The Sacred Shovel of Athenia

by Andy Galilee


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New cat game! Aww, don't turn that needy face down!, September 4, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2023

It's hard to hate a competently written game that's written around a pet. I dare you! The Big Blue Ball last year was about a dog as the main character, and this is about a cat you wish to befriend. I'm more a cat person than a dog person, but I found both worked well for me. You know what to do, more or less. You have a likable protagonist or NPC. Things can't get too simple, because it would confuse said cat or dog.

SSoA and BBB were first efforts, and they were strong ones. I could play games like this a lot, though I'm sort of hoping for the occasional gerbil or hamster game. Perhaps it has a low ceiling compared to more serious or profound subject matter. But said ceiling is more than high enough, and SSoA is closer to that ceiling. It has all the basic elements of an adventure game and does not feel too basic, and at seven rooms it doesn't try to do too much. So it is closer to the ceiling.

I've had experience making friends with a cat, myself. I have some experience with this. My first ever cat was from a barn in Iowa. He seemed like he really wanted an owner, but the people most likely to adopt him had another cat, and he didn't get along with them. But he got along with people. Well, not me for the first day. When I brought him back home in his cat carrier, he immediately slipped behind the toilet and stayed there. He didn't seem to want to be petted. He wasn't growing or anything. He had just been moved around a whole lot in the past week, and he needed space. So I laid out a litter box, some food, and some water. I think I put some toys out, too. Within 24 hours, I remember playing Pooyan on MAME and I think he liked the music, because he walked in and just jumped on my lap and then on top of the hard drive. He was at home! (I still remember switching from a CRT monitor to a flat-panel one. I felt sort of guilty, giving my cats one less place to sit.)

I wound up having to do nothing, really, to befriend a cat, and SSoA has you do a few things, but with some surreal adventure-game wrinkles. You own a catometer, which is just a fancy name for a bracelet telling you how friendly the cat is at the moment. It starts at red and goes to green, through the rainbow. It's a neat variation on scoring with points, because in relationships, keeping score leads to lots of suspicion. Perhaps even among animals who don't care much about arithmetic. They understand emotions! Also, "0 out of 4" makes the game feel a bit small and technical, which SSoA, in the spirit of adventuring, wishes to avoid, and does! It also says you don't have to do too much to gain the cat's trust without leaving you feeling "there's not much to this game."

The puzzles are not too hard, and they're not meant to be, because this was sort of written for the author's son, about a real-life new cat. There's a key on the other side of a keyhole, with a different solution than us adventure game-playing adults who love Zork would expect. Looking through other reviews, I think others found the potential game-breaking bug which was intentional on the author's part–here, though, it seems like they have a neat loophole which could make sense out of things.

In the comp version there was some suspension of disbelief in the store, from being kicked out when the cat is following you (here it seems like the nice old lady proprietor could/should reject you a lot more softly) to, well, kind of stealing for the correct solution. The author worked to fix that and keep the good absurd bits and provided an alternate solution, which is commendable. The drama at the end when you actually get the shovel involves a fight that does make me smile how it is a wink-wink-nudge-nudge substitute for, say, Excalibur.

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