How can hurting kittens be any fun? I mean, they truly are the cutest beings ever, and yet here I am reviewing a game called Exploding Kittens ($1.99), which I very much enjoy playing. I suppose it’s somewhat similar to playing Cards Against Humanity and making the weirdest, most inappropriate card combos just for laughs. But, I digress. Exploding Kittens is the digital version of the Kickstarter-darling card game with the same name that’s gone to break all kinds of records. It’s not the most complex card game, but it was never aiming for that; rather, the physical version of Exploding Kittens bet on the cute art combined with the totally inappropriate theme of hurting cute kittens and managed to deliver a quick, fun card game that hits the right balance between being casual and still having enough complexity to keep it interesting after multiple rounds.
Enough about the physical game though; what about the digital version? Well, I’m glad to say that the game’s wittiness translates perfectly to the mobile version and, actually, the digital version manages to surpass the physical one because of the hilarious sound effects that accompany every action. And now that the game finally has online multiplayer (which was the feature I was waiting for before reviewing it), it has become the game I’ll often whip out for a round of two and laugh the whole time while playing it. There are a few UI missteps that make playing such a fast-moving game slightly harder than it should have been, but despite that, Exploding Kittens is a blast (definitely pun intended), and it can only get better from here.
The game revolves around ensuring you don’t draw an Exploding Kitten (EK) card if you don’t have a Defuse card in your hand. If you draw and then defuse an EK, you get to pick where to place that EK card back in the deck. Every other action and every other card is designed to help you mitigate the risk of drawing an EK card or to gently “help" your opponents draw one themselves. You can play as many cards as you want (as long as none of those cards ends your turn automatically), and when you draw a card, your turn ends. Simple as it may sound, the game manages to create some very interesting moments where you know where that EK card is, and you’re doing your utmost not to draw it.
The game’s visuals are easily its best feature since The Oatmeal’s fantastic card art made the trip from physical to digital unscathed and will often make you smile or at least giggle. Knowing how fantastic the art is was partly why I was disappointed at the way the developers decided to have your cards half hidden at the bottom of your screen. While it makes sense in terms of screen real estate, and you still get to see the card’s title, you’ll spend most of the game missing out on that cool art, which is quite a shame. The rest of the screen is as vibrant as the cards, and the colorful board along with your opponents’ silly avatars make the game quite fun to look at.
While the game’s visuals are the game’s best feature, the sound effects are a very close second, with silliness ensuing at every card play. Every action that happens in the game is accompanied by the equivalent sound effect, and, just like the art, the sound effects are quite silly and make the game far more entertaining than it is when playing the physical version. I know, with the physical version the sounds effects are replaced by friends cursing at you from forcing them to draw an EK card, but still, I like the effects of the digital version best.
While the art and sound effects are top notch, as I mentioned earlier the UI has a few issues that don’t really hinder the gameplay but, rather, mostly annoy. For instance, if you have more than five cards in your hand, some of them will be hidden outside the screen to your right and you have to scroll see what else you have. It’s as if the UI was designed for 5-card hands and can’t really handle more than that. I believe this issue stems from some peculiar decisions regarding the size of the various UI elements, with the draw deck and the “chance of kitten" indicator taking most of the board space. I feel that both of those could’ve been much smaller to make more room for your hand. There’s also no way to change your name or avatar at the moment unless you are about to start playing, which isn’t the most convenient way to go about that.
Despite these issues, the rest of the UI works well, with some really interesting ways of indicating things like play direction (tiny flashing arrows that circle the board) and great explanations for what every card does, which help players of all levels play the game without needing a long tutorial to figure things out (and for those who need extra help, there’s a short tutorial you can play before jumping into the game). The game’s humor is also visible in the way the game indicates various cards effects, like when a player gives you cat diarrhea (which makes random cards unavailable to play), you get, well, diarrhea on said cards. Or when a player steals one of your cards, a huge black paw drops into your screen demanding a card, and so on. So yes, the UI works well overall, and with a few modifications, I believe it could be close to perfect.
As nice as the game looks, when it first launched, it was met with disappointment because of the lack of online multiplayer. Instead, it only had local multiplayer, and while some people were happy with that, most wanted the ability to play with friends or random people online. Fortunately, the developers quickly patched in online multiplayer, and the game immediately became more popular. The way the online multiplayer works is when you start a multiplayer game with friends, you can either host a game or join one. The game gives the host of the match a code that he or she can then share with other players through the iOS sharing tool. There’s also a “play with strangers" mode that at the moment has a very short wait, which is good news.
The one thing missing from this game that would really make it more fun when playing with others is a kind of chat or emote so you could mock your opponents appropriately. However, according to the developers’ tweets, chat is one of the features they hope to roll out next along with stats/achievements, and Android support. With the game seemingly doing very well (top 50 in Paid apps), I’m hoping we’ll be seeing even more features down the line that will turn what is already a really good game into a mobile classic.
The game is a premium app with a couple of IAPs that either give you more avatars (all pretty hilarious-looking) or the Party Pack expansion ($1.99) that adds 4 cards to your deck, including the amazing Nothing by Cat Butt that turns all your opponent’s cards into cat butts for one turn. So yes, with such great humor, great art and sounds, and pretty simple but entertaining gameplay, it’s hard not to really like Exploding Kittens. It really is a great digital version of a pretty good game, and I feel that in this case, the digital version has surpassed the physical one. So, even though this is probably the weirdest sentence to ever come out of my mouth, I suggest you go and start blowing up kittens.