Calico was a game that really caught our eye during last month's Nintendo Indie World showcase. This simulator puts you in command of an abandoned old cat café and it's your job to restore it back to its former glory by improving its reputation within the community. The game stealth-launched back in December and is the debut project from Peachy Keen Games, an indie developer based in Seattle, Washington.
Starting off, I was disappointed to see that running the town's cat café wasn't hands on at all. Customers will occasionally trickle into your store and purchase goods, but you don't need to be present for this and there are no simulation mechanics to be seen. When I first heard about the game, I thought that it would be much more developed within this regard. If the player's success was dependent on aspects such as setting product prices, creating a diverse food and drink offering, and ensuring the place looked pretty it would be a lot more engaging.
What the gameplay boils down to for the most part is speaking to the residents across the town and completing quests for them. Most of these quests felt repetitive, however, as they often required you to complete a simple task such as making a certain recipe or putting a new piece of furniture within your café. Admittedly, I found the dialogue to be engaging and all residents were fleshed out with their own kooky personalities, but these tasks soon became tedious and there was no real challenge present other than following several steps.
Something that the game does do well though is provide you with a whole catalogue of different items to deck out your café in style. The offering is plentiful with items being split into many different categories such as Rad, Spooky, Cute, and Cloud. Along with the standard tables, chairs, and beanbags, there's also cat beds, toys, and cat-inspired wall art that you can place wherever you wish. This offering expands even further when doing quests for the townsfolk, so it does provide incentive to push through the tedious quests.
It also doesn't falter when it comes to creating a relaxing aura. Its visual style is largely reminiscent of Okami on the PS2 (one of the most visually striking games of that generation), and its twinkling soundtrack is just a delight to hear. Its environments are also really diverse too and well crafted in the sense that each area cohesively links together. The opening area is a small town filled with cherry blossoms, the next is a snow-covered mountain side, and there's also a city you can visit that's occupied by anthropomorphic cats.
Alongside completing quests and decorating your café, you can also do a spot of cooking and find some new animal friends to join your business. Cooking takes place within an adorable mini-game where you shrink down to the size of an ant and throw a checklist of ingredients into a bowl in front of you. I found this segment of the game to be entertaining at first, but the novelty soon wore off as there's really no challenge at all. There's no time limit and even if you miss the bowl with your shots the game still registers it as going in.
The game also feels under polished and downright broken in a lot of aspects. The frame rate constantly dips and graphic glitches are persistent as your animals will constantly get stuck in the environment. When I played, the continue function within the main menu didn't work at all and the save files that I tried to load weren't labelled with details like the date and time. There's no auto save system and when manually saving you also don't choose a save slot that you want to assign your progress to. This is something that caused a lot of confusion for me, as I mistakenly believed that my data wasn't being saved.
It may have a concept unlike anything I have previously played before, but Calico is just plagued with too many fundamental flaws to recommend. Its core gameplay loop is repetitive and there's a complete absence of simulation aspects, which is odd for a game about running your own business. Sure, the visuals and music are charming and the customisation options are abundant, but these positives aren't enough to overshadow its many flaws.
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