As a librarian, one of my jobs is to perpetuate the stereotype that my profession is largely made up of cat-loving people. I own three because, well, cats are awesome. They are self-reliant and entertaining to watch. I got lucky with my first cat, Bastila, because she’s affectionate and loves to socialize with people. Because I own the best cat in the world, Konrad the Kitten, a virtual pet simulator/experience for the PlayStation VR, is mostly lost on me. While I can see this easily capturing the attention of children wanting their own kitten, the limits the game puts on your interaction with the animal, combined with the mostly hands-off nature of non-mini-game related activities, does more harm than good.
Konrad is a kitten who needs love and care! As its owner, you are responsible for keeping Konrad happy and comfortable through a series of activities and mini-games designed to increase its affection towards you. Similar to the older Tamagotchi pocket pet games from the 1990s and Nintendo’s own Nintendogs, Konrad has needs that must be fulfilled indicated by a series of icons displayed above the cat’s head when lifted up at eye level. The virtual cat doesn’t move independently which means you’ll have to carry it from room to room, to one interactive station to another while it remains affixed to your hand. If the cat is hungry, plop it down in front of a bowl of kibble. Sleepy? A nice cozy cardboard box will keep Konrad safe during a snooze. You don’t actually do anything once you’ve set Konrad in front of something except wait for a meter to fill up and end the activity. The player is then rewarded with experience points for a job well done. When Konrad’s needs and wishes have been accomplished, a wheel-of-fortune appears that awards the player with additional experience, coins to spend in an accessory shop, or a chance to play some mini-games, like a whack-a-mole themed mice catching game. Almost every activity influences the cat’s feelings towards you. While some maintain and increase health and affection, making the cat do something it doesn’t want or need will decrease it. Spend enough time with Konrad doing all these things and you’ll unlock new rooms to play in, toys, mini-games, and outdoor environments where this sweet little kitty can frolic the day away (although I wish the game was better about broadcasting when new interactives and rooms are unlocked).
Konrad the Kitten is designed to be a comfortable and casual experience. You’ll need to move the PlayStation Camera so that it stands a few feet above the ground as the game recreates the experience of sitting on the floor and keeping a close eye on a small, curious kitten. Again, because Konrad doesn’t move on his own, there’s no worry about it running away, getting into danger, or throwing up on the carpet at 3:00 am in the morning. That being said, it would have been nice if the cat had a little more autonomy and personality because the best thing about owning a cat is watching them explore and react to their surroundings. Instead, you play babysitter to ensure that the cat gets enough to eat, stays clean, and does its business in the litterbox.
Entertaining as all this can be, your time with Konrad is limited. Practically every activity depletes the cat’s energy and once it is gone, you are instructed to stop playing and come back the next day (energy recharges at a rate of 10% per real-time hour). Not counting time spent during the tutorial, my initial session with Konrad lasted for about twenty minutes before I was told to go away. That, in my opinion, isn’t nearly enough time to justify all the work needed to set up the PSVR for play: moving the camera and making the necessary adjustments, clear some floor space, calibrate the play space, and set height. This sort of time management is better suited to the handheld Tamagotchi pendants or mobile gaming platforms that make it easy to kick back for a few minutes, tap a few buttons and prompts and then be on your way. A mobile platform, combined with some sort of notification system, might make Konrad the Kitten a more engaging experience. As someone who works full time and has various commitments, it can be really easy to neglect Konrad. I couldn’t play the game for a few days and expected to get some sort of admonishment for staying away too long but the game picked up right where it left off, no harm, no foul. Unlike Konrad, my three cats wouldn’t waste a second to let me know if they feel ignored.
I wonder, then, who this is all for? Were it a console game or, even better, made for the PlayStation Vita, Konrad the Kitten might have more legs. As an adult who owns three cats, I’d rather just play with them as much as I want (or until they get sick of me and wander into another room). Children might get a kick out of playing with a virtual kitten, especially if allergies, rental agreements, or space issues prevent them from having the real thing. An endearing Plush Mode encourages the player to enhance the experience by attaching the Move wand to a stuffed animal. It’s a really cute idea but when the game is over before the player is ready to stop, or vice versa, I predict a lot of annoyed kids. And given the involved process of setting up the game, I can see players over the age of ten getting over Konrad the Kitten pretty quickly, opting instead to play the dearth of virtual pet and Tamagotchi knock-offs available on the iOS and Android store.
Konrad the Kitten has its heart in the right place. Customizing Konrad with accessories, taking it out to the beach, and watching it play with a roll of toilet paper is pretty cute. And the more you play, the more items, trinkets, and toys are at the cat’s disposal. Playing with cats is inherently fantastic and to do it virtually, without having to worry about scooping out litter boxes or taking them to the vet, is perfect for kids. The graphics are simple and eye-catching, if only for the bright and cheery color palette, though more discerning tastes will think it a step above something you’d find on a PlayStation 2. The developer’s decision to limit play time hamstrings the experience more than it really needs to. As the cat cannot die from negligence or be harmed by any of the activities, there shouldn’t be a reason to stop someone if they are having a fun time. Konrad the Kitten offers a fun opportunity to play with a kitten in a virtual space and develop a loving if artificial, relationship. But you can also get that same simulated experience on a mobile device that doesn’t require you to fiddle with cameras, calibrations, and a pack of jealous cats angry at you for not playing with them instead.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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