Vector Unit has consistently proven itself capable of innovation when it comes to the kart racer genre. With their outstanding Beach Buggy Racing series and their lesser-known Riptide GP games, they showcased their ability to understand where the genre could evolve and what needed refining. Mousebot: Escape From Catlab is their most recent title, but it doesn’t fall under their tried and tested formula. This isn’t a kart racer. Instead, what we have here is a runner platformer and one that is certainly enjoyable to an extent. However, this is by far Vector Unit’s weakest effort. It is better as a showcase of the perils of one stepping out of their comfort zone.
“While Vector Unit’s other titles made sense to port them, Mousebot is really just a casual mobile game that never innovates beyond that.”
I should preface this review by saying that Mousebot: Escape From Catlab is a mobile game. It has simply been ported to consoles and PC. It was released way back in 2017 under the name Mousebot and was free-to-play with optional microtransactions. This console and PC port includes a handful of additional maps and an arcade mode that offers more challenges. But it is, for the most part, the same product.
I mention all of this because Mousebot: Escape From Catlab really should have stayed there. While with Vector Unit’s other titles, such as Beach Buggy Racing, it made sense to port them as they were fully-fledged games off and on the phone, Mousebot is really just a casual mobile game that never innovates beyond that. Unlike the bountiful kart racers in Vector Unit’s catalogue, in Mousebot: Escape From Catlab, all you do is evade obstacles and collect cheese, all while the titular mousebot is propelled forward automatically.
“That’s not to say that Mousebot: Escape From Catlab is bad. The central gameplay loop is actually quite enjoyable.”
It’s not an inherently bad setup, and on a mobile phone it would likely offer a fun distraction. But the console port comes with all the issues that are inherent with a mobile title. For one, each level is ostensibly the same, albeit with slight variations on the central mechanic. The premise is that cats are attempting to figure out the best maze to hinder a mouse. Each level offers up a different cat’s interpretation of how to do this. In practice, what this means is that each level is progressively harder, as it uses not only the previous levels’ mechanics but also a new one.
While some levels introduce interesting gameplay schticks, such as water that changes elevation, or actual platforming, a significant portion of the available content, especially in the early game, are relatively uninteresting. That’s not to say that Mousebot: Escape From Catlab is bad. Not by any means. The central gameplay loop is actually quite enjoyable. This is helped by the fact that levels are relatively short, lasting no longer than a minute or two each. The fact that the mousebot itself is accelerated automatically ensures that jumping straight back into a level after failing or restarting is quick and easy.
Additionally, the controls and gameplay mechanics on offer are incredibly well refined. In fact, the steering of the mousebot is excellent and precise. It is so good that in the later levels when the ability to hop either right or left is introduced, I found no need for it. I was already capable of clearing corners and evading obstacles with relative ease. The simplicity of the gameplay makes the entire experience feel relaxing albeit lacking any real stakes.
“It’s easy to burn through levels quite quickly, which can get boring very quickly.”
Unfortunately, this is the problem. Certain levels do pose a challenge, although this is mainly down to the cheap placement of certain obstacles. However, for the most part, Mousebot: Escape From Catlab is an easy breezy experience with little innovation to offer. It’s easy to burn through levels quite quickly, which would be fine on a bus journey to work, or while you’re waiting for the train. But, if you’re sat at home in front of your TV, this can get boring very quickly.
It can also be a little frustrating at times, namely when you miss a piece of cheese. Each level has the same laundry list of things for you to complete. These include beating the level in a certain amount of time, collecting all the cheese, collecting the heart piece and not dying. There is also an easter egg every few levels for you to find too. The main one, and the easiest to achieve, is collecting all the cheese scattered across the linear levels.
“For $4.99 and with 88 levels on offer, it feels like you can’t go wrong.”
Unfortunately, especially in later levels that involve platforming, it’s easy to miss a block of cheese. Should you miss one, you rarely have recourse to head backwards and reclaim it, as this will often lead to death. In fact, the only way you can go back and get it is by either restarting the level or purposefully killing yourself. The latter, of course, ruins the potential of getting that “Do Not Die” achievement at the end of the level. Ultimately, this leads to incredibly frustrating experiences and frequently made me want to quit.
I fully expect people’s experience on the Nintendo Switch to be far more positive, as that console is intended for pick up and play titles. But on the PS4 this feels a little out of place. As a game, Mousebot: Escape From Catlab isn’t terrible. In fact, I feel it has a certain charm that would likely make it an excellent mobile title. It is just a poor fit for the platform I reviewed it on. For $4.99 and with 88 levels on offer, it feels like you can’t go wrong. While that may be true to an extent, I highly recommend you play this elsewhere, either for free on your phone, or on the Nintendo Switch.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on PC, code was provided by the publisher.