We had to know: Was it really a cat’s meow? So we tried it out ourselves, and paid $30 to download it for the PlayStation 5. And we quickly became clear why “Stray” is so appealing to gamers (who love cats), people who love cats, and actual cats. It’s beautifully animated and provides a respite from video games that are often noisy and full of action. Also, playing as a cat is unusual and fun. You can even call it a-meow-zing.
Although the game’s grim reality – which often takes place in a city collapsing – can have a sad and solitary feel, the adventure (and main character choice) was a welcome distraction from some of the miserable headlines we have in our own world: while we were playing, Wildfires and heat waves raged on multiple continents, but for a while we were just a ginger cat wandering around a strange city.
The game begins in a wonderful, quiet and lush space that resembles the remnants of urban infrastructure. You control the main character, who is quickly separated from her feline family, and is located in a seemingly deserted city below.
From there, “Stray” gets a bit baffling. It is clear that a major sabotage event has occurred in this city, and the game focuses on solving the mystery of what happened and returning home. As you’ll soon realize, the city isn’t completely deserted: no humans, but a small drone robot called a B-12 that helps you read signs and piece together what’s going on in your new surroundings; human-like robots with heads shaped like old desktop computers; And tick-like creatures called “Zurks” sometimes attack you and try to kill you.
Other than the periodic frenzy of excitement, you spend most of your time exploring much like a cat does: figuring out which surfaces you can jump on, items you can pick up or drop, the types of cat behaviors you can engage in there’s, of course, a dedicated “meow” button.
What surprised us about the game is the balance between having specific tasks or objectives and allowing users to explore freely. Neither of us plays video games at all, while the other is somewhat familiar, yet the game “Stray” caters to our interests and skill levels. Overall, it was fun to discover although it did take some time, in improving our gameplay.
“It was an intention to have the bare minimum, but to make sure that there was everything necessary to make sure the game was still available,” 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 task or a list of challenges.”
Lynne Noni, an assistant professor at New York University who studies media and video games, attributed the surprising popularity of “Stray” to several qualities: It has a likable story, well-designed, fun to play, and Internet “informal spell.”
“Playing like an animal allows us to relax our human brain,” Noni said. “Although we are trying to transport this cat through a frightening world, the stakes are small and manageable – which is welcome from the increasingly chaotic news cycle.”
Fortunately, in fact, we felt more comfortable playing the game. This is partly due to their pace, which only goes as fast as a cat can meander through a deserted cityscape, occasionally stopping to take some water or take a break. It was also the result of small, thoughtful details in the game: just repeatedly pressing the “meow” button on the handheld controller, scratching tree bark, or harassing other kitties was soothing.
The real cat behind the ‘stray’
Why did the main protagonist of the game make a cat specifically? According to Raggett, the decision was motivated by several factors.
However, while Kowloon Walid was populated by people, the founders of BlueTwelve, both artists, began to realize that it really was the perfect playground for cats — the amount of small lanes, the new view it was offering to the world,” said Raggett.
Perhaps most importantly, the BlueTwelve team is obsessed with cats. In the studio’s office in the south of France there are two full-time cat executives (“sometimes they turn our computers off when we’re about to save our work”) and most of the studio’s employees own and love cats, Raggett said.
In fact, the protagonist of “Stray” relies heavily on Murtaugh, a feral cat that was founded and adopted by the founders of BlueTwelve several years ago.
Humans are not the only fans
“If you want to be a cat, playing Stray is the next best thing,” reads one comment.
Sony’s PlayStation, the other platform on which “Stray” is available (and one we’ve bought and played), has not responded to a question about how many copies of the game it has sold so far, and BlueTwelve has declined to share sales data. (In response to a question about sales via its platform, Steam told CNN Business to contact the game’s publisher, Annapurna Interactive; Annapurna Interactive declined to comment.)
BlueTwelve, which was formed just over five years ago with the express goal of creating this game, hasn’t thought about what might be its next project.
For now, says Rajit, they are “overwhelmed” by the response to the “stray”.
BlueTwelve realized early on that “Stray” might have this effect, thanks to its indoor cats, Miko and Jun.
“When the cats in the office started reacting to what was happening on our screens, I think we kind of felt like we were heading in a good direction,” Raggett said.