Cats won’t stop exploding in your yard, no matter how many tacocats or spider pugs you throw at them in a fun new mobile game from the maker of The Oatmeal.
Stopping hordes of incendiary felines from decimating your sweet little home is the aim of Kitty Letter, a high-intensity “battle royale Boggle” mobile game from cartoonist Matthew Inman, known for his webcomics site and co-created board game Exploding Kittens.
Structured over 13 dramatic chapters, the free mobile game is equal parts playable Oatmeal comic, word scramble, and battle game. Inman teamed up with Double Dagger Studio’s Matt Wood, a former Valve developer, to make the game, which landed on iOS and Android on Thursday.
“This game had to satisfy one very specific goal: I wanted to be able to destroy an opponent with my vocabulary,” he wrote in a blog post. “It’s not that I have an amazing vocabulary — I’d say it’s pretty mediocre. But I love word games. And I also love games like Quake, Clash Royale, and Fortnite. So, the big idea was to merge the two categories. I wanted to combine high-brow crossword puzzles with low-brow fighting games. I wanted to build battle royale Boggle. Or ‘words with enemies.'”
After testing it, Inman linked up with Wood before recruiting a team of developers: Evan Losi, Yu Tak Ting, Matt Stokes, and Junho Choi.
The basic premise of Kitty Letter is introduced through hilariously tap-revealed Oatmeal-style comics. Sitting happily in your perfect tiny house, you’re rudely interrupted by the arrival of a new neighbor whose many cats keep wandering over to your lawn and exploding, causing all kinds of damage. Luckily, you’ve got “an enchanted language vortex from the multiverse of infinite vocabularinitie,” which is the key to solving your kitteh problem. This vortex spits out scrambled letters. You’re tasked with crafting as many words as possible by dragging your finger from letter to letter as the timer runs. These words turn into armies of cats, naturally, which attack both the invaders and your neighbor’s home.
Kitty Letter has several modes. Story mode lets you play through the chapters in order, while arcade mode is a survival option, challenging you to battle waves of kittens as long as possible and beat your own high score. Single player mode will take you through the rounds solo, or you can go head-to-head with a friend or random online stranger.
Each chapter introduces new levels of difficulty and helpful items through a characteristically weird comic, with jokes in the style that readers of the webcomic will probably enjoy. There’s a shoutout to the company Exploding Kittens’ second board game release Tacocat Spelled Backwards in the genuinely difficult palindrome round, in which you can send armies of tacocats to reverse enemy trajectories. Or you can send a spider pug into your neighbor’s house to do some damage.
Aside from the final chapter, the game is not too difficult if you’re an anagram fiend or play a lot of word games. But in sheer panic, I found myself leaning on two-letter words — a tactic Inman was extremely aware that people would attempt. There’s a whole chapter that calls out all those cheeky two-letterers you’ve probably been deploying in previous rounds, by only allowing two-letter words to fight the cats. Diabolical.
The game’s narrative animations that separate rounds are characteristically clever, genuinely funny, and well-timed, with Inman expertly wielding the mobile tapping format to build tension and reveal jokes like only a webcomic writer could.
There are some unsettling moments, like celebrating beating the first level with a “Bulgarian trout casserole” (an aside, why Bulgarian?) that begins with defrosting the fish by slapping it (tapping furiously your phone), a nod to the internet-old trout-slap perhaps. There are weird laugh-out-loud moments involving copious amounts of reindeer groaning, which you might want to turn your sound down for lest your IRL neighbors send their cats over to find out what the hell is going on.
If you’re immediately thinking this game sounds like a silly and fun way to while away a few hours in lockdown or quarantine while actually using your brain, the game was, in fact, created amid the coronavirus pandemic. In his blog post, Inman explained that he started coding it after the outbreak, following a move away from Seattle.
“2020 was hard. I’d recently moved to an island in the Puget Sound. I’d moved from the frenetic bustle of Seattle life to the quiet life of living on a cold, rainy island. And in the middle of that transition, COVID hit and I found myself cut off from everyone and everything, living under grey skies and caught in a perpetual Groundhog Day of waking, working, and worrying,” he wrote. “I needed something new. And what better way to find something new than by doing something old.”
Inman plainly writes that he hates free-to-play games, and those “built entirely around player retention and tricking people into keeping the app open as long as possible. I hate coins, currencies, chests, and other money-printing schemes disguised as fun. For Kitty Letter, I tried to just make the game as enjoyable as possible. This means that sometimes the chapters are long and almost seem to be discouraging you from playing.”
“I tried to just build a short-lived, likeable game, rather than a medicore game stretched across months of free-to-play garbage mechanics. Fuck retention. Fuck in-game currencies. Embrace the trout, I say. Embrace the groaning deer.”