Developer howdy riceball has done it again with a cute, pocket-sized world to explore in the poetic and somewhat zany A Cat & His Boy. This short and (bitter)sweet game centers around a cat named Midnight scouring the house of its young owner, Leif, to help him find his way in the world. With its striking 1-bit artistyle, it can be played on both the original Game Boy and the Game Boy Color.
The opening title screen does a wonderful job establishing the dark, yet cozy feel of this title. Sonically impressive rain and its stark animation emphasized by the 1-bit contrast pours over the window-framed image of Lief and Midnight longingly looking out to the dreary, dynamically chaotic world from the safety of their home. This is a fantastic introduction not only to the game’s mood, but its theme as well.
Leif is a young boy who begins to feel overwhelmingly small after seeing a photo of just how large the universe is in comparison to himself. There are other identifiable real world troubles in his life, but the crux of his dilemma comes from that small feeling. So it is fitting to think that a friend smaller than him, named after the darkness of space itself, is the one to help him grapple with his place in the world.
The exposition doesn’t pull punches, but make no mistake because while this game shares some serious situations with the player, it does not cross over into overwhelming. This is helped by a silly side that will often follow and accompany the serious moments. There are a delightful number of characters and puns to find as Midnight journeys through and around the house looking for helpful items. Much like the similarly dark, yet absurd Link’s Awakening, the fetch quest that this game embarks on will bring plenty of wackiness to the player along the way.
The main goal for the player is not immediately clear, but falls into place as you continue. The game starts off in Leif’s room which is full of rich visual detail, though simple enough that the bountiful interactable items and places are quickly clear to the player. With an interconnected layout, the house feels like an invitation to explore a new location no matter which room the player is currently in. Items and characters from one area may affect another, and the experience unfolds from there.
Despite being a brief title, it pays off to dive in deeper. The game really shines in the subtleties, whether it be the environment or the characters. Other than the main line of progression, there is a side task that rewards the player in more than just the satisfaction of a completed task.
Supported by the atmospheric music by Beatscribe and satisfying sound effects by Coffee ‘Valen’ Bat (did I mention this game has a dedicated “meow” button?), this touching title reminds the player of what it can feel like to be a kid, both curious and uneasy about the world around you. As a fan of vast worlds lived through the tiny screen of a Game Boy, A Cat & His Boy was a nice reminder that even the small things can mean the world to us.
To download the ROM and experience for yourself, head over to the game’s itch page.
Game Designer & Magazine Editor