IFComp 2019 review: For the Cats

spoilers follow

For the Cats is an Ink game with a seemingly slight premise: seven sick and neglected cats are being sold on the street, and you want to save them!

The writing quietly evokes an industrial landscape where the grass is gray and the currency is coals. You need to earn enough coals to buy all the cats before the seller leaves at the end of the day. Your time is limited.

But you’ve got options: theft, telling your story in the Teller’s Tent, selling your belongings, working, begging, or resorting to the menacing Exchange Booth, where you always get the coals you need… for a price.

You can play as a factory worker, a housewife, or an artist. Each character has different options available to them, based on their own strengths. At times it’s straightforward (the factory worker can do some manual labor), at times unexpected: the housewife, and only the housewife, can sway a crowd by making a public appeal for the innocent cats.

It’s not clear why only the housewife can move the crowd in this way. Is it because they are more willing to listen to a woman and mother? Or because the factory worker is inarticulate and the artist prone to embellishing his stories, so only she can speak truth from the heart?

There’s surprising depth to these three nameless characters. As they try to save the cats, you can get vague glimpses of where they came from, or what they are worried about, or how they see the world.

I found myself going back to take each character to the market and see what belongings and stories they have to sell, not to get an ending but just to enjoy the writing, to learn more about each character and the world.

There are ten endings. Although the author generously provided a walkthrough, I found that the endings weren’t too obscure. You’re likely to find or stumble across many of them while exploring the city and characters. And they are genuinely satisfying, especially the unique endings for each character.

The game succeeds in conveying this feeling at the end: that the world is painfully imperfect, but at least we did something good, saved something innocent. A little gem of sophisticated, atmospheric, emotionally resonant storytelling hidden inside what at first blush appears to be a fifteen-minute game about saving some kitties.

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