Space Cats Tactics Preview – A puuurrfect turn based strategy game?

I’m a big fan of anthropomorphic art. Ever since experiencing the off the chart (and admittedly rather awkward) sexiness of Robin Hood and Maid Marion in Disney’s Robin Hood at a young age, I can’t get enough of cartoon humanoid animals. Other than foxy foxes, there’s been two other absolutely stellar examples of this niche art form that have rocked my world. The first being the mind-blowingly detailed pencil work of Juanjo Guarnido in the Film Noir inspired comic book series BlackSad.

Then there’s Bryan Talbot’s romantic steampunk graphic novel adventure Grandville, in which a humanoid detective badger called Lebrock solves elaborate crimes in true Sherlock Holmes fashion. Why am I telling you all this? To reassure you, dear reader, that I am onboard with anthropomorphism being included in my favourite media. So, when I tell you that the characters in Space Cats Tactics look darn creepy and spectacularly weird, you know I’m not exaggerating.

Rather than taking inspiration from an average household cat and then redesigning the animal as a humanoid creature, solo-developer Mitzi Games has instead removed the head of said cat and proceeded to photoshop it on to the body of a burly space marine. That’s what protagonist Commander Mitzi looks like; Marcus Fenix with a cute Instagram cat photo for a head. It’s… well, it’s a bit strange.

The uncomfortable visual style also caused me to have trouble sensing the tone and intention of Space Cats Tactics. On the one paw you have a seemingly serious storyline that details how Mitzi and the rest of his species were forces to be slave warriors before fighting to liberate themselves and earn their freedom. On the other paw you have frequent attempts at levity. The demo of Space Cats Tactics – which you can play here – is stuffed with more feline puns than you can shake a bag of dried cat food at. Warp drives are powered by Purranium, Mitzi refers to problems as a ‘cat-astrophe’ and his stolen ship is ominously named ‘Curiosity’.

All of this madness is then bolted on to graphics that look like they could have been taken from a hundred other sci-fi tactical games. It’s a potpourri of styles, influences and themes that doesn’t smell quite right to me. Which is a problem for Space Cats Tactics, as once I got beyond the initial madness this demo offered a compellingly deep and intriguingly fresh take on the turn based tactical genre.

Initially the gameplay of Space Cats Tactics seems remarkably unremarkable. You have a spaceship that utilises action points to move along a grid and attack enemies. Those same enemies then politely wait for you to finish attacking before they respond in kind. I’ve played this game a dozen times or more. Then, just at the height of my complacency, Mitzi Games hit me with their secret weapon.

At any time you can zoom from the tactical map to go inside your space ship. Here you’ll be able to see everything that a Star Trek enthusiast can dream off: there’s a bridge, weapons rooms, engineering sectors and ominously glowing reactors. In order to win battles then, you’ll have to send your limited crew to different areas of the ship to provide a stat boost. For example, send your put-upon deputy Biski to the engine room and your ship will be able to travel further. Forget to order any of your feisty felines to man – or cat, I suppose – the energy weapons? No laser cannons for you, then.

It’s a neat feature and one that adds an entire new layer of strategy to the tactical combat. It’s an accessible system too, allowing the player to save a number of crew set-ups so you can switch between offensive or defensive tactics on a whim. Obviously, the demo only hints at the depths of this mechanic, but the possibilities are enticingly deep. Mitzi Games promise that you’ll be able to build and upgrade new rooms to send your ever expanding cat crew to. As a result you’ll be provided a raft of new abilities to explore the strategic possibilities of, yet still be hampered and strategically tested by having to ensure the right cat is in the right place.

There are tons of other enticing possibilities that the demo throws your way as well. You’ll need to repel unwanted invaders on your ship in close quarter combat, use explosive gas clouds to your advantage and dodge avalanches of artillery in a clear homage to the iconic board game Battleship. The tactical combat, even in this short demo, is thrillingly addictive. The AI offers a competent challenge and I finished the battle feeling the pulse pounding excitement of only barely being able to survive.

This is a game that looks very promising and, in places, promises a genuinely fresh experience. No mean feat in the crowded genre that Space Cats Tactics find itself within. Yet perhaps Space Cats Tactics greatest challenge is in how the developer solves the problem of the game’s thematic styling not quite meshing together. Get that right and Space Cats Tactics could prove to be the puuuurrfect turn based strategy game.