That’s French for a single, bite-sized hors d’oeuvre
Cat Girl Without Salad was first announced back in 2013, and at the time, I thought it was destined to be one of the greatest games ever made.
Most of the time, I’m able to fend off any attempts publishers or developers may make to get me on board their hype train, but this one got under my skin. Of course, the fact that it was co-created by my frequent collaborator Lindsay Collins (Sup Holmes opening animation, Teenage Pokemon character design) did nothing to help me stay calm about the project. Suffice to say, my expectations were unreasonably high from the start.
Then rumors started going around that the game was just an April Fool’s joke, which was a pretty disheartening notion for those who were already naming Cat Girl Without Salad as their pre-GOTY 2013. The game’s development was mired in secrecy for years after that, furthering speculation that the game may not, in fact, be real.
Thankfully, all the speculation was for naught. Cat Girl Without Salad is a real game, and a franchise, despite the fact that there has only been Cat Girl game to see release so far. While Cat Girl Without Salad: Amuse-Bouche, isn’t the quite the game that fans have dreamed about since 2013, it’s an awesome start to what is sure to be one of the all time best puzzler-platformer-shmup-action-shooter-adventure-strategy-fighting-rhythm-arcade-horror-tactical-RPG-TPS-RTS-visual novel franchises of all time
Cat Girl Without Salad: Amuse-Bouche is a Humble Monthly exclusive, published by Humble and developed by WayForward, so it’s hard to imagine that it had a huge budget. My understanding that the dev team consisted of two designers, two artists, a programmer, voice acting by Cristina Vee and music by Jake Kaufman.
It’s also just about three levels long, definitely not indicative of the full Cat Girl experience that WayForward has planned for the future. Still, if you dial your expectations back from “Best game of all time” to “Doc Louis’s Punch-Out sized bonus game and pseudo-demo”, you won’t come away disappointed.
The soundtrack by Jake Kaufman is the part of the game that will hit you first. Unlike much of Kaufman’s work-for-hire compositions, the music here feels totally unrestrained and overflowing with feeling at all times, which is a perfect fit for the game’s themed manic pixie candy sparkles cosmic dream aesthetic.
Kaufman’s score is accompanied by a lot of spoke dialogue, most of which comes from Cristina Vee, who plays the game’s two stars, the titular Cat Girl Kebako and her adoring robot-squid sidekick Squiddle. The game is surprisingly story heavy, though there are no cut scene segments to break up the action. Dialogue happens as you play, similar to the way Kid Icarus: Uprising kept the narrative flowing while the shooting kept going.
The two games also have similar chirpy senses of humor, though Cat Girl is way wilder. Lindsay is a huge Suda51 fan, having cosplayed Travis Touchdown in the past, and bestowed Suda himself with handfuls of homemade No More Heroes, Lollipop Chainsaw, and Shadows of the Damned stickers. That affection for Grasshopper Manufacture comes across strong in the game’s overall style, though Suda’s yet to make a game quite as cute as Cat Girl. Some of the character dynamics, particularly with the first boss, feel a reminiscent of something like Scott Pilgrim.
None of it feels derivative though. There may very well be a name for this new genre of games/comics/cartoons that it made by people who grew up on 80’s and 90’s games/comics/cartoons that No More Heroes, Scott Pilgrim, Steven Universe, all belong under, and I just don’t know it. If there is a word for this genre, feel free to through Cat Girl under the same label.
As for the action itself, the game more-or-less makes good on its promise on giving the player a taste of all the genre’s listed in the initial press release. It starts off like a standard 2D shmup, but after picking up cartridge power up, your weapon will take on the properties of an entirely different game.
The Platformer gun fires a little Mega Man-meets-Mario mascot who auto-runs across the screen, though you have to get him to jump at the right time in order to hit an enemy. The Puzzle gun allows you to shoot different colored bubbles in the style of Bust-A-Move. Match three of the same color for big damage. The RPG gun allows you to select Attack, Summon, Item, or Run in the style of classic Final Fantasy games.
It’s clever without coming off like it thinks its clever, continually inviting the player to participate in the performance as opposed to showing off in front of them. But again, that may be my personal connection to the game talking to. Without meaning to, I aided in naming the game’s final boss all the way back in 2013. That battle is without a doubt the finest moment in all of Amuse-Bouche, doubling down on all the things that make Cat Girl great.
Cat Girl Without Salad: Amuse-Bouche is just dripping with potential. The fact that it’s walled off behind the Humble Monthly subscription system is a darn shame, though hopefully there will be getting more of the franchise soon. We’re planning to host the game’s entire development team (a whopping seven people) on a special episode of Sup Holmes this Thursday night, and if we’re lucky, they’ll have something to announce to us then.
[Disclaimer in case you missed it: The game’s artist has provided art for the writer’s “Sup Holmes?” program as well as Teenage Pokemon.]