We played “Stray,” everyone’s favorite new cat-centric video game.  It’s purrfection

We played “Stray,” everyone’s favorite new cat-centric video game. It’s purrfection

We had to know: Was it really the cat’s meow? So we tried it ourselves, paying $30 to download it to a PlayStation 5. It quickly became clear why “Stray” appeals to gamers (who like cats), people who just like cats, and actual cats. Beautifully animated, it provides a respite from video games that are often noisy and action-packed. Also, playing as a cat is unusual and fun. You might even call it a-meow-zing.

While the game’s dystopia – which mostly takes place in a city falling apart – can have a mournful, lonely feel, the adventure (and choice of protagonist) served as a welcome distraction from some of the dystopian headlines we have this spring own world: While we were playing, forest fires and heat waves raged on several continents, but for a little while we were just a ginger cat wandering around a strange city.

The game begins in a lovely, peaceful, green area that looks like the remains of urban infrastructure. You control the main character, who is quickly separated from his cat family, and falls into a seemingly deserted city far below.

From there, “Stray” gets a little confusing. It’s clear that some kind of major disturbing event took place in this town, and the game is focused on solving the mystery of what happened and getting back home. As you soon realize, the city is not completely deserted: there are no people, but there is a small drone robot called B-12 that helps you read signs and piece together what is happening in your new surroundings; humanoid robots with heads shaped like old desktop computers; and tick-like creatures called “Zurks” that will occasionally attack and try to kill you.

While most of the game is spent wandering and exploring, you may find yourself on the run

Aside from an occasional frenzy of excitement, most of your time is spent exploring much like a cat would: figuring out what surfaces you can jump on, what objects you can pick up or knock over, and what kinds of cat behavior you can engage in. of course a dedicated “meow” button.

What struck us about the game is the balance between having specific tasks or goals and allowing users to explore freely. One of us doesn’t play video games at all, while the other is somewhat more familiar, but “Stray” catered to both our interests and skill levels. Overall, it was fun to figure out even if it took some time to, uh, purrfect our gameplay.

“It was an intention to keep it minimal, but to make sure everything necessary was there to make sure the game was still accessible,” BlueTwelve producer Swann-Martin Raget said in an interview with CNN Business. “You understand naturally without thinking too much and without necessarily being part of a … mission or a list of challenges.”

Laine Nooney, an assistant professor at New York University who studies media and video games, attributed the sudden popularity of “Stray” to several qualities: It has a loving story, is well-made, is enjoyable to play and includes the Internet’s “unofficial mascot”.

“Playing like an animal allows us to put our human brain ‘to rest’ in a way,” Nooney said. “Even though we’re trying to get this cat through a scary world, the stakes are small and manageable — a welcome relief from an increasingly chaotic news cycle.”

Fortunately, we actually felt a bit more relaxed while playing the game. Partly that’s because of the pace, which only goes as fast as a cat can meander through a desolate cityscape, occasionally stopping to grab some water or take a nap. It was also a result of small, thoughtful details in the game: just repeatedly pressing the “meow” button on the handheld controller, scratching tree bark or petting other kitties was soothing.

The real cat behind “Stray”

Why make the game’s main character a cat, in particular? According to Raget, the decision was driven by several factors.

The first was the nature of the universe the game takes place in. The dystopian city of “Stray” is inspired by the Kowloon Walled City, a settlement in Hong Kong that was considered the most densely populated place on earth before it was demolished over two decades ago.

But while the Kowloon Walled City was inhabited by humans, BlueTwelve’s two co-founders, both artists, “began to realize that it really was the perfect playground for cats—the multitude of little passages, the fresh perspective it offered on the world they were building,” said Raget.

'The Stray' has caught the attention of real cats

Perhaps more importantly, the BlueTwelve team is obsessed with cats. The studio’s office in the south of France has two full-time in-house cat managers (“Sometimes they shut down our computers when we’re trying to save our work,” Raget said) and most of the studio’s employees own and love cats.

In fact, the main character of “Stray” is largely based on Murtaugh, a stray cat BlueTwelve’s co-founders found and adopted several years ago.

Murtaugh, the inspiration behind the 'Stray' protagonist, seen here (we think) ordering his people around.

Humans aren’t the only fans

BlueTwelve’s passion for felines is echoed by consumers, who have taken to “Stray” as catnip. It’s among the most popular games on Steam, one of two platforms where it’s available — nearly 50,000 people played it on Thursday, just two days after it launched, and over 21,000 of those who bought the game from Steam left ” Overwhelmingly Positive” reviews.

“If you want to be a cat, playing Stray is the next best thing,” read one review.

Sony’s PlayStation, the other platform where “Stray” is available (and the one where we bought and played it), did not respond to a question about how many copies of the game it has sold so far, and BlueTwelve declined to share sales data. (When asked about sales through its platform, Steam told CNN Business to contact the game’s publisher, Annapurna Interactive; Annapurna Interactive declined to comment.)

Although the game has a mission, there is always time to stop and say hello to the robots.

Formed a little over five years ago with the express purpose of making this game, BlueTwelve has yet to think about what its next project might be.

Right now, says Raget, they are just “overwhelmed” by the response to “Stray”.

Humans are not the only fans of the game. Since “Stray” launched earlier this week, social media has been abuzz with pet cats mesmerized by their orange on-screen counterpart. (No word yet on whether any of them hit the paw button.)

BlueTwelve realized early on that “Stray” can have that effect, thanks to their cats, Miko and Jun.

“When the cats in the office started reacting to what was happening on our screens, I think we felt like we were going in a good direction,” Raget said.

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