As action games go, Catwoman for the GBA is nothing special. Platform-jumping is the heart and soul of the game, but there are also numerous opportunities to climb up walls, use Catwoman's whip, and wail on generic goons. Obviously, fans of the character are going to get more out of the game than people who are looking for the GBA's next-best action romp. If you do happen to like the Catwoman character, you'll be happy to know that the game does a good job of letting players use all of her key superpowers, and that the story draws its dialogue and images more from the comic book than from the recently flopped movie.
The game opens with a brief training mission that's meant to familiarize players with the controls. It then flashes back to long series of comic book images that tell the story of how a young, attractive designer named Patience Phillips became the antihero thief known as Catwoman. Five days before the story starts (and before the game starts), Ms. Phillips was dropping off some sketches at Hedare Cosmetics when she stumbled into the middle of a drug deal. She was shot and her body was thrown into a pool of toxic waste. When Patience awoke, she discovered that she could crawl straight up walls and survive falls from great heights. Catwoman was born, and her first order of business was to take revenge on Dr. Hedare and everyone else involved in her attempted murder. That's where you, the player, come in.
Each level offers a few opportunities to engage Hedare's goons in combat. The fighting controls are fairly simple: The A button makes Catwoman jump and the B button activates her attacks, which are punches and kicks at close range and the whip at long distances. Her whip can also be used to disarm enemies and to grab onto objects and slingshot them into other objects or enemies. As the game goes on, additional attacks are added to Catwoman's repertoire, which is rather ironic considering that a good 90 percent of each level is devoted solely to navigating the jumps and poles leading to the exit. In this regard, Catwoman and Spider-Man have a lot in common. When you jump toward a wall, Catwoman will grab onto it. She can't scale upward continuously like Spidey can, but you can accomplish the same result by performing multiple jumps from one wall to the next. Also, if you hold the R button while running, Catwoman will leap forward and scamper sideways across a wall for a few seconds. There's a fair amount of gymnastic pole-jumping in the game too. When you jump toward a pole, Catwoman will automatically grab onto it and start to swing. By building momentum, you can move from pole to pole and reach areas that are seemingly impossible to get to.
Unfortunately, although the game stays true to the Catwoman character by focusing on her gymnastic abilities, there are a number of reasons why that design choice doesn't work so well in the context of a 24-level action game. First off, the climbing and jumping portions of the game are too long compared to the fight sequences that only last perhaps a minute or so at most. Secondly, the isometric viewpoint works out fine when you're walking around and beating up gang members, but it can be a pain when you're trying to line up jumps and swing across deadly gaps. There are many times when it looks like you can reach a platform by holding right on the directional pad and pushing the jump button, only to discover that you should have held diagonally up-right instead. Finally, with the exception of the fistfights that occur roughly twice per level, there isn't much else to do besides climb walls and swing around poles. You can collect gems that are sitting around--blue for health, gold to enable Catwoman's rage state--but that's not particularly exciting.
Still, Electronic Arts does deserve some credit for not turning Catwoman into yet another generic beat-'em-up, and the graphic artists and planners deserve their own praise for coming up with story sequences and an overall graphical look that outshines the game's relatively mundane play mechanics. The isometric levels are crisp and colorful and lend a sort of 3D feel to the game. Catwoman and the various thugs are large and their costumes display a good level of detail. What's most impressive is how much animation has been put into each character. Basic movements, such as walking, attacking, and jumping, are fully animated, and there are specific transitions for things like leaping out of a run, jumping after an attack, and for enemies pulling out their guns. In between each level, comic book-style dialogue scenes move the story along. These scenes were drawn by actual DC Comics artists and they look absolutely stunning. It's a shame that the audio doesn't match the quality of the graphics, but the few digitized voice effects and looping musical themes aren't necessarily bad either.
In the end, only devoted fans of the character will want to take the plunge on the GBA version of Catwoman. While the story sequences are beautiful and the overall design is true to the character's abilities, those things don't add up into the kind of game that most players are looking for.