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Umbraclaw

Cat game Umbraclaw made me root for the ‘bad guy’

Home » Features » Cat game Umbraclaw made me root for the ‘bad guy’

While it sounds reductive and unfair, aren’t we all just “cat-or-dog” people at the end of the day? I myself lean towards the latter: I can’t resist those floppy eared, naively loyal canines who literally pee themselves with happiness when I come home. So given the lovable nature of dogs, my mind is boggled as to how a game could possibly position them as villains. The culprit in question? Inti Creates’ latest game, Umbraclaw.

Yes, the minds behind Azure Striker Gunvolt and Master Blaster Zero have thrown their hat into the ring of feline-based games, which funnily enough is already brimming with content, especially when compared to pup-centric titles. And why? Is it a cat’s limberness? Their sexy indifference? Besides PaRappa the Rapper or Okami, I’ll bet you can’t recall the last time your main protagonist was an adorable Labrador or Dachshund.

We’ll table this egregious lack of doggy representation for now though, and focus on the task at hand. 

At face value, Umbraclaw is a beautiful little game with colorful graphics that would make a third grade art teacher squeal with glee. You play as Kuon, a black cat who’s somehow died and ended up in the underworld known as Soulplane. Each time you die, you’re granted the power of other stronger animals (elephant, tiger, crab, etc.) to give you extra oomph to fight enemies, but the twist is that each power-up takes you further from your cat form and even further from returning back to your master in the mortal plane. Sounds harmless enough, right? 

Umbraclaw
Image: Inti Creates

However, like many Metroidvania games, Kuon must double back and slog through countless battles with mini bosses made up of horribly mutated animals and main bosses in order to complete her objective. One animal in particular is a seemingly harmless dog named Locke; a beefed-up Shiba in spiky armor who just wants to go home. 

When we first meet Locke, he’s the ideal personification of a dog: overenthusiastic, personable and inquisitive. The initial battle between Kuon and Locke is more of a tongue-in-cheek sparring match meant to underscore the domesticated similarities between cat and dog and their equal desires to get back home to their masters. 

I loved this pup from the start. He’s not as malicious as the other bosses, nor does he actually want to hurt Kuon. Moreover, he’s aware of and comments on the dichotomy that exists between the two species. The thing that really triggers him is Kuon’s lack of response, which also really got under my own skin.

Umbraclaw
Image: Inti Creates

Throughout the entire game, all anthropomorphic characters are given a voice, but not Kuon. Instead, her only response to any question, even her beloved owner, is an infuriating ellipsis. Seriously, cat got your tongue? Moreover, Kuon’s relationship with her human Tsukum  is uncovered piecemeal to be just a series of banal one-sided interactions ranging from “Ew, your breath stinks, Kuon”, to “How did you get so dirty, Kuon?”. Deep stuff indeed.

The second fight against Locke is a brutal one that finishes off the Shiba with a heartbreaking yelp, followed by a crushing speech that compliments Kuon’s drive and laments his own hellish transformation in Soulplane. He ends his life, marking the physical pain he feels and reiterating his need to get back to his master. Readers, I nearly cried. 

If you do manage to get the game’s good ending, you’ll find yourself back home in the familiar setting of your owner’s apartment, but, in the game’s own words, you feign not to express any emotion about your second chance on Earth. Sexy indifference, am I right?

Umbraclaw
Image: Inti Creates

Umbraclaw seems to posit felines as emotionally shallow killing machines lacking the capacity to empathise with other animals. Ergo, an obtusely silent and pampered protagonist deserves a second chance, as opposed to a gregarious dog begging for life. 

Now, it’s possible that I’m making way too big a deal out of this. It could be that the good folks at Inti Creates love dogs just as much as they do cats, but if so, they forgot one crucial thing. All dogs go to heaven, not Soulplane.

Umbraclaw is available on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Switch and PC. 

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