Catwoman (Game Boy Color) review
"There is an unwritten rule that in general, villains are far more interesting than the heroes that inevitably defeat them. While in many cases this is true, I've always found the Batman villains to be a pretty dull bunch. There are one or two exceptions, but Catwoman is not one. Still, I bought Catwoman for the Game Boy Color quite soon after it was released after seeing it brand new for under ten pounds. It didn't change my view of the character one bit. It didn't change my view of gaming one b..."
There is an unwritten rule that in general, villains are far more interesting than the heroes that inevitably defeat them. While in many cases this is true, I've always found the Batman villains to be a pretty dull bunch. There are one or two exceptions, but Catwoman is not one. Still, I bought Catwoman for the Game Boy Color quite soon after it was released after seeing it brand new for under ten pounds. It didn't change my view of the character one bit. It didn't change my view of gaming one bit. It in no way rocked my world. In fact, it evoked feelings of such apathy that I put it down after an hour or so, left it, and eventually I actually forgot that I had it. When I found the manual for the game whilst on a major tidying mission, I decided to sit down and properly play the game through. At least I remembered that I owned the thing this time.
Catwoman the game tells the tale of an ancient crystal skull that possesses the ability to destroy an entire city. The villainous Râ's Al Ghûl sends his daughter Talia to employ everyone's third favourite feline (behind the white cat from James Bond, and the stylish moggy from the Breezer ads) to steal the skull, keeping our anti-hero in the dark about the skull's power, and her father's intentions. Catwoman, however, decides that the skull is pretty, and decides to tea-leaf it for herself. But Catwoman and Al are not the only ones who want to get their paws on the artefact.... As plots go this is rather suited to the comic-book trappings of the game, and initially shows a great deal of promise. However, after the first couple of stages it all tends to get a bit lost, and is only really reintroduced in time for the finale. This is a bit of a shame, really, as keeping the plot strong throughout could have proved good incentive to the player to keep going through the nine stages in the game - a challenge which is really quite difficult, although not in the good way.
The first thing that I need to make clear is that Catwoman is not a bad game. It is deeply, almost irrevocably, flawed, but it isn't bad - it was obviously designed with the best of intentions, but the ambition of the Kemco design team just couldn't be translated to the GBC without almost all playabilty falling apart at times. As with almost all licensed games on Nintendo's handheld wonderboy, Catwoman is a side-scrolling platform game, albeit one with a fair amount of action thrown in to the mix for good measure. Set across nine stages, which take in the usual scenarios (forests, rooftops, sewers and such... at least there's no ice stage), with many of the stages proving to be quite labyrinthine and non-linear, Catwoman shows a great deal of promise. The initial level, in which Catwoman is attempting to steal the skull from the museum is quite exciting, and the area is really quite complex, and evading the guards is very enjoyable. This is followed quite soon by a chase across the Gotham City skyline, before taking to the sewers to continue the pursuit. However, despite the fact that the levels here show some very clever and varied design, the game quickly descends into a romp around some very similar-looking enemy lairs. Still, the design is such that the game still feels quite fresh as you explore.
There are plenty of moves at Catwoman's disposal, and it is even possible to don a mechanical cat suit to do battle with the enemies. This is a very noble attempt to make it really feel like you are controlling Catwoman as opposed to just any licensed character. However, it is here that the main fault lies. The Game Boy Color has two buttons (four if you count start and select, although the developers obviously don't). Catwoman has sixteen moves. Which is, naturally, where the problem starts. You see, controlling the Cat is about as much fun as spending the night with Anne Widdecome. While the number of moves at your disposal (including whip swings, and several different types of fighting manoeuvre) should mean that you can tear around the levels looking really slick as you pull of several cat-tastic actions in order to save the day, you instead spend your time looking like a right gizmo as you swear at the fact that the game just won't do what you tell it to, no matter how hard you try. To get an idea of the sheer mind-blowing awfulness of the controls, you need look no further than the fact that there are three separate attacks that are performed by the exact same button combination - down and B. According to the manual, which move you perform depends on your distance from the enemy. Does it? Does it dandelions! Despite extreme amounts of experimentation, I can still only form the conclusion that the move you perform in this scenario is completely random. Although you may expect to adjust to the shocking controls by the time the final stage rolls around, trust me, you don't. The haphazard nature of the control system is such that you can never get used to it, making it frustrating to the extreme.
Still, the fact is that this flaw, which is in fact the downfall of the entire game, is borne purely from the developers' attempts to make the game better by giving you more to do. And, to be fair, many of the more simple moves are really quite inspired, such as the ability to press yourself against the wall to hide from the bad guys. However, the road to hell, they so often tell us, is paved with good intentions, and the desperate desire of the Kemco staff to impress has really just left them looking like fools. Bah!
Despite this, the game won't really last that long. Although (control gripes aside) the game is not really that difficult, there is a system in place by which you get a new password every few screens. While usually such a system would really bug me (and I'd probably make some sort of rant about it sapping all of the tension from the game), I'm inclined to forgive in this instance, due primarily to the fact that it seems more like an apology from Kemco rather than anything else - it's as if they are saying that they know that the control system is an out and out chore, so in return, you'll only have to do each section of the game once. It's almost an admission of defeat on their part, but it really is quite a pertinent system - you really will want to avoid playing through each section again.
The presentation in this game is also quite ugly. While the backgrounds are on the whole quite lovely (I'm especially fond of the rooftop level in this regard), Catwoman herself is a bit of a blur on the screen, and her purple suit means that she blends in to some areas a little too well - it is entirely possible to lose sight of her in the first level if you look away for a second. The enemies, too, are a bit of a non-distinct mess - if you're going to go to all the trouble of wrestling with the terrible controls in order to lay waste to them, you'd at least want to know who or what it is you're sending to computer-sprite heaven. The tunes, too, border on being the aural equivalent of GBH, although again there is some redemption to be found - the title theme tune is quite hummable at least.
But ultimately, Catwoman is very hard to play. You'll likely play it for a short period of time before quite literally forgetting about it, as I did. The really atrocious control system that renders the game almost unplayable at times, and utterly frustrating almost all the time, cancels out the good points about the game - the ideas for the moves, and the pretty impressive level design, leaving little more than another in a long line of utterly forgettable licensed games. The game itself is actually pretty good, but the GBC just couldn't handle the execution (the amount of moves available would mean that even the GBA would struggle to add even the remotest shred of hope to this particular control scheme), and as such, you'll want to avoid this little number. Kemco truly did try. They just failed is all. Mi-ow!
Community review by tomclark (March 07, 2004)
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