Thank God The Cat and the Coup is free, for if it wasn’t, I would probably tear my eyes out in disbelief. This indie title is so short and so devoid of replay value that it charging even the smallest of prices for it would be a scam of Ponzi-esque proportions. It may be termed an art game by some, and it is certainly unique, but ultimately The Cat and the Coup fails to live up to expectations.
Firstly, however, the game deserves commendation for its boldness. Very few games treat anything remotely political in their subject matter, and so it is refreshing when real life political problems are addressed in a game. The Cat and the Coup seeks to tell the story of the CIA-backed overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, whose attempts to nationalise BP in his country invoked the ire of Britain and America. The player assumes the role of Mossadegh’s cat immediately after the man’s death, and is tasked with coaxing his ghost through a series of rooms retracing the past, back to the attempted nationalisation. Each room contains a simple puzzle which helps the cat guide the ill-starred Prime Minister on his way, and a caption marking an event. Often, the rooms bear little or no resemblance to the event they ‘portray’.
All in all, the number of rooms (and by extension puzzles) barely exceeds one hand’s worth of fingers, and none of them are particularly challenging. Simple controls and the sparse design mean that figuring out how to solve the puzzle and nudge Mossadegh onwards is little more than a matter of pressing the arrow keys and spacebar in the vicinity of whatever objects appear in the room in question to manipulate objects. Even in this short space, a clear visual progression adds something to the game. It starts off resembling a beautifully ornate Persian miniature (I’ll forgive that some of the miniatures are in fact Ottoman), but as we progress backwards it becomes ever more dreamlike and surreal: where the first room, where Mossadegh is dead, leads nicely to the second, but thereafter the cosiness of this art style begins to breakdown, replaced by omnipresent blackness filled with oversized logos and symbols, as does the continuity of the rooms, which are separated by periods of freefall. Combined, the logos and the falling symbolise Mossadegh’s own political fortunes, which spiral out of control as he combats the vested interests in his country. In one memorable puzzle, the cat attempts to break up a meeting with a macabre BP executive with a rabbit’s head. The game ends with Mossadegh’s ghost being floated back to his body by oil he has unleashed, whilst a chronology, expanding on the captions previously offered, floats across screen.
For all its ambition and beauty, The Cat and the Coup falls short on three counts: first, it offers absolutely no challenge, thanks to ludicrously easy puzzles. Second, it is short, and has absolutely no replay value. Third, as a professed ‘documentary’ game, it tells us no more than a scan reading of a Wikipedia page. Its brief captions offer a chronology, but otherwise lack depth. The well executed symbolism of the art style does not make up for a lack of real substance. Like so many art games, The Cat and the Coup nails the art, but is missing a game.