Cat Cafe Manager Indie Snippet
The longer 2022 goes on, the likelier it is that this year will be fondly remembered as one of the gaming industries’ finest. Title after title can be put on a pedestal as a potential Game of the Year, and we aren’t even halfway to December. Amid the seemingly endless wave of massive games, it is almost necessary to find something that acts as a soothing balm between big titles. Cat Cafe Manager is the perfect lowkey counterpart to the high-stakes drama of 2022’s most headline-grabbing titles. Cozy, adorable, and completely absent of anything resembling a fail state, Cat Cafe Manager is an excellent way to wind down.
Cat Cafe Manager is many things: a management sim, an idle game, and a café builder packed with customization options. It is funny, in a sly and snarky way, and deeply silly, as the most self-aware video games often are. It is rarely exciting, and yet players will find that hours whizz by when in Cat Cafe Manager‘s throes. Once players find the groove of making the game’s economic engine hum, it becomes addictive. Add in dozens of adorable cats (with none of the real-world inconveniences of hairballs, litterboxes, and picky eaters) and Roost Games has struck gold.
It’s a premise like many others: the player receives a summons to a sleepy little town, to turn a plot of land into something both beautiful and profitable. Part Stardew Valley, part Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Cat Cafe Manager is not shy about its influences. After the briefest of tutorials, players quickly meet several NPCs who are eager to offer their opinions on the residents of Caterwaul Way. The seemingly quiet town is home to some real hardcore caffeine addicts, and if the player sets themselves up correctly, they’ll soon be flush with all the gold, jewels, and fishes necessary to buy every cosmetic item they can fathom.
The more tables and chairs in their café, the more customers the player can serve. The more satisfied the customers are after service, the better ranking the player receives at the end of a given day. The higher their ranking, the more resources are earned, and the more resources the player has, the nicer the furnishings they can afford, and on and on. Cat Cafe Manager is, ultimately, a clockwork piece of machinery, and there is extreme satisfaction to be found in maximizing profit at every turn.
That said, this is also a game that encourages players to slow down and appreciate the aesthetics. While there is a fast-moving clock that counts down to the end of the day, there is no end-of-year festival or looming deadline to overcome. Players can pursue their own goals, whether that’s to make the biggest, most cat-filled café they can possibly envision or to foster as many kitties as they can and have them adopted by loving townsfolk. There are dozens of goals to work towards, but none of them are essential for completion. This is a game all about chill vibes, and to that end, succeeds beautifully.
Part of the fun is found in the quirky worldbuilding. The town of Caterwaul feels whimsical, and not only because its heavily populated by well-meaning witches. Players can serve several different types of customers at their ever-changing cafes: hard-working artists and well-traveled vagabonds always need a cup of joe, but don’t forget the suit-wearing businessmen or the snide punks. Witches come through with startling frequency, and it wouldn’t be a day’s work without visits from burly fisherman. Every type of customer pays with different currency, and every currency can be used to pay for something different at the shops, from recipe ingredients to furniture sets. Players cannot rely on just one type of customer; it takes all types to furnish the café of their dreams.
Fortunately, the player can exert control over who visits the café and subsequently what kind of currency they can expect to accrue. By posting up different advertisements on the community notice board, certain types of customers will be more likely to visit. This is an easy way to manipulate the flow of currency, and once players hire a few more helping hands at the café, gives the game the slightest dusting of real-time strategy elements. Once the café is big enough, there is a ton to do at any given moment, and serving customers the proper drinks, cleaning up after the cafe’s cats, and solving the dozens of small crises that crop up is oddly satisfying.
The cats themselves almost feel like an afterthought. By putting out different types of lures, players can attract and gain the trust of stray cats, who can then be invited into the café to be doted upon by guests. Every cat has its strengths and weaknesses, and can even be trained to further their appeal. After some time, the player can choose to let the cat go and make room for another; the most satisfying way to do so is to find the cat a loving home, using the in-game equivalent of a pet-seeking personals ad. It feels incredibly wholesome, and always sweetly satisfying to pass a trained cat off to a happy new owner.
Late spring leading into summer can be an intensely busy time of year, for everyone from students trying to finish their final projects before summer break to service industry workers suddenly overwhelmed by group of customers enjoying fair weather after being stuck inside for too long. On top of that, it feels like video games are only getting longer, with open-world games being the style du jour. Cat Cafe Manager aims to be the game that fits wherever the player has time, and that is wonderful. For those who want to spend dozens of hours farming currency to create a gorgeous environment, they can do so; players can also do the bare minimum, holding steady with a single server operating out a run-down shack with two tables, and still have a blast. If they want to uncover the mystery of the cat shrines at the edge of town, they can; if they want to just chill out and listen to the excellent soundtrack, no one is stopping them. Cat Cafe Manager will never judge the player for how they want to approach it; for that alone, it is a welcome addition to its genre.