Molecats! I said it to myself over and over as I downloaded the preview. It’s kind of fun to say. Would this be a game about horrific wizardly crossbreeds, fighting against owlbears and snakemen for inclusion in a monster manual? Or a game about giant robotic digging vehicles on tank treads, mining for impossibly rare elements on a space moon?
Neither. But ‘neither’ in a way that makes me glad I’m not a game developer, because the concept they’re going for here is probably a lot more entertaining than what I’d have come up with.
Molecats is a puzzle game, and the molecats in question here are cat-faced mole beings of cheery appearance. They trek in packs through a cavern network, waking lost molecats, collecting mushrooms and trying to avoid the weirder denizens of this rather jolly underdark.
Anyone who remembers Lemmings as fondly as I do would get a kick out of this. Of the various molecats in your care, each have different abilities that you’ll need to use to get them safely through the caves. Some can pick plants up to ward off scent-sensitive beasties. Others can use certain tools or traverse particular obstacles. All you need to do is steer them (to a certain extent) and try and rearrange the caverns ahead so the right molecat gets to the right place in the right order.
Molecats will generally trundle along in a straight line until they bump off something or get scared away. You can stop them and turn them around, but only in a single given chunk of cavern at a time. They can walk upside down as easily as the right way up, so if they reach a dead-end, they go up the wall and come back along the ceiling. You’ll have to use this ability to steer them through a rotating maze of passages, as well as many others.
Building up from simple premises, Molecats quickly gets stuck into some fiendish puzzles. Sometimes it’s the kind you can solve with a little trial and error, sometimes the kind that you can solve but without getting all the mushrooms and bonuses in a level, sometimes the kind that makes you wish you could recode the game and make it easier. At the moment, the difficulty curve is a bit random, but that’s because the press pack only has a smattering of levels to give you a flavour, not the whole caboodle.
It’s got a cartoony look that I like, and the puzzles seem to be a good mix to me. Although you can goad your cutesy charges into a run, their pace feels a bit slow. And violent great lug that I am, I slightly miss one of the key features of Lemmings, which was the great, explosive deaths they usually underwent. The molecats back away from carnivores and sometimes get stuck in traps, but from what I played that’s as bad as it got. This is no problem at all; the game would be great for kids, particularly younger ones. It’s just jades like me who might get so frustrated they need to see something’s blood.
Molecats is already a nice dose of cunning puzzley fun. No reason to expect anything less than more of that by the time it’s out of development.