Genre: Platform, Puzzle
Release date: November 3, 2015
In a marketplace flooded with cheap, slapdash apps and hackneyed children’s games that have been dumbed down so completely that an earthworm would find them tedious, Leonardo’s Cat is an unexpected gem. Made by StoryToys and available in the iOS app store, this strategic puzzle game has a funny story, varied challenges, and the voice talents of Patrick Stewart (of Star Trek fame) to make it a winning addition to your iPad for your morning commute or on a long car trip with the kids..
The game takes place in a simpler time — 16th-century Italy to be exact — and Leonardo da Vinci, everyone’s favorite artist/inventor/kook has created an automaton to be given as a gift to the king. But trouble strikes when da Vinci’s arch nemesis, Michelangelo, steals the automaton and hides the parts. Your only recourse is to use da Vinci’s cat, Scungilli, to navigate the obstacles and traps that block your way to collect the pieces of the automaton and reassemble it.
The game’s writing is surprisingly shrewd and funny—adults won’t mind playing alongside their kids when Patrick Stewart does such a respectable job of voicing da Vinci as daffy and absentminded, a constant threat to the bodily safety of his cat. There’s also a smattering of true historical facts blended together with the hijinks (for example, da Vinci did have a rivalry with fellow artist Michelangelo, but he didn’t successfully construct a functional feline-sized teleporter in his lifetime). The game is a good jumping-off point to generate interest in one of humanity’s most compelling and important figures, but don’t rely on this game’s facts for your next history test. There’s a fun bonus area with conceptual drawings of some of da Vinci’s most famous ideas for the curious, though.
The animation of Leonardo’s Cat is cartoonish but charming. Leonardo himself is a bearded, gnomelike shape and if you leave the start menu open long enough, he’ll start humming a tune to amuse himself. Scungilli, the long-suffering test subject of da Vinci’s many harebrained ideas, is brought to life with a series of frustrated mewls and hilariously resigned looks as he swoops around on hang gliders and flies through the air on springboards. There are also several ways for the flummoxed feline to meet a sticky end before he’s sent back to the start, from stepping on hot coals to being zapped out of the sky, though it never strays into overtly graphic territory. The music is atmospheric and unobtrusive but sets the mood, and the sound effects are expertly done. The attention to detail on all aspects of the project is clear and is in large part what separates this game from the droves of others in the app store clamoring for attention.
To complete each of the game’s 60 levels, you must guide Scungilli the cat along a multilevel obstacle course that is filled with everything from crates to deep pools to crackling lightning clouds. To navigate around these obstacles, the player chooses which of Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions (mechanical wings, wooden tank, catapult, etc.) to place along the cat’s running path. Each level offers only some of the inventions in limited quantities, so strategy is essential. As you beat new levels, more inventions are unlocked and the courses become more complicated. It’s a comfortable learning curve that never throws too much at the player at once.
One of the most effective things about the puzzle structure is that you’re able to see exactly where you went wrong if you fail a level; as Scungilli runs toward the finish line, the player can see him either clear an obstacle or smash, splat, or sizzle in place before he’s sent back to the start. This is a good method to keep a player from getting too frustrated because it’s easier to diagnose your errors when you can pinpoint the moment of miscalculation. Many of the puzzles also have multiple paths to the finish line, which adds replay value and keeps the game from being overly meticulous or trying.
If I could level any complaint about the game, it’s that the first 20 puzzles or so can feel a bit tedious if you play them all in a row—it takes that long for the music and background images to change, but once the more introductory stages are completed the game maintains a challenging but enjoyable pace until the end.
If you’re in the market for a mobile puzzle game, Leonardo’s Cat is a surefire bet. It’s cute, delightful, and absorbing enough to make any annoying idle time melt away. Your honor student will be able to beat the game in 3-4 hours and younger kids will take a bit longer to get past some of the stickier levels, but at only $2.99 even a speed run will feel worth the money for the chance to hear Patrick Stewart dodder around as Leonardo. So get this game — even history’s greatest minds will think you’re a genius!
+ Cute concept and character designs
+ Patrick Stewart's star turn as Lenoardo da Vinci
+ Well-paced and intuitive puzzles
- Early levels can drag along