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Kitten Squad (Switch) artwork

Kitten Squad (Switch) review

"Kitten Squad isn't a complete train wreck, but the heavy-handed propaganda and frustrating design are bad news."

When you see a free game on the Nintendo eShop, there's typically a catch. The catch in the case of Kitten Squad is that the game is made in cooperation with PETA, a group that claims to consist of people fighting for the ethical treatment of animals. When you download it, you're basically inviting that organization to deliver its message to you in exchange for some free entertainment. But does the message come through as it should, and is the game actually any good?

Kitten Squad is a twin-stick shooter, which is fine by me. The left analog stick moves your character and the right one fires your equipped weapon in the direction specified. You can sometimes press a face button to interact with characters at the base camp where you return after each stage (and where the game begins), but mostly you're just going to need to use the two analog sticks. They are generally responsive and it's easy to move nimbly around each screen, progressing through a labyrinth like it's a dungeon from a classic Zelda game.

Kitten Squad (Switch) image

Up to four players can play the game at once, but here's a bit of a spoiler: I would feel embarrassed asking my friends to play this one with me. It's... not good. Despite getting a few of the mechanics and the basic design right, Kitten Squad's developers slightly fumbled pretty much everything else and it takes its toll.

As you start in camp, you'll find you have a few options. You can purchase cosmetic gear for your kitten from the nearby shop (or do so from a menu at any time in the dungeons, I later discovered), you can talk to an animal that gives you the day's bonus missions or you can select a story quest to move the campaign forward. When you're ready, you leave through whatever door is open along the edge of the screen and start your romp through a robotic wonderland.

I'm not sure what the enemies you face are supposed to be, but I'm going with "robots" because they--wait for it--look like robots. Some of them glide toward you, arms extended and whirling. Some don't approach until you draw near yourself. Others fire laser beams and move in simple formations so you have to put some effort into killing them while avoiding their projectiles. Sometimes there are only a few enemies on the screen, and in other instances it is crammed full of them. There often are small barriers that pepper the arena, which you can use to keep away from your enemies long enough to pelt them with shots. Or they could just get in your way.

Kitten Squad (Switch) image

As you battle, you will frequently produce gold coins that you can spend purchasing the aforementioned cosmetic unlockables. Some of these trinkets are rather cheap, and a single successful run through a dungeon will let you go shopping. Some of them are very expensive indeed. There's one suit that requires hundreds of thousands of coins, and it's not uncommon to see some that cost more than 20,000 apiece. You'll probably have to play the game for dozens of hours to get everything, even if you manage to get really good. Someone must suppose players will keep at this game for quite a long while.

There are a few design issues that might prevent most players from bothering, though. For one thing, a lot of the menus and hit detection are a bit wonky. They're not completely broken, just clumsy and irritating. The process of selecting options from menus feels either unresponsive or overly sensitive. There's not really a middle ground. You enter doors and grab things just by getting near, sometimes even when it doesn't seem like you should have. And the text has its share of minor grammatical errors, as if someone just copied information from a flier somewhere.

Which is probably what happened, to be honest. The different story stages find you righting some wrong inflicted on the animal kingdom by nasty humans, who do things like shave sheep wool or put aquatic animals in exhibits. Some of the discussion explaining why this is evil gets downright graphic, and there are gruesome sketches to go with it. For instance, the writers made it clear that when sheep are shaven for wool, they're knocked around until they're drenched in blood, people step on their necks to hold them down as they writhe in agony, and they are starved ahead of being shaved. Much was also made of how they're not even allowed to be sheep, because their identity and mental stimulation are stolen from them. I've known people who owned sheep ranches, and when I was a child I saw the animals being shaved. While I wouldn't say the animals were in for a day at the spa, the alleged abuses were nowhere in evidence and the experience was a lot less traumatic than reading the lurid descriptions in Kitten Squad.

Kitten Squad (Switch) image

So the game's message is sensationalized, and probably not safe for impressionable children who are most likely to be drawn to the game thanks to its otherwise cutesy presentation and pleasing price tag. And the presentation is generally rough around the edges, but I haven't made the overall experience sound downright awful yet, have I?

That's because I haven't described the weapons system. As you play through the game, you pick up weapons on the ground when they are discarded by fallen robots are broken free from crates. They blend in with the coins and life-replenishing hearts, so it takes real effort to avoid picking up the "upgrades" as you zip around each screen, trying to avoid enemies and their occasionally effective firepower. What this means is that you might go from having an awesome weapon that takes out enemies in three or four shots, to carrot-shaped missiles that take considerably longer to do anything worthwhile at all. This leads to a game with wildly varying difficulty, and it usually errs on the side of excessively difficult.

Kitten Squad may be free, but it offers a frequently frustrating gameplay experience that is peppered with propaganda from an organization that would rather sensationalize everything than present reality. It's true that people should treat animals better all around, but somehow I doubt this misfire of a game is doing its job when it irritated me so badly that now I almost feel like going out for a hamburger in protest. And I'm not even really into hamburgers!


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (October 31, 2018)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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Follow_Freeman posted November 01, 2018:

Oh, wow, this sounds like one of those dopey games on PETA's website. Much more interesting things going on here, but for naught, as the compelling arguments here would suggest. Lot of personality in your reviews, Jason; I always know where you're coming from. I think this is in part due to what comparisons you make (the early Zelda tipoff brings to mind not only gameplay similarities but also the author's sensibilities), as well as the dry, understated humor about the game's mechanics and art direction, which are important for the review to have the lengthier dissertation on the whole thematic strangeness feel natural to the writing. Good work, as always!

but again, at least it wasn't as bad as the PETA games
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honestgamer posted November 02, 2018:

I'm glad you enjoyed reading the review, Freeman! The game caught me by surprise. I somehow missed the finer points of what I was downloading back when I downloaded it, so when I played it now I was able to go in fresh until the game soured the experience for me. I'm familiar with some of PETA's past efforts to use games to promote its agenda, but there's a difference between going in knowing what you're getting and going in with the expectation that you'll get to enjoy a decent twin-stick shooter, only to get... this.
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hastypixels posted November 02, 2018:

I must have missed the jump off point where PETA could address the ethical treatment of animals - which is the norm, not the exception - but then I remembered the sort who back the organization. Some of them would happily reset civilization if it meant getting what they want, except that they haven't considered what that means for them.

It's a shame that this game represents PETA in a less than rational light, and even moreso that Nintendo had no problem approving it and its brutal imagery. Good review! I'm glad you covered it... though I steer away from "free" games hard, these days.
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honestgamer posted November 02, 2018:

The game isn't exclusive to Nintendo Switch, by the way. It's also on PC and PS4. I just happened to play and review the Switch version, because that's the platform where I most readily notice and snag new releases.
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pickhut posted November 02, 2018:

I'm just surprised this game was developed by Arcade Distillery. They made Plague Road, and if I recall, one of the first enemies you attack in that game is an animal.

So... this is an interesting change of pace.

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