Miaou Moon is an unusual platformer styled game. On the one hand, it's an almost hypnotic and patient adventure through space as you let yourself bounce around through low gravity while conserving energy. On the other hand, you'll suddenly find yourself using cleverly timed thrusts to avoid a sudden danger such as spikes or carnivorous floating space fish (I know, right?), testing your reflexes. I donned my cat suit and dug my claws into the Linux version of the game.
Okay, potential hideous mental imagery aside (I don't actually have a cat suit), there are actually cats in the game.
Indeed, the main character is a cat astronaut! The whole premise of the game setting is, in a nutshell, a cat in a spacesuit bouncing around various moons collecting cat food and avoiding the aforementioned space fish and a bunch of other dangers along the way. Including energy sapping catnip which just happens to be growing on areas of the moons.
It's wacky, but it's supposed to be. It's also rather cute and charming in its own way. Basically you play as feline astronaut extraordinaire, Captain Miaou, who was casually travelling through space back to his home planet with a cargo of high energy food when suddenly a rogue meteorite smashes into his ship. Unfortunately, both Captain Miaou and his precious cargo of high energy fishy treats are ejected and flung towards 5 orbiting moons. The food is scattered all over the 5 different moons (which they themselves have multiple levels for you to explore and find food) and Captain Miaou is flung into the first moon, where the game begins.
Gameplay is simple enough. Left and right 'thrusters' are your only way of movement, which I assume is performed by Captain Miaou letting out bursts of air from his oxygen tank rather than he simply, well, expelling cat gas. It's a little bit subjective, so go with whatever you find more appealing or humourous, but either way the sheer action of propelling yourself uses up precious reserves of 'energy'. The more energy used by your cat, the smaller and weaker he becomes. Use all your energy and hit zero, you die. On the other hand, gathering lots of energy your cat quickly becomes an obese version of himself and in fact, gathering too much, he'll explode! Which of course, results in you dying also. Naturally.
Energy is basically just the aforementioned high energy food which has been scattered across the moons. They appear as typical fish-shaped cat biscuits like you might find in your local supermarket or pet store. The slightly confusing thing, at first, about the goal of the game is that each level contains three energy cells, which look like batteries, that you must collect in order to allow yourself to traverse to the next moon (or stage), which will have increased difficulty and obstacles as well as varying degrees of gravity and bounciness. In this regard, the fishy treats simply become your 'fuel' to steer yourself and bounce around the level, collecting the energy cells/batteries and finding the level exit.
So, really, Miaou Moon is a survival game. At first you might think Captain Miaou wants to simply collect his lost cargo of food, but that cargo really just becomes his source of energy to survive and move about the levels, collecting the batteries and eventually no doubt repairing his ship and getting home. This is a lost kitty in space who must traverse tricky areas and avoid dangers all the while carefully managing his energy levels, just to get home. And who doesn't want that!
This kitty does have a particular advantage over your regular run-of-the-mill astronaut though - claws! Enemies in the game, whether it be floating space fish or weird aliens, are not safe from the wrath of an angry Captain Miaou if he gets close enough. Mash the Down Arrow key and you unleash scratchy terror on your foes, complete with the sound of a cat hiss and scowl. It's also useful to destroy barriers or, well... scratch up a poor dead astronaut's body. Yes, there are other long dead astronaut kitties scattered throughout the levels which you can rip open to get some extra energy or health packs.
Gameplay as mentioned, is simple but when you throw in the mechanics of low gravity bouncing and using carefully timed thrusts either left or right in increasingly hazardous environments, it can become quite tricky and engaging. You'll spend a lot of time simply propelling yourself in once direction and then letting the motion carry you through the environment until you need to either quickly evade a hazard or direct yourself to bounce to a certain area to collect a goody or find the level exit. If you're a fan of space themed games where you have to use low gravity/friction inertia based movement, you'll likely find this very satisfying and a fair challenge.
You can also upgrade your spacesuit and get different gadgets to help you along the way, such as a radar.
Besides gameplay, the visuals are obviously colourful, weird and wonderful and all the sort of cutesy styling you would expect from a game about a space cat bouncing around on moons looking for food and items. One of the highlights for me personally though, is the music. In particular, the in-level music which often has a very eerie but beautiful outer space feel about it. The sound effects are pretty satisfying too.
It wouldn't be a Linux Rain game article if I didn't mention some specifics on the Linux side of things.
Miaou Moon is, like a lot of games that have come to the Linux platform in recent times, a game that runs on the Unity engine. Not everyone seems to be a fan of Unity-engined games but the plus side is Miaou Moon is a native Linux game because of it and it does seem to be fairly polished. My computer, running Ubuntu 16.04 LTS, has an NVIDIA card available but I just ran the game on the onboard Intel GPU with the Core i7-4700HQ CPU, which ran as smooth as butter.
I haven't actually encountered any bugs or glitches thus far, though as always your mileage may vary depending on what distribution you are running. But the signs are good.
Miaou Moon seems to be a cute and zany little game that actually presents quite a challenge as you progress, sometimes to the point of frustration when the game seems to feel a little unforgiving. Having said that, it does have a checkpoint system within levels and for many people, the challenge may actually be quite refreshing. The game can feel equally relaxing and hypnotic with the inertia based movement of space yet at the same time get frantic when you need to avoid an obstacle or bounce yourself into oblivion by running into spikes, catnip or enemies.
The challenge presents itself even as early as the first moon, so with 5 moons in total to explore and collect, there is plenty of time you could sink into the game if you wanted to. Managing your energy levels is critical and while you may see a heap of cat food nearby, for example, sometimes it really is best to not waste the energy getting to it, but rather bounce on by and take advantage of your current direction of motion.
It's an enjoyable game that presents as casual but has depth if you want it, combined with a genuine challenge. Unless you absolutely hate games with this style of controls, it's worth checking out.