I’m usually loathe to play games that the word “wacky” could be even vaguely applied to – and on first glance, Raiders of the Lost Quark looks like it’s going to be more Big Bang Theory and less Monkey Bone. But the prospect of playing as the world’s most confusing cat was way too tantalising to turn down.
It’s hard to describe it. Anyone vaguely nerdy or, hell, anyone who watches The Big Bang Theory will be aware of the Schrodinger’s Cat thought experiment. A cat gets put in a box with a radioactive atom, and the box is closed. There’s no way to determine whether the cat is still alive or not without opening the box – so therefore, the cat is both alive and dead at the same time. This purgatorial pussycat is the star, and it seems like the main ethos behind the game is presenting physics humour in a more accessible manner.
The Cat is tasked with restoring order to the Particle Zoo by collecting and utilising Quarks, cutesy bits of matter that can be used to create helicopters, drills, ladders, and weapons. This is where it really becomes unique as a platformer – the puzzles test your dexterity as well as your mental capacity. You combine the Quarks with the arrow keys and more often than not it demands split second timing – fail to put together that Quarkian shield in time and the Cat becomes quite definitively dead. Corridor of green slime – smash three green quarks together and you’ll hop into a shield ball and roll straight through. Use three reds and you’ll throw down a platform in mid-air you can use to navigate big jumps. There’s a total of fourteen possible combos all mapped to the arrow keys which is probably the easiest way to go about it.
It does include controller support but it all maps to the face buttons – which seems strange considering the keyboard layout is essentially mimicking twin sticks. You can go about mapping it to the sticks if you want but it could do with being a little bit more accessible and user friendly. It’s best played with a keyboard anyway – but the option to use a controller is there if you’re one of those weird PC-gaming keyboard-phobes who just wants to pretend they’re not cheating on their console (seriously. It’s just weird). There’s a tiny bit of delay between hitting buttons and having the game register them but once you get used to it you can work around it. As far as flaws go, it’s pretty inconsequential.
It all sounds pretty simple but in execution it’s surprisingly complex – making the payoff when you finally get around a problem intensely rewarding. You have to commit all the combos to memory, which is refreshing simply because it’s good not to have your hand held all the time. The levels are procedurally generated meaning the challenges are different every time – it’s genius, because the puzzles end up being how you use the combos to get around. With every playthrough laying down new challenges the reply value is pretty much infinite depending on how much you like physics jokes.
It’s all wrapped up in madcap, clever and ironic humour (It’s written brilliantly. Like a kid’s show about science on amphetamines) and a really unique dichromatic visual style. It’s full of colour everywhere you look and packed with cool little visual touches – the way Quarks squawk and huff when you’re sticking them together, for example. The dialogue is probably the best since Psychonauts – twisted and self-aware, it’ll even take the piss out of you for skipping ahead in dialogue if you try it too much. The humour alone is a reason to keep trucking through the tougher puzzles even when they’re infuriating you so much you just want to kill the cat yourself.
Platforming games are the senior citizens of the gaming industry. They’ve already done it all, been everywhere, and there’s really not much left for them to do other than weakly bop over the same old hazard over and over again until they finally run out of 1-Ups. It’s surprising to see such a breath of fresh air from a relatively obscure corner of the industry – while Nintendo and Sega keep rehashing the same game heroes they have been for decades, out comes Schrodinger’s wise-ass cat manipulating the building blocks of the universe. Maybe he could rewrite the code of the universe and make it so Sonic was good again.
Put shortly, Raiders of the Lost Quark is a clever, funny platforming game that genuinely does something new with the genre. Whether you love the genre or hate it, this is an outstanding offering on every front, and a breakout champion of the indie gaming scene.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.