Scoreless Review: The Cat and the Coup

Certain games out there, particularly indie games, are surprisingly difficult to rate. Awarding scores to titles such as Convergence, B.U.T.T.O.N., We Want YOU, and Spelunky was incredibly hard for me to do, but I did it because I had chosen to follow the guidelines and criteria of the modern review format. Today I disregard such guidelines and criteria and look at a game, critique it, and tell you simply to play it. The Cat and the Coup is an impossible game to rate because its stance as a game is arguable. On the one hand, I could easily give this free indie title a perfect 10 due to its intimidating political awareness and beautiful avant-garde imagery. I could also give it a pitiful zero because it consists of 10 to 15 minutes of simplistic puzzles.

Instead of going with either extreme, I’d much rather leave this review of The Cat and the Coup completely devoid of a score and recommend that you give it a chance.

The Cat and the Coup tells the story of Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh, the former prime minister of Iran and the first in the nation’s history to be democratically elected to his position. The game is described as a “documentary game,” but rather than coming off as a full-fledged history lesson, The Cat and the Coup accomplishes its narration through background imagery, newspaper headlines, and short yet descriptive blurbs. This is most definitely a documentary, but it doesn’t act like one.

You play as Mossadegh’s cat, and it’s your job to solve simple puzzles to help trigger events. At times, moving from one side of a room to the other will tilt the room, opening a door on one side and closing a door on the other. Other times, you’re tasked with spilling something on the floor, provoking a reaction from Mossadegh. You also must jump on the Prime Minister’s lap during important meetings and cause his chair to tip over. These actions are carried out through small environmental puzzles and context-sensitive gameplay sequences. Successfully meeting these requirements causes both Mossadegh and his loyal cat to fall seemingly endless depths, only to land in another room that recalls another event in Mossadegh’s reign as prime minister.

What’s most interesting is that The Cat and the Coup recounts the life of Mossadegh, from his election to office all the way to his final moments on his death bed—in reverse. You follow Mossadegh as he gets detained in the CIA’s Iranian coup d’etat and go back, visiting previous actions and decisions the Prime Minister made. I had never even heard of Mohammed Mossadegh prior to playing The Cat and the Coup, so all of what I was learning in reverse was a bit confusing. Then, much to my delight, the game went through all of the events in chronological order once I had reached the end. It was an enlightening and educational experience that started off a bit complex but quickly became crystal clear. The way in which The Cat and the Coup presents its historical tale is riveting.

This historical indie game is more than just learning through puzzles. Visually, developers Peter Brinson and Kurosh ValaNejad have done an exquisite job of showing off The Cat and the Coup in as stylish a manner as possible. The game features a paper cutout and collage look to it that’s completely aesthetic and 100 percent artsy. Interesting images of animal heads adorn the bodies of politicians, newspaper columns add text to the screen, and even some hand-drawn clouds appear in the sky, breathing an even livelier style into this wonderfully designed artistic endeavor.

Even if you’ve never heard of Mohammed Mossadegh, The Cat and the Coup is a captivating journey in time that you should not miss. The puzzles are fun enough to warrant some interest, and the art style is magnificent. But The Cat and the Coup is really more a brief history lesson than a game. It’s a history lesson that may pique your interest in something you would have otherwise disregarded. And it’s a life lesson in game design: video games can be educational and enjoyable all at once. If you’ve got 10 or 15 minutes to spare, don’t hesitate to give this inspiring indie accomplishment a quick download. It’s free, so you have nothing to lose.