Back in 2017, Sony released a trailer for something that would create a brief mystery in the PlayStation community, albeit for all the wrong reasons. This was Life of Black Tiger, an open-world game about a big cat that cost £9.99 on the PlayStation Store. Unfortunately, this former iOS app didn’t even come close to a thing of quality and, even at launch, was considered one of the worst games the PS4 had to offer.
As the cat simulator Stray was recently honoured at the Golden Joystick Awards 2022, it’s a fair bet that playing as a furball was never the issue with Life of Black Tiger. In fact, video games that have animals as protagonists aren’t all that unusual. The RPG Final Fantasy VII had a dog – Red XIII, also known as Nanaki – as a companion, while Goat Simulator took the concept to its logical extreme by featuring a caprine character with a prehensile tongue.
Cute characters invariably make for good marketing. Even in the casino industry, where things tend to have a much more regal aesthetic, there are games that rely on floppy ears to get their message across. The licensed New Jersey casino PlayStar has Kitty Glitter and Terrific Tiger in its catalogue of slots, alongside Wolf Run. Life of Black Tiger couldn’t be saved by its feline features only, though.
Described by Kotaku as “[looking] like PS1 shovelware”, 1Games’ Life of Black Tiger had a chance at being just another harmless adventure rather than a title seemingly out of place and time. It had actually been milling around the mobile community since 2014. Of course, adding Sony’s name to its box art had a way of making it seem like a AAA title or, at the very least, a well-made indie game.
What was wrong with it? Poor graphics aside, the gameplay was puddle deep and the controls were poor. Life of Black Tiger wants you to hunt down various enemies, including humans and wolves, on a range of different maps but a lack of diversity in just about every aspect of the game’s identity makes it a chore to play. A hint of (unimplemented) multiplayer didn’t make things any more interesting.
Sadly, in hindsight, there’s a feeling that Life of Black Tiger could have been the herald of something new and interesting for Sony. Back in 2017, getting indie developers onto mainstream platforms like the PlayStation Store was a potential new source of revenue, especially as Steam Greenlight, the champion of bedroom developers at the time, seemed to be having a crisis.
Other than a contractual obligation, there’s seemingly no other reason why Life of Black Tiger would get the official Sony treatment. The appearance of indie games Cuphead, Flinthook, and Dead Cells on the PlayStation Store in 2017 would seem to support the idea that Sony was eager to attract smaller developers, as was the baffling announcement of Solbrain: Knight of Darkness, which had all the worst hallmarks of the amateur community.
Who knows what Sony intended for Life of Black Tiger? In any case, that particular experiment seems to be over.