Like the thought experiment it’s named after, Schrödinger’s Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark seems like an intimidating game for the uninitiated. Hanging an entire game on a paradox of quantum physics might seem a tad pretentious in certain hands, but luckily, after a short introduction, the title soon starts to win you over with its charm.
Despite having one of the longest names in video game history, the game’s premise is deceptively simple. You play as the titular Schrödinger’s Cat (voiced brilliantly by AJ Locascio, of Telltale’s Back to the Future series) who is called to the scene after a dramatic event at the Particle Zoo – the premier sub-atomic tourist attraction – sees all of the particle inhabitants escape. It’s up to you to collect up the errant Bosons, Gluons and Leptons, and put them back in their enclosures.
While navigating the levels, you’ll come across a liberal scattering of Quarks. These Quarks will assist you in reaching hard-to-reach ledges and navigating past obstacles. There are four types of Quark, all of which are assigned to the arrow keys on your keyboard and have different functions. Yellow Quarks will help you fly for a limited amount of time. Blue ones will smash platforms and walls for you. Green Quarks encase you in a protective seal, which is handy for travelling through impassable slime blobs, and Red Quarks create a temporary platform for you to stand on.
Like the standard model of physics, the basic building blocks of the game are incredibly simple, but these can come together to create more complex functions. You are encouraged to combine different coloured Quarks together to discover new abilities. For example, a mixture of a blue and two yellow Quarks creates a projectile missile that can destroy walls and enemies from a distance. Other combinations can be used to create traps, shields and moving platforms – all of which add to your arsenal effectively. It’s fun to experiment with these different functions, which gives the game a sense of versatility, usually resulting in numerous different ways to get around an obstacle. An impossibly high wall, for example, could be scaled with yellow Quarks, climbed with the platforms of red Quarks, or tunnelled underneath with blue Quarks.
It’s commendable that the game gives you this level of freedom to explore, but it is only available in certain levels. Other stages are more tightly focussed, giving you a set method for getting past obstacles and only providing you with the relevant Quarks necessary to solve a particular puzzle. While these levels are not open to experimentation, they do offer a challenge and help to change up the gameplay. It’s just a shame that the emphasis on not wasting Quarks can lead to multiple restarts from checkpoints after you accidentally lose one; these sections have to be completed perfectly.
If you enjoy collectables, Schrödinger’s Cat has you covered. Your task is to round up all the escaped Bosons, Gluons and Leptons and send them back their cells. Gluons are Quark thieves, and will happily steal Quarks from you if you pass them by. There are a couple of methods to retrieve your Quark and capture the offending Gluon, the easiest of which is to punch them, then use your Quarks to catch them in a net and send them flying off back to their enclosure. You can also catch Gluons on ceilings by knocking them off, into traps below. Leptons will attempt to eat your Quarks, so you’ll have to knock them out quickly, or use a Quark as bait and wait until the little sucker is being chewed to pieces before launching your attack. Bosons are like giant pigs that prove to be the most formidable of the enemies you’ll come across, so dealing with them requires much more cunning than other opponents.
Schrödinger’s Cat himself is an easily likeable, wise-cracking character. His bemusement and bewilderment at the various quirky characters complement your own thoughts perfectly. If you don’t have an innate knowledge of particle physics, Schrödinger’s Cat asks all the right questions to get you up to speed. As you interact with errant zoo guards and loud-mouthed drill sergeants, you start to unravel the mystery behind the Strange Quark and the need to stop it from turning the entire universe into goo. The magnitude of your task seems important, but Schrödinger’s Cat still has time to shoot the breeze and discuss the semantics of the words “strange” and “odd” with a likeable cast of characters.
Bringing these characters to life is comfortably done through the lovely art style on display. Everything is suitably cartoony, which really lends itself to the silly tone of the game. It would be nice, however, if the animations had a few more frames to bring them to life a little more and really make the visuals pop out. As it is, the title’s aesthetics slightly lag behind the personality that Schrödinger’s Cat obviously wants to show off.
This also leads on to the platforming element itself. Our protagonist seems a touch too difficult to control when navigating across small, intricate gaps. He glides through the air and never feels fully under your control, like that loss of control you get at the apex of a jump on a bouncy castle. You’ll often find yourself floating into patches of killer green slime, and you won’t fare much better even as you get used to the controls. Also, there are slight camera issues on occasion where your view will go off-centre, making it difficult to land jumps. Combine this with occasional bugs where you slightly clip through the geometry, and sometimes you’ll find yourself restarting certain sections through no fault of your own. It has to be said that, for a platform game, the platforming really needs tightening up.
Still, these moments of frustration are outweighed by the enjoyable setting and quirky, self-aware humour. You won’t need to understand the mysteries of the Higgs Boson to enjoy this game, although you may develop a taste for the sub-atomic.