Games like Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat are the reason why licensed games have such a bad reputation among those who play video games as a hobby. Most of the time, games like this take the characters you recognize from your favorite movie or comic book and just paste them into a dozen or so levels of generic run-and-jump gameplay. The Cat in the Hat, sorry to say, does exactly that. It's a collect-a-thon that's not so big, not so deep, and not so tall, and it's also devoid of the fun that's craved by all.
The video game doesn't go to great lengths to depict the events that occur in the book or in the movie, but those of you who are familiar with Seuss' classic story will recognize the bits that were used to create the game's environments and creatures. Each level is set up as a large room full of platforms, monsters, and items, which were brought to life when the Cat let Thing One and Thing Two out of his fun-in-a-box inside of Sally and Conrad's home. The rooms are gorgeous to look at and have a whimsical style that matches the locations from the recent movie. Digital Eclipse, the game's developer, put the GBA's 2D capabilities to good use by incorporating a variety of graphical reflection effects and multiple scrolling background layers into each level and, in doing so, avoided the pitfall that many licensed games fall into: having levels that are colorless and devoid of depth. The character graphics are pretty slick as well. The Cat has a smooth swagger and carries his trusty umbrella everywhere, which you can use to float atop whirlwinds and to stomp enemies. The monsters in the game are an assortment of Seuss-inspired creatures, such as six-legged dogs and long-necked rodents, which attack by extending their heads, spitting bubbles, or charging at you whenever you approach.
Even though the graphics bring the world of The Cat in the Hat to life in a manner that's pleasing to the eye, the music and sound effects don't accomplish the same thing for the ear. The music is lighthearted, but it doesn't really go with the environments you see onscreen. The same goes for the sound effects. The Cat and his enemies have a few sound effects for actions like pointing, jumping, pouncing, and attacking, and that's about it. A wider variety of sound effects, or the inclusion of voice clips from the characters in the movie, would have helped to give this game a soundtrack on par with its visuals.
Regardless of how nice the graphics are and how weak the soundtrack is, the game's greatest undoing is that it isn't any fun to play. The tasks you have to perform are downright boring and unimaginative. Each section of the house contains a hallway with three or four rooms. In two of the rooms, you merely have to stomp every monster and collect every item in order to reach the exit. The whole design is dull, partly because the toughest thing you have to do is figure out how to float from one whirlwind to another before they deactivate and partly because there are more than 150 monsters and items in each level. You can grab items that allow the Cat to jump higher, run faster, or float farther, but these items don't make the process of jumping onto platforms and smashing enemies any more interesting. The third room on each floor is a swimming stage, set up like a basic side-scrolling shooter, except that you fire air bubbles at crustaceans instead of lasers at aliens. The Cat's air supply dwindles if you take damage, but you can refill it rather easily by touching one of the treasure boxes planted on the sea floor. It's hilarious that the sole purpose of these swimming stages is to free Mr. Fish from a cage at the end of the level, but there isn't much to them when it comes to actual gameplay. There aren't a lot of enemies to shoot, and there are even fewer occasions where they cause enough damage to cut your air supply to a dangerous level.
Two of the four floors also host rooms with a boss inside. Compared to the game's standard levels, the bosses are pretty difficult. To beat them, you need to bounce on them three times. What makes the process tough is that the window of opportunity for the Cat's pounce move is limited to when the boss is resting between attacks. Most players will lose two or three lives per boss just figuring out how to avoid taking hits while the monster is going through its attack patterns. The character designs for the bosses are interesting and will appeal to anyone who enjoys the surreal creatures in Dr. Seuss' books. One is a toaster that attacks by launching toast; the other is a blue crab with shiny deer antlers that attacks by tossing teddy bears and presents.
If you collect all of the Thing symbols in the regular levels, you'll unlock four chase stages after you complete the game. These stages are presented from a first-person viewpoint and put you behind the wheel of the Cat's cleaning car. The goal is to avoid most of the obstacles in the road so that you can catch up to and capture Thing One and Thing Two, who are running loose ahead of you. While these car stages are a nice bonus, they don't add much to the game's overall replay value. Most players will finish the entire game in less than 90 minutes.
Vivendi missed a great opportunity with Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat. The original story is a rich tale that describes the kind of trouble that can happen when you have too much fun, and it holds the reader's attention with hilarious scenes involving a fish that can talk, toy boats being sunk into cake, and Things that fly away with your mother's dresses attached to kites. The game has none of this. It's just a generic punch-and-run with the Cat as the centerpiece.