PUBLISHERS: Kemco/Vatical Entertainment

REVIEWED ON: Game Boy Advance SP from a copy purchased by the author.

Catwoman is up there with the likes of fellow DC Comics alum Wonder Woman as one of the most popular female comic book characters of all time. The sometimes hero, sometimes villain broke out from guest appearances in Batman books to headline her titles, and there has been a new take on the whip-wielding cat burglar paired with each live-action iteration of the Dark Knight. With games like Tomb Raider moving millions of copies in the late 90s and showing that the ladies could hold their own just as well – if not better – than any man could in the video game space, the female led comic book video game revolution could not be held back anymore. Arriving just before the turn of the last millennium in 1999, Kemco’s Catwoman finally lets a women stand proudly in the spotlight in a digital superhero adventure. The character, however, deserved far better than this clumsy feeling side-scroller that looks towards Lara Croft for inspiration in all the wrong areas.

Talia al Ghul comes to Catwoman with a proportion from her father: break into a museum and steal a priceless crystal skull and she can name her price. Catwoman declines her offer, assuring Talia that even a blank check from none other Ra’s al Ghul wouldn’t be enough to cover her services. There’s also the matter of the master thief wanting prize for herself. When it comes to the Demon’s Head and his machinations though, Catwoman’s defiant decision may have just surrounded over more than one of her nine lives.

Catwoman came on a clear, see through Game Boy Color cartridge, meaning it could only be played on that device and thus could take whole advantage of the hardware it was built for. While the Game Boy Color was no powerhouse when it came to presentation, the simple cut-scenes, made up of still images and a few lines of text, are well done with bright, colorful art that evokes the source material. It also manages to be shockingly accurate to the late 90s Catwoman solo book, down to her purple outfit and the inclusion of the villain Cyber C.A.T.

Upon booting it up, Catwoman makes a good first impression with its visuals, but once you actually start controlling her, it’s not too long until the milk in the bowl sours. Played as a 2-D side-scrolling action title, the team behind Catwoman tried to emulate the stiff, deliberate movements of the Tomb Raider series but it simply doesn’t suite this character or the game they’re in. Catwoman’s movement is slow, clumsy, and far from the quick on her feet thief seen in the comics or other media. Like in a Tomb Raider, lining up jumps with a running start is a key to success, and failing to miss your mark means repeating long stretches of tedious, labyrinth sized stages that just aren’t that enjoyable to navigate.

Catwoman’s levels are few, but they’re big with exits that can only be reached after some tricky platforming challenges. The stages aren’t so enormous that you’ll get lost exactly, but a lot of the tiles tend to repeat themselves and it’s hard to know whether or not you’re headed in the right direction or backtracking to somewhere you’ve already been. Like the cinematics, the in-game graphics are colorful, and Catwoman’s adventure will take her to enemy strongholds, the opening museum era and a forest, but none are what you call memorable. Some, in fact, just feel like they just use building blocks from earlier areas with a different coat of paint slapped on.

Enemies also tend to position themselves close to many ledges, knocking back Catwoman just as she lands on her feet after many frustrating and repeated attempts. Even if you have never seen Catwoman in a comic, you more than likely know that her weapon of choice is a whip. In this game, it’s only ever used to swing in what can only be described as one of the single worst grappling hook mechanics ever implemented in a video game. It’s clumsy to activate, and just as hard to land once you manage to attach it to a platform. At the very least it’s better than the wall jump you have in your arsenal which is somehow programmed even worse and mandatory for the completion of later levels.

Your only form of attack for a hefty percentage of Catwoman is a simple punch that’s a roll of the dice to get it to land reliably. During the middle portion of the game, Catwoman gets a cybernetic upgrade to her outfit of source – in case you needed to be reminded this is based on a 90s comic book – and you do get access to a laser with limited ammunition. It also must be mentioned that it’s activated via the start button. Bosses, featuring the likes of Cyber C.A.T and Ra’s’ henchmen Ubu when they start to show up five stages in, require more luck than skill to beat as you rapidly hit the attack button and pray that their health drops before Catwoman’s.

The developers behind Catwoman must’ve known what they were releasing, and as a mercy, it is very generous with recording your progress and dropping health. Nearly every foe you take out drops a heart so your life meter is always topped off. Should you die, you continue on the same screen you left off on and passwords are both plentiful and short. If you feel so inclined to try and complete Catwoman, you can at the very least feel some form of comfort in knowing there’s unlimited lives and no harsh punishment that will kick you back to the title screen.

The Game Boy family of handhelds had no shortage of licensed games of varying degrees of quality. Every so often when digging through the Game Boy’s catalog you would find a piece of licensed software that would manage to surpass your low expectations, but that’s not the case with Catwoman. While the story telling sequences do justice to this era of Catwoman comics, they’re wasted on a product with boring, not to mention confusing, levels, and subpar controls that make the tedious platforming all that more frustrating.

Batman was wise to only make an appearance here via silhouette in the closing moments.

To hear me talk about Catwoman some more, listen to this episode of the Play Comics podcast about that game that I made a guest appearance on HERE.


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