Get out of my kitchen!
If you weren’t already aware, a cat cafe is a type of theme cafe popular in East Asia wherein the establishment is both operated and infested by cats. Personally, I used to frequent a board game cafe to do some light reading, as I prefer the company of board games to cats.
Cat Cafe Manager is a game that aims to depict the horrors of working in the food service industry under the iron paws of a fleet of felines. It depicts it in the most lighthearted way possible, but don’t be fooled. This is hell.
I jest. In truth, I don’t hate cats. I much prefer them to humans.
Cat Cafe Manager puts you in the role of some chump who decided to take over their grandmother’s business. However, the business doesn’t exist anymore and I can’t remember if it’s ever explained what happened to your grandmother. So, you’re left to build it from scratch, then lure the local strays into it. I am not joking whatsoever.
After putting up four walls and encasing feral cats within them, you soon receive visitors who want a glass of water with hair in it. They pay in leaves or something. No one in the town of Caterwaul actually pays with money. They pay with things like timber, gold, and gems. Each of these currencies has its own usage, from expanding the cafe to furnishing it. The six currencies are exclusive to each demographic of customers, each of whom has their own preferences. It’s up to you to please them all. Except for punks, because after your cafe is big enough, you can just ax them out entirely.
The narrative focuses on restoring a shrine to cat-kind on the outskirts of town. You do this by collecting “delight,” yet another currency that is earned by pleasing your customers. This also unlocks perks, like better food, staff, and toilets.
There’s no real way to fail, which is somewhat nice for the management genre and makes Cat Cafe Manager an accessible entry for newcomers and horrible children. Cats just get pissy when they aren’t fed, customers just award less if they aren’t happy, and everyone just complains more.
Which is good, because Cat Cafe Manager can be complete bullshit. As you proceed, people will start demanding things that you haven’t even unlocked yet. Who are these people who order things that aren’t on the menu and then get upset about it? I don’t walk into an Indian restaurant and demand a hoagie. Why are you asking for a sundae?
And the staff. Listen, guys. Just serve the food and have asinine conversations with the customers; I’ll make the food. I didn’t allocate any points to your cooking, so what makes you think you can make a sandwich? Why can I unlock perks that give you cleaning skills? You never do it! I’m happy that I don’t actually have to pay you, now get out of my kitchen.
That’s when Cat Cafe Manager isn’t bugged to all hell. First, you need to get used to the controls. What your character thinks is in their interactive space is completely a mystery to me because I could be dry-humping a customer and still not be able to serve them. Even when I could serve them something, a cat would walk by and my adorable character would decide that petting them was more important.
It’s so bad that I actually put down my controller and picked up my Switch in case it was primarily designed for a touch-screen interface. There are no touch-screen controls and it controls just as horribly in handheld mode. I eventually just got used to its imprecise interactions, but I never learned to forgive it.
I have a laundry list of complaints that come down to a lack of polish. The cats’ brains would often break and they’d whine that they had no food when there were plenty of food dishes for all. Then, mystifyingly, the food dishes would ask me to fill them four times, but the cats would still insist they weren’t fed. They didn’t die or anything; they just refused to interact with the customers.
The UI just has bad design across the board. It expects shorter cat names like “Brian” but allowed me to put in “Pete Pickles,” where most of the letters sprawl over the edges of the text boxes. Likewise, you can level up so many times and gain so many perks that they begin obscuring your stats. And that’s when it’s not just bugged out with the rest of the game, allowing me to “$$PlaywithCat.”
I have more that I could gripe about, but I want to ease off here. Cat Cafe Manager is at least a friendly design. The worst that can happen is that your customers will complain when you can’t afford ingredients because only witches pay with the type of currency that is used to buy food, and you need to service them specifically if you want to afford the jillion damned ingredients it throws at you.
I think I need to reassess my priorities if I can get this mad at a game about collecting stray cats and unleashing them on paying customers. Yet the whole time, I was practically screaming at the game in my best Gordon Ramsay impression. I’m doing my best not to drop an F-bomb every paragraph of this review.
At the very least, the Switch version needed more time in the oven. Bugs. Bugs everywhere. Some of them required me to restart the software, and the opening load screen takes an ungodly amount of time to get all its cats herded. Even without them, Cat Cafe Manager controls like absolute garbage, it’s dangerously unbalanced, and the UI needed another pass. But it lets you pick up a raccoon off the street and pass it off as a cat, so at least it allows you to show the appropriate amount of contempt for your customers.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]