Super Cat Tales, also known as Super Cat Bros on Android, is a series of mobile platforming games that I found when the second game was featured as the Game of the Day in the App Store’s “action” section. A brightly colored game featuring cats running around, driving tanks, dodging giant fish, braving sandstorms, and all the like in various Mario– and Kirby-esque environments. It all looked pretty rad. I was especially interested in not just the reviews praising how ads were kept to a minimum, but also the Game of the Day writeup’s focus on retro inspiration and ’90s platformer nostalgia.

My expectations were still somewhat low, as I’ve been disappointed with mobile games before—most of us have. The platform’s filled with games that either shove more ads in your face than they give gameplay, with even the most popular games plagued by this. The few player-friendly titles often leave a thirst for something a bit more multifaceted than merely dodging asteroids or jumping from subway traincar to traincar.

To be fair, games like Subway Surfers, various Flappy Bird-inspired titles, and my personal favorite of the type, Super Starfish, certainly have their place, it’s just that oftentimes I’m in the mood for something else. Especially since I moved into my own place recently, I can’t just use the fam’s communal console systems all the time anymore, and I haven’t bought my own yet.

So I wondered, would Super Cat Tales be just another popular mobile game series? Or could it be another of the few gemstones in the rough, like The Wanderer, The Silent Age, Hop Skip and Thump, and Sky: Children of the Light? Turns out it is indeed another diamond.

A screenshot from Super Cat Tales 2 (Neutronized, 2018) which shows three cats on a boat at sea. One of the cats is saying, "The tin army must be way ahead of us." There's also an instruction at the bottom of the screen that says, "Tap to continue..."

Yes, all the playable characters are cats. Very quirky and talented cats.

I started with Super Cat Tales 2, which delivers on its premise and more. You play as cats, a setup usually treated generically but given all the creative love our best furry friends deserve in this game. The game treats real-life animals—cats, pandas, squids, walking acorns, etc.—with the same fantastical quirkiness as classic Kirby and Mario titles. Further, there’s obvious Nintendo-classic inspiration in its storytelling style and in its inclusion of a few more abstract characters such as the “tin army,” toy-like figures that function as the primary antagonists.

The gameplay is just as distinct and polished. The game’s fantastic controls embrace the medium in a way that most mobile games marketed at older gamers would avoid. The only input you have to make is which direction (left or right) to walk and you can double-tap to run, but you have to know when to run and when to walk in order to jump, climb walls, jump off walls, jump from wall to wall, and so on. It’s a seamless application of mobile’s famed “endless running” mechanics in what’s otherwise a classic platformer.

This works great for mobile, as the small screen makes most ports of complex console games, other than point-and-click adventure titles like The Silent Age, wonky and frustrating. Developer Neutronized solved this problem by letting go of the assumption that “simple controls” result in a simple game. It’s these controls that allow Super Cat Tales to reach a high level of polish and provide a more rewarding experience for seasoned gamers. That’s something that most mobile games aimed at “hardcore” gamers could never attain.

Then there’s the exploration aspect, something the App Store highlights, specifically referring to the occasional need to find unexplored corners of previous levels to collect bells and keys, items needed to proceed through roadblocks. Players may dread backtracking in most games, but if well-implemented, unlockable abilities that help players explore old areas in new ways can make backtracking a rewarding experience rather than tedious. Super Cat Tales accomplishes this through the ability to swap playable cats mid-level, with each cat holding different strengths. For example, one is a stronger swimmer, while another can knock down enemies and blocks when running, allowing them to access locations previously unattainable by the player. It’s an ingeniously simple yet effective way to expand gameplay options without complicating controls. Plus, it all hearkens back to Metroid and Castlevania in a way I personally love.

A screenshot from Super Cat Tales 2 (Neutronized, 2018).

The Overworld Map’s lovably quirky and nostalgic.

Overall, Super Cat Tales 2 turned out to be one of those series that made me a fan of Neutronized themselves. I even went back to play the first Super Cat Tales game, which did a particularly masterful job of introducing players to its brand of exploration.

Super Cat Tales is not the first retro-inspired mobile game to require thorough exploration. Super Phantom Cat, created and released by Veewo Games around the same time, was designed with similar ambitions. A zany retro-inspired platformer focused—at least initially—on saving the protagonist’s sister. It’s a game that excels in the awe factor, as I found jumping on mushrooms to be particularly fun. Perhaps it could be considered the slightly less polished yet more ambitious cousin of Super Cat Tales. The difference in pacing between Super Cat Tales and Super Phantom Cat, however, is subtle but incredibly meaningful.

This happens to also help neurodivergent players, whether they’re new or seasoned gaming veterans. I know I’ve appreciated some of the quality-of-life adjustments becoming common in gaming over the past few years. They help me keep playing the games I love.

Super Phantom Cat 2, the “definitive version” released a year after the first game, dropped the revelation that “You need to go back and collect more stars!” via a pop-up, right after one of those “Your princess is in another castle!” situations. Terrible timing with overwhelming implications for those who spent the whole game rushing through the seven levels and three tutorial stages to save the damsel in distress. Super Cat Tales, on the other hand, requires players to find one item in one particular area right before reaching the first boss, after only four largely tutorial-focused levels. Perfect timing, very early in the game, and with a very specific goal. A gentle nudge rather than a rude wake-up call.

Super Cat Tales and Neutronized are clearly committed to approachability and accessibility. They’re welcoming the new mobile market with open arms, elevating it rather than barging in with an incompatible vision that won’t stick. The gentle pacing of Super Cat Tales compared to Super Phantom Cat allows more gamers to experience its depth in full, without holding the game back. This happens to also help neurodivergent players, whether they’re new or seasoned gaming veterans. Since my symptoms spiked during college, I know I’ve appreciated some of the quality of life adjustments and features becoming more common in gaming over the past few years. While they may be criticized by other gamers, they help me keep playing the games I love.

Neutronized’s Swap Swap Panda is another game that’s particularly great for a new gamer’s first platformer. It challenges players through simple and intuitive puzzles rather than focusing on reaction time, which is great for those unused to controlling a digital avatar or anyone with impaired motor skills or reaction ability. My grandma could play it, and gotta start the kids young too, right? Perhaps more importantly for new gamers, it eases them into skills that are useful when playing other platformers.

Yet Super Cat Tales might be Neutronized’s definitive proof that welcoming new gamers and retaining camaraderie with old gamers are not mutually exclusive.

A screenshot from Super Cat Tales (Neutronized, FDG Games, 2016).

Finding the first key in Super Cat Tales requires exploring easy to miss corners of the first village.

Game developers do need money to keep making the games we love, but Neutronized finds a great balance in supporting their pocketbook without exploiting players. If played for free, Super Cat Tales does have ads, but the price to remove them is reasonable. Yet even without ads, an innovative feature is the option to watch an ad to either double coins collected after a level or to revive yourself—for example, after making a particularly frustrating platforming mistake. This is great for new gamers, while more seasoned gamers will find it a fair trade to restart the level so they don’t have to see an annoying ad.

Not to mention that all items in the game can be obtained by simply collecting enough coins, instead of through microtransactions. The presence of the game’s shop is pretty low-key, too—even Super Phantom Cat shoved its microtransaction options in your face more, not to mention earlier in the game than Super Cat Tales. Super Cat Tales‘ store, available after the usefulness of coins is made apparent, is still certainly an option for players in a rush, it’s just clear that you’re paying for convenience rather than to win. This is a refreshing level of straightforwardness and transparency I wish more games would employ.

Overall, the kitty tales games are now some of the gems among my go-to break room and waiting room games, because we all gotta do a little adulting nowadays. For non-gamers and people who aren’t able to invest in a console, mobile remains their gateway into gaming. In fact, in many countries, owning a phone is more common than owning a computer. Our community’s future depends on studios like Neutronized to welcome newbies into the family with approachable yet engrossing, quality games, like the games we grew up with.