Nintendo’s newest game has been out for all of one day and already cats are like “Nuh-uh.”
The idea behind Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is clever yet simple and seemingly tailored for the pandemic era: Using a Nintendo Switch, players control a tiny Mario Kart equipped with a camera and race it around courses they design in their homes. Because players are controlling the kart through a screen and seeing things from the kart’s point of view, the game augments the race course by generating obstacles to dodge, coins to collect and opponents to race against.
It’s called augmented reality, because it adds layers of computer-generated imagery over things we can see with our own eyes. It’s the same concept behind smart glasses and floating heads-up displays.
But there’s one wild card Nintendo’s designers may not have anticipated: Felis catus.
Nothing grabs a cat’s attention quicker than a small, fast-moving object, and the little karts have been triggering the predatory instincts of countless cats.
Some cats go all “You shall not pass!” Gandalf-style on the karts:
For anyone unfamiliar with Assassin’s Creed, it’s a series of games that imagine eras of history as digital theme parks filled with grand adventures, with the player as the hero in the middle of it all.
In Origins you’re an Egyptian warrior marauding through a landscape of pyramids, sphinxes, temples, crocodiles and lions. In Odyssey you’re a Spartan-born mercenary sailing the Aegean with Herodotus by your side and Aspasia as one of your BFFs.
These aren’t recreations of the ancient world so much as they’re simulacra of what people living in the 21st century think ancient Egypt and Greece looked, sounded and felt like.
The latest installment, due to arrive in December, is Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, which leans heavily on History Channel’s Vikings and Netflix’s The Last Kingdom for its visual style. The game covers the same territory as those shows as well, taking place during the Viking era when invaders from Norway, Denmark and Sweden relentlessly pillaged the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England.
The vikings were low-tech raiders — they didn’t have a real writing system, they left no enduring mark on architecture, their smithing techniques were inferior and their technological contributions to humanity were limited to shipbuilding and seafaring.
They raided the Anglo-Saxons, in short, because they wanted to loot shiny shit. Gold and silver chalices, precious gems, crucifixes, woodwork, iron weapons, anything of value worth hauling back to Scandinavia.
In Valhalla, players will assemble their own raiding parties, and apparently they can take cats. The video below shows the player character recruiting a “raider cat” for his longboat. There’s a short sidequest involved. From there, the cat accompanies the player and his vikings across the sea. Like a typical feline, the game’s cat likes to sleep and is usually found curled up in the front of the longboat, but don’t expect kitty to help out when the fighting starts:
After 2015’s Shelter 2 — in which gamers take on the role of a female Lynx protecting her cubs in the wild — proved there’s a real audience for games from a cat’s perspective, there have been a few feline-centric games coming down the development pipeline.
None of them, however, look as unique and fascinating as Stray, a newly-unveiled title in which players take the role of a cat surviving in a post-human future Hong Kong.
The game’s trailer is spectacular, following an orange tabby cat navigating a neon-lit urban landscape populated only by machines. Details about the narrative haven’t been revealed and it’s not clear what happened to humanity in the game’s universe, but cats are alive and well in Stray, and it looks like they’ve manipulated robots into serving them the same way they had humans wrapped around their little paws.
“I will throw my money at anything that lets me play as a cat,” one Youtube user posted.
“There’d better be a meow button,” another wrote.
Although it’s early yet and we haven’t seen gameplay videos, the cat depicted in the trailer is exceptionally well-modeled and rendered by game artists who clearly love the little furballs. The feline’s gait, movements and vocalizations are spot-on.
Stray will be a PS4/5 exclusive at launch (boo!) but will also have a PC release, presumably at least a few months later. We’ll be watching eagerly for more news about this interesting and unique game, which is slated for a 2021 release.
They’ve been mousers on interstellar starships, companions on long-haul freighters and — like Speaker to Animals, the Kzin from Larry Niven’s classic science fiction novel Ringworld — warriors of galactic repute leading dangerous expeditions to alien worlds.
Star Trek is no different.
Mention the topic of cats to any Trekkie and the first thing that probably comes to mind is Spot, the orange tabby cat who belonged to Commander Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Spot was a mainstay on the Enterprise-D, earning the respect of the Klingon Commander Worf and serving as Data’s muse for a hilarious poem in the cat’s honor, “Ode to Spot.”
One of the highlights of Star Trek: The Next Generation is watching the gruff Klingon learn that, unlike dogs, cats don’t give a damn about commands.
But cats play a much bigger role in the wider Star Trek universe than even many Trekkies realize.
As fans of Star Trek know, the Federation is an alliance of peaceful worlds and races committed to exploration of the galaxy, friendship with new species and non-interference with developing civilizations.
What many may not realize, however, is just how many species are involved in the Federation. Some, like the Bajorans, Andorians and Betazoids, are seen pretty frequently in Trek shows and movies, but others have made only a few on-screen appearances.
Among the latter are the Caitians, described in Memory Alpha (the wiki of canon for Star trek) as “a warp-capable species resembling felines.”
Their home planet is known as Cait to other races, and Ferasa to the Caitians themselves, and is located within the Lynx constellation. They made their first live-action appearance in 1986’s Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home:
Because of its origins as a network television show, budget has always been a major factor in the way aliens are depicted in Star Trek.
The show’s writers have come up with an elaborate back story for why so many alien species are humanoid, closely representing humankind, but the minor differences of most species — the ridged foreheads of Klingons and elfin ears of Vulcans — are for the most part remnants from the days when production crews had little money or time to create elaborate props and effects.
It’s also the reason why the Klingons, for example, were radically redesigned in the 2009 Star Trek reboot, with its lavish budget and SFX.
With a species like the Caitians, however, you either go all-in or not-at-all. That’s why the species has made only three appearances in Trek films to date, and why most of their exploits have been reserved for Trek novels and comics.
But the internet loves cats, and Star Trek Online, the massively multiplayer online game set in the Trek universe, saw enormous positive feedback when it added Caitians as a playable species back in 2011.
Here’s my very own Caitian starfleet captain from the game:
According to Star Trek lore, the Caitians share distant ancestry with the Kzin, the aforementioned war-like race of feline aliens from Niven’s Ringworld books.
That’s because Niven himself had a run as a writer for Trek comic books in the 1980s, and wrote his own creation into the wider Star Trek universe.
Just like cats have a range of personalities, and breeds have their own unique characteristics — the gentle giant Maine Coons, the talkative Siamese — the felines of Star Trek have different lineages and dispositions.
While the Caitians are peaceful and staunch allies of humans and the Federation, the Kzinti are a bunch of war-loving lunatics who find great joy in blowing things up.
Maybe, just maybe, a handful of you non-Trekkies have made it this far. Maybe your love of cats kept you interested in this story, and you’re thinking to yourself, “I wonder what Star Trek is all about…”
In the spirit of the Federation, I leave you this parting gift. During these dark days of quarantine, should you browse Netflix and find yourself tempted by Star Trek: The Next Generation, here’s a guide to the entire cast that imagines each of them as cats. And not just any cats: Each kitty resembles its Enterprise crew counterpart.
Live long, my friends, and prosper!
(Star Trek Cats by artist Jenny Parks. Check out more at her site!)
I knew it wouldn’t be long before the game brought a cat into the mix, and it didn’t disappoint. In one scene, a character asks you to find his dear little girl who has been kidnapped, and you’re under the impression you’re searching for his daughter — right up until you find the kidnappers, give ’em a good old Yakuza beatdown, and realize your acquaintance’s “little girl” is actually a cat:
The game, which is little-known in the US but hugely popular in Japan, also features a, shall we say, less amiable encounter with cats:
Chronicling the adventures of Buddy the Cat and his various criminal enterprises.