According to Wikipedia, over a dozen video games featuring the venerable Monday-hating cat Garfield were made between 1987 and 2017. I haven’t played any of them, but I’m willing to bet that none of them had you wander the streets of your city looking for Domino’s Pizza gift cards, which automatically makes them more fun than Garfield Go.
Released yesterday on the first day of E3, Garfield Go (as its name suggests) is a shameless Android and iOS clone of augmented reality game Pokémon Go. It’s as lazy and obnoxious as the character himself, albeit probably by accident, which means that it has the opposite function of most free-to-play games. Instead of an addictive feedback loop that keeps pulling you back for more, it’s a series of painful and broken tasks that occupy your time with dull monotony. It’s like the casual game equivalent of an opioid blocker.
The game’s problems start with the basic premise. Instead of going on a hunt for magical creatures, Garfield Go sends players on a quest to help Garfield — who apparently speaks with audio clips from deceased original voice actor Lorenzo Music — assemble books of his own comics. The pages are scattered in treasure chests around the world, and it’s your job to walk around collecting them, following coins dropped on a map of your real-world surroundings.
Once Garfield invites you on this quest, he spends the entire time obstructing you out of sheer petulance. He’ll pop up in augmented reality when you tap on a coin, but will only retrieve the corresponding chest after you feed him by flicking food into his bowl at precisely the right angle. If you manage this, he appears somewhere behind you with the chest. It’s your job to spin around and find him, so you can tap to reveal a single comic panel and some random digital junk, which may include wearable items or — if you’re extremely lucky — a real gift card code from one of Garfield Go’s sponsors.
Tossing food into Garfield’s bowl is the game’s equivalent of throwing pokéballs — you can pick between dishes like donuts, pizza, and lasagna, all of which will increase your odds of finding different levels of rewards. But for unclear reasons, Garfield gives you only three tries to do it. If you fail, the chest disappears, and you’ve got to walk to the next one. Since the food moves with all the precision and responsiveness you might get from poking a literal piece of lasagna with your finger, you’re in for a lot of disappointment, watching meal after meal teeter off the edge of the bowl as Garfield stands stock-still and rests his head in his hands.
Garfield Go is so painful that it feels almost intentional, like an Ian Bogost-style satire of Pokémon Go. It forces you to walk around real space, then constantly snatches away your reward for doing so. It plays to the “catch ‘em all” completionist impulse with a series of meaningless percentages. It’s based on a series of massively famous comic strips, but produces only fragments of them at a time, cleansed of any context or humor. It doesn’t even acknowledge one of the basic risks of comic lettering: that the “L” and “I” in a word like “flick” can look a whole lot like a “U.”
You can’t even say Garfield Go is a good, low-investment way to get money if you’re broke. I admittedly gave up on my first Garfield Go run after a few blocks because I didn’t want to wander Los Angeles with my phone out in the dead of night, but I haven’t yet found a gift card, and I’m not sure what I’d need to do to get one. You’d have more fun just scrounging the streets for spare change, and give up less personal data in the process. It’s also possible to spend money on Garfield Go virtual currency, in installments of up to 20 real-world dollars. I have no idea who would want to do this.
There is a single, perfect target audience for Garfield Go: the die-hard E3 cynic. If you can’t stand gaming conventions but are for some reason required to attend them, playing Garfield Go at E3 is the purest possible expression of contempt for the whole spectacle. Brave a crowd to look upon vast, glittering amusement palaces that tens of thousands of people pay hundreds of dollars apiece to attend, in hopes of getting an early glimpse of some beloved franchise. Then stop, take out your phone, and obscure them with the image of a poorly rendered orange cat.