Monday, June 17, 2024

Cat Pics Or It Didn't Happen - Neko Odyssey Demo Microreview

Next Fest is over or it will be later today. I picked six demos and easily found time to play all of them, suggesting perhaps I should have added a couple more. There are two left to cover, Neko Odyssey and Freeride. I was going to fit them both into one post but I probably have enough to say to give them each their own space. I certainly have enough screenshots.

I didn't have particularly high hopes for either. I picked them mostly because they looked a little different from the games I generally go for and because each of them had at least one feature that appealed to me. Two, in the case of Neko.

Neko Odyssey is a game about taking photos of cats then uploading them to social media so you can gain followers and get people to "like" you. In other hands it could be a searing indictment of the way unfettered access to the internet has degraded and diminished human society. 

It's not that. It's a cute game where a cute cartoon character takes cute pictures of cute cats.

I liked it. I played it for eighty-two minutes, which was exactly how long it took me to get the two hundred followers the demo asked me to get. Then the demo stopped and was I happy about that. 

It's been fun but I'm done now is how I felt about it. And I don't imagine I'll want to do it again.

If I did, it might be because I stupidly didn't realize I was playing the whole time with the wrong screen resolution. Bear that in mind when you look at the screenshots in the post. They look fine but they could look a lot better. I don't think sharper images would materially affect the gameplay, though, and the fact that I didn't even notice until I was closing the game down suggests graphic fidelity is not a primary selling point here.

I'm not quite clear what would be, if I'm honest about it. I found it quite difficult to tell what the game was about. There's very little in the way of instruction and nothing at all in the way of backstory or narrative. You just wake up in your home, pick up your phone, go outside and stroll around town talking to people and taking pictures of cats.

The people you talk to all say something but if there's any way to turn those fragmentary conversations into an kind of action, I couldn't find it. There are plenty of shops and eating places and there seems to be a currency but if you can spend it on anything, I couldn't figure out how. 

All there is to do is take pictures of cats and fortunately there are cats everywhere. Wandering the streets, sitting on benches and tables, up on balconies and rooftops... You can take pictures of any of them, but only providing you can get close enough. I wanted to get some shots of cats that were hanging out above street level but again I couldn't find any way to do it.

The process of uploading the shots you take to social media is entirely automatic. I was expecting some kind of gameplay, where you had to choose which sites to post them to and/or manage your online presence in some way but there's nothing like that. You just take a cat pic and your followers and likes go up. 

Or down. That was about the only tiny negative effect I saw in the whole demo. The number of followers, shown at the top of the screen, flicks up and down as you walk around, giving you the slight feeling you might be able to do something to affect it. But you can't. Or I couldn't. 

After a while I stopped worrying about it. The numbers dip very slightly now and again but the trend is ever upward. At first those two hundred followers feel impossibly far away but if you simply persist and keep finding more cats to photograph, the numbers go up and up until you feel success is inevitable.

It's quite soothing although also quite frustrating in the lack of impact anything you do seems to have on your progress. At first I thought new pictures of the same cats doing something different would gain me followers. And maybe it does. I couldn't tell. 

The cats do move about and change pose so theoretically it should be possible to post new images but the game just collects one shot of each cat for you in a folder and once you've saved a cat's picture, that seems to be that cat done. You can take more photos but if they go anywhere there doesn't seem to be any feedback to confirm it.

I assumed more cats would make my followers go up so I kept searching for new ones, even though they inevitably became harder to find after a while. I still think my proposition was correct but I noticed my follower-numbers going up (And down.) just while I walked around looking for new cats to photograph, so maybe collecting just a few cats and then doing nothing would eventually inch you to the two hundred follower target anyway. Who knows?

Why would you want to do that, though? The town itself is very attractively drawn and perfectly pleasant to explore. How accurate a representation of small-town life in Japan it might be I can't say but it feels quite convincing in a white picket fence kind of way. I certainly enjoyed strolling around, vicariously experiencing the little slice of life it offered. 

Getting about was no problem although a few streets don't seem to be accessible. An indicator pops up to tell you which way you can go at intersections. Movement is simple and the UI is minimal and easy enough to understand. 

One thing did occur to me as I played, which was that the message concerning whether a game ought to be played with a controller, about which I complained on Friday, appears to be a Steam issue, not something set by the developers of the individual games.

It might be that the message pops up if the game is listed as having "Full Controller Support". Neko Odyssey supposedly has "Partial Controller Support" and no pop-up popped. Despite that, I did in fact use a controller to play because I couldn't figure out how to open the phone and the backpack with the keyboard.

Their icons had "X" and "Y" indicated but pressing those letters on the keyboard did nothing. It occurred to me it might mean the X and Y buttons on a controller so I plugged mine in to find out and indeed that did prove to be the case. I used the controller for everything after that and it felt very comfortable.

I'd like to think the full game will have a lot more to it, especially in the way of interaction with the residents and shopkeepers, Maybe there'll even be some reason for starting with a backpack full of food, which is one thing I never figured out. 

I'm in two minds about the demo as a demo. It has the sense of a short story, complete in itself, but also a small segment of a continuum. There's not indication of who the central character was before the demo began nor who she'll become after it ends. That's how good short stories work but whether that approach makes for an effective promotion for a full game I'm not so sure.

I suppose it goes some way towards giving you an indication of what the game would be like but it somehow contrives to feel both extremely slight yet also oddly complete in itself. I'm not sure if that isn't a little self-defeating. If there's more to the game, I'd have liked to have seen it. If not, I think I've seen enough.

That's the effect it had on me, anyway. I'm happy I played. I enjoyed it for what it is but I won't be wishlisting the full game.

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