perhaps you’re asking yourself “but why are we in a cartoon cat world? Or how?” I’ll answer that for you: Who cares! Sometimes it’s refreshing to just encounter a theme that’s clearly intended to be fun, without the overarching drama or the overdone tropes we see far to often. Without a doubt, the storyworld created for Kingdom of Cats is its best feature – and in some cases, its only positive one.
The jovial mood established in Kingdom of Cat’s cartoon preshow carries over well into the games multiple rooms – and multiple floors! Family portraits draw in cartoon style of members of the Cat Kingdom adorn the walls.
But here in lies our first mixed bag. Where some scenic moments are adorably cartoony, others are just plain solid colored walls. It leaves you not sure what to think – because on the one hand, Omescape clearly exhibits they are fully capable of producing immersive story-driven environments, but on the other, they show that they kind of just don’t want to try very hard.
Just the same, there are some cool scenic moments within the Kingdom. Most notably, climbing a ladder to a second floor, and then jumping down off the ledge on the other side to get into a new room, before crawling through a secret tunnel into another one that takes you underneath the space you just climbed. It’s a really clever use of space that both takes you out of your normal comfort zone while also successfully evokes the mindset of a playful kitten climbing furniture then hiding under it.
The biggest selection of our mixed bag fancy feast occurs here in the puzzles department. As with the scenic, there are moments of brilliance here, with some puzzles completely story driven and connected to the cartoon style world. Unfortunately other puzzles are seemingly random guessing games, or so hindered by logic leaps that they feel unsolvable without the use of a hint.
One notable puzzle has Omescape attempt to do something a bit different from an average escape room and use a scent-based puzzle. Unfortunately the outcome proves true a design constant not many seem to ever take into account: different people smell things differently. Some people cannot notice subtle differences in scents – so if you’re using several different aromas that are all sweet, or flowery, etc, they may all blend together for the player. Truthfully the only way to effectively implement a scent-based puzzle into a game is to use items that have such starkly contrasting smells that there is no question which is which. It’s not about giving away the answer, or making it easy; it’s about ensuring it is not obnoxious.
And that brings us to the game’s finale, which was, perhaps the most obnoxious puzzle of the entire experience. Tedious and frustrating, it quickly ventured into “I don’t even want to play anymore” territory.
But again – this game was the mother of all mixed bags. Some puzzles were extremely clever and fun – like one that has you controlling the point of view of cat sentinels to King Austin Schrodinger. Had they found a way to carry that energy throughout the game, Kingdom of Cats would be something truly special. But it’s not though.
To me, a mixed bag game is almost worse than a bad game. Because here’s the thing – escape games aren’t the easiest thing to design, and some people just are not good at it. And that’s completely ok. To each their own. But if you show that you are good at it, with some really clever puzzles, some quality scenic moments and a charming story, how can you also work against yourself by implementing puzzles that are illogical, tedious or just outright obnoxious? If you were able to create a handful of good puzzles – which Kingdom of Cats absolutely does have, one would think you’d be able to see the fundamental flaws in some of the others. But apparently not.
At the end of the day Kingdom of Cats gets a generous 3 Keys due in full to the clever originality of its storyworld and the few fun puzzles it does make use of. If I were rating the game solely upon the merits of its gameplay alone, this one would have probably gotten a 2. But it’s no secret that I seek out unique themes, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find one much more unique than a cartoon cat world where you’re competing for the title of cat champion, even though you’re a human.
And to that point, if you’re just looking for a unique story, Kingdom of Cats will probably make you happy. However, if you’re looking for a total package experience of story, scenic and puzzles as we at Escape Authority always do, Kingdom of Cats is lucky to still have three of its nine lives left. (Although to be fair, there were definitely more than six different times I wanted to kill a cartoon cat during the course of my hour in their Kingdom.)
Location: San Jose, California
Number of Games: 4
GAME SPECIFIC INFORMATION:
Duration: 60 minutes
Capacity: 6 people
Group Type: Private / You will not be paired with strangers.
Cost: $30 per person (a minimum of two people are required for booking.)