A Papal Summons, or The Church Cat

by Bitter Karella


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Number of Ratings: 14
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1-14 of 14

- MoyTW, January 17, 2022

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Horrible but lacking in avoirdupois, January 5, 2022
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2021

(This is a lightly-edited version of a review posted to the IntFict forums during the 2021 IFComp. My son Henry was born right before the Comp, meaning I was fairly sleep-deprived and loopy while I played and reviewed many of the games, so in addition to a highlight and lowlight, the review includes an explanation of how new fatherhood has led me to betray the hard work the author put into their piece)

One thing is clear straightaway about A Papal Summons, or The Church Cat: if the Comp were judged based solely on content warnings, it would be leading the pack. Just reading the list is enough to raise the hackles, even before starting in on this Twine gameís theatre of horrors. These arenít idle warnings, either Ė while Iím not sure I ran into everything in my playthrough, based on what I did see, Iím more than willing to believe that the missing enormities were lurking behind some of the doors I left unexplored.

The parade of misery isnít just here for shock value, either. The gameís plot sees its priest protagonist summoned to the 15th-century Vatican to present a prodigy of nature to the pope, but the structure is a descent through greater and greater depravity, with some of the contemporary Churchís well-documented crimes presented alongside supernatural violations that are polemical exaggeration, not mere fantasy. Iím running out of euphemistic synonyms for ďreally bad thingĒ, but suffice to say that I ran into Torquemada and one of the authors of the Malleus Maleficarum and purchased a plenary indulgence (albeit from a shrine dedicated to Mammon), but also found a brothel being run by an Abbess right next to the construction site for St. Peters, and far more besides.

The writing effectively conveys the awfulness of what youíre seeing, with some more modern touches to the dialogue preventing the distancing effect of history from undercutting the impact of whatís happening. Indeed, the way harm to children becomes a more and more salient motif as the game progresses makes it clear that itís not just the 15th-Century incarnation of the church thatís being critiqued here. This is all fair enough Ė thereís a reason the Reformation kicked off shortly after the time being depicted here Ė but at the same time, itís not exactly unplowed ground, and while the arguments land with a bit more force than usual given the luridness on display, I wound up wishing there was a bit more flesh on the bones, a bit more complexity in the portrait of how a horrible institution perpetuates itself that doesnít rely on painting everyone concerned as a villain or a dupe. If the game was content with deploying its imagery just in the service of scares, that would be one thing, but since itís clearly more than just a haunted hayride I wound up wanting more.

Commenting on the game-y aspects of The Church Cat feels a bit besides the point, but itís well-structured, with choices allowing you to select which terrible thing youíll confront next on your trip into the bowels of the Church (mercifully, you also are allowed to run away from some of the more disturbing scenes). There were a few aspects of the implementation that aped some parser conventions, like a persistent inventory link and occasional directional navigation Ė typically I like this sort of thing, but theyíre best suited for a puzzle-based experience, which this definitely isnít, so they felt redundant. Streamlining them away wouldnít make it more fun, but would probably make it more focused on its core, horrible themes.

Highlight: Slight spoiler here: (Spoiler - click to show)the cat that speaks to quote from scripture is neat, and I appreciated that it lifted up some of the wilder bits of the Bible Ė the passage where a bunch of kids make fun of Elisha for being bald, so the prophet curses them and two bears maul them to death, is a personal favorite.

Lowlight/How I failed the author : Hopefully the author will not be offended if I say that the game was pretty much all lowlight for me Ė itís gross and scary and horrible, and as a new father I was especially not excited to read about bad stuff happening to small kids. I still think itís good at accomplishing what it sets out to, but man I did not enjoy it one bit.

- Wanderlust, December 27, 2021

- E.K., November 22, 2021

- Karl Ove Hufthammer (Bergen, Norway), November 15, 2021

- Dawn Sueoka, November 15, 2021

- wisprabbit (Sheffield, UK), November 11, 2021

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
What is at the core of this biting commentary? Find out here!, November 1, 2021

This game spends almost every moment describing messed up stuff. I thought it did a good job building up from the feeling that something is not right to more and more descriptive passages of increasingly depraved scenarios. The author references numerous people, locations, and job titles, none of which I recognized from having been raised Catholic. My deepest wish is that it was written to sound well-researched with some semblance of accuracy, but is actually complete nonsense. I found a little bit more content on a second playthrough, but only in one area. All other choices will take you through the same story. On an unrelated note, who recommended "Limerick Quest" as a related game????

- Zape, October 30, 2021

- OverThinking, October 25, 2021

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Short Twine game about the emptiness of medieval Catholicism... I think?, October 19, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: Less than 1 hour

This is a short Twine game in which you play a priest, apparently during the construction of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, with a summons to see the Pope. You have a cat that is given to quoting the most head-scratching, out-of-context Bible verses in a human voice when prompted.

You have to work your way through the Vatican and find the Pope to fulfill your long journey and answer the summons. Along the way a lot of dark, weird, unexplained sh-t happens. Not sure what else there is to say beyond that.

I think the author was trying to commentate on the Catholic church of the era in question, or perhaps the church in general. But I'm not sure. I'm not Catholic so perhaps I'm missing some context with which to interpret this game.

In the end I didn't get the message, if there was one, and didn't enjoy the game. Combined with a small handful of typos and this is a two-star game for me. YMMV.

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Some doors are better left unopened, October 17, 2021

A short but sprawling journey, this piece enters the Vatican and delves into the depths of horror as a rural priest tries to get an audience with the Pope, but discovers a rotting institution in bureaucratic chaos instead.

The writing is pitch perfectóif it were a paperback, it would be unputdownable. I was engrossed by the evocative details, from the cat spewing increasingly horrific Bible passages to the vivid scenes of debauched religious fervor. I also enjoyed finding a fair amount of new content on a second play-through, which provided added nuance to the plot.

I did feel that the finale was oddly muted, which left me wondering if there might be a better ending just out of reach and I had simply made the wrong choices. On a second play-through, I got the same ending, and I was left wishing for a conclusion with a bit more impact.

- Sobol (Russia), October 8, 2021

- Ann Hugo (Canada), October 5, 2021

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