This Cat falls flat on the mat


Don’t look for traces of Dr. Seuss in “Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat” coming out from Vivendi Universal Games for Xbox on March 25. He’s not there.

The characters do not talk in rhyme, the eponymous cat is not wreaking havoc in the house, and the story line, which involves an evil neighbor who wants to take over the world, has zero in common with the book.

So if you are looking for a game that is true to the classic children’s book, just keep looking.

If you are not a literary purist, and if you like kid-style adventure games, you might want to take a gander at “Cat.” It’s not a perfect game, but it tries hard and has a lot of enthusiasm.

The back story is simple — though, again, not Seussian.

Mr. Quinn (played by Alec Baldwin in the movie), the nasty next-door neighbor, steals the lock to the Cat in the Hat’s magic crate. Now the Cat must chase Quinn into one enchanted piece of furniture after another to regather his magic, restore the lock and save the world. (Sounds crazy, but what video game plot makes sense? Go with it.)

The game mechanics are simple and familiar. This is a two-dimensional side-scrolling game which mostly takes place on 2-D spiraling tracks in highly vivid three-dimensional worlds. (Those of you who have played “Klanoa” or “NiGHTS” will recognize the look and feel quickly. In fact, “Cat” could well be described as a cut-rate version of either of those superior games.)

The Cat has all the familiar moves. He jumps, sucks enemies into his umbrella and fires them like bullets, does power jumps with hard landings to activate certain gadgets and destroy weak barriers, glides using his umbrella, and occasionally flies through the air in balloons.

The game play is nearly identical to that of “Klanoa.”

These abilities are as old as gaming itself, but they are not yet stale. Done right, side-scrolling 2-D games are still fun. And in this case, Vivendi Universal has kept the mold off by tapping into the main character’s natural charm.

Throughout, however, Vivendi has employed the somewhat gnawing device of having the family goldfish give the Cat advice. You will pass points often in the game and hear, “Caaaaat,” in a grating, irritating and irritated voice that quickly gets on your nerves. No wonder cats kill small fish.

The spiraling worlds in which this game takes place may not have much to do with the movie, but they are bright, colorful in a relatively Dr. Seusslike way, and mildly inventive.

The character model of the Cat is quite good. It looks just like the Cat as portrayed by Michael Meyers in the movie. It also has the same posture and body language.

“Cat” is appropriate for young audiences in both look and feel, with a challenge level that will neither push nor frustrate 8- to 10-year-old players. Adults will blow through the game never wasting any of the Cat’s nine lives, but the under-10 crowd will find themselves pounded, scalded, stung or suction-cupped every so often.

Parents looking to purchase just one Xbox game for their children this year may want to look at “Grabbed by the Ghoulies” from Microsoft. If you do not own an Xbox, believe me, “Cat in the Hat” is no reason to buy one.

Yes, “Cat in the Hat” is based on a movie, but here’s an unusual piece of advice away from gaming for a change — don’t bother seeing the movie “Cat in the Hat.” It bombed in the American market; and, while the game is better overall than the movie, it is one of the most forgettable games I have had the chance to review — not good enough to remember, not bad enough to remember, just plain enough to slip from mind.