I’m a cat person, so when I saw Fort Meow, I wanted to have it. No – I needed to have it. Here is a game that fantastically demonstrates how to take what’s usually a boring mechanic can be exemplary in the right paws, er, hands. And those hands belong to the talented team over at Upper Class Walrus, the result a surprisingly fun and addictive physics-based experience filled with fanciful feline fun.
Here you’ll build pillow forts to help keep the cats at bay while you explore a dusty old house with a wonderfully heartwarming story to help anchor the whole thing together: think Angry Birds in reverse, as you’re no longer the frustrated birds but the squealing pigs building defense structures. Come to think of it, this does sound a bit like Bad Piggies, doesn’t it?
In Fort Meow you play as Nia, a young girl visiting her grandparents. Grandfather is going in for surgery and you’re old enough to be left to your own devices so this is a purrrrfect time to snoop, er, explore. And like most kids, you’ll want to explore and you find yourself in their attic looking at all the cool stuff they’ve gathered since your last visit. You find your grandfather’s journal and begin to read – this is when the cats decide to “attack”. Those of you with your own beloved felines know the woes of sitting down to work, only to have them pick that one specific time to grab all your attention. Thus is how the fun gets started in Fort Meow.
There’s loads of stuff, as you might expect, cluttering up the attack and throughout the rest of the house. To give yourself enough time to read the journal and unlock its secrets you’ll need to stop the cats in their tracks. To do this you’ll use the stuff to build your pillow fort before each round to fend them off. Each item has a strength value that you need to take into consideration when building your fort. Some items are better to defend against certain cats while others, like a lamp, can alter the cats attack prowess. Each successful defense means you get to read more in your grandfather’s journal. Fort Meow is built on a strong foundation of story.
Successful defense gives you time to unravel the mystery of why there are so many cats to begin with. You’ll learn about Grandfather’s work and about his relationship with Grandmother, which turns out to be more interesting than you’d first think. Building stuff is fun but learning the story behind it all is even better.
Nia takes after her grandfather. Both are inquisitive, smart, and natural inventors. You get to earn cool tools to help you repel the cats like a ball of yarn launcher or bubble fan. There’s also a device to help move items from within the house to the attic to add them to your supplies.
The building mechanics are solid, touchy, and very intuitive. You build your fort out of the materials at your disposal and click defend. Then you wait. If you fail you can reconstruct your fort and try again. If you’re successful you progress. Time isn’t your friend but it is, essentially, your currency. Each item has a time value as well as a limit to how many of any one item you have at your disposal. This forces you to play and build smartly. Your helper has a battery, of course, which gets used up as you relocate items and you need to replenish the battery by completing rounds successfully.
The visuals are very appealing, using a familiar cartoonish style that really sets the mood. The music is ethereal and soothing – that is until the cats attack at which point it’s all punchy and frenetic, leaving you scrambling to set things right. There’s only one voice throughout the game, the narrator, but that’s all you really need.
There’s some issues worth mentioning, though none that ruin the experience. The levels are very short and quick, as you’d expect from a game like this. A five or ten minute burst lets you burn through a few of them more quickly than you’d like, and there doesn’t seem to be much else. Once you’re done, you’re done, free to wander the empty house building forts as you’d like, but there’s little point; the cats are bored with you. The game’s story, one of its better aspects, doesn’t tie up all the loose ends the way it should, either. Talk about a dangling yarn. There’s a stamp collecting side quest that helps pad the story somewhat, but this feels tossed in to give players something to do.
All in all, Fort Meow offers plenty of physics-based fun, coupled with a surprisingly great story that draws you in and keeps you put; which is more than I can say about most cats. The game is available for PC via Steam, but the asking price may be too steep given the shortcomings, though a cheaper version is also available for the iPad. Lower the price a bit and it’s cold milk and cream for everyone. Meyow!