Cat Cafe Manager offers an extremely different experience not just to brick and mortar cat cafes, but also to every other management title you’ve ever played. It innovates on the restaurant management genre by including RPG elements that make it feel closer to Graveyard Keeper or Stardew Valley. As the in-game days tick by, systems become more complex, and the workload increases, but we never stopped enjoying ourselves right up until the very end.
Just add cats
In Cat Cafe Manager, as you might expect, you manage a cat cafe. Your grandma used to run one, so you pack up your life and follow her dream in a sleepy and bizarre town. You’ll start small with a tiny cafe that can only hold three people at a time, but can grow quickly to host dozens of customers.
At its core, this is a restaurant management game with a couple of new stats and features to manage that set it apart. The most intriguing mechanic, at least in the beginning, is adopting cats. You must earn the trust of stray cats by leaving out food for them and petting them like the desperate cat lover you are. Then, you can adopt them and have them roam around your cafe, completing the cat cafe image. Taking in more tabbies falls by the wayside as your cat cafe grows, making it feel like a missed opportunity for what could be a much deeper system.
You’ll see various types of customers throughout the course of the game, and they each have specific requirements in food, ambiance, and the type of cat they want to see. Some only want one cat to allow them to stroke it, while others want as many as they can get. When they’re done, you earn points, and that’s where the gameplay loop comes into its own.
Climb to the top of the cat tree
Early on in the game, you’ll meet a terrifying-looking cat that reveals the Shrine to you. This is effectively a skill tree where you can pick and choose projects to complete to unlock new abilities. The points you earn from satisfied customers go towards these projects, allowing you to hire staff, serve more complex food and beverages, host more people, and eventually buy litter trays. However, the skill tree ends somewhat abruptly, signaling the end of the campaign, making it feel unfinished. It would have been nice if deeper skill trees could have been used, or if cats could have played a larger role in completing projects.
You must complete every project to finish the game, which will take around 120 in-game days, or between 10 to 12 hours. Along the way, you’ll meet key characters from around the town who represent its different factions. Don’t worry, there isn’t a cat-related gang war going on, but every faction does have its own tastes and pays you in a distinct currency. Oddly, only one faction pays in something close to money, so get used to collecting fish from your clientele.
The currencies you acquire from customers of each faction can be used at the stores in town to buy new furniture, pet goods, recipes, and more. You can grind out a currency by advertising to one specific faction, but we found that allowing anyone to pop by provided a nice sense of slow progression across every aspect of the game. The currency system is a fantastic way to make you carefully consider your next major goal. Additionally, it plays into your projects. After all, there’s no point in being able to host more customers if you don’t have the right currency to buy furniture for them.
As you earn more fish, gold, and other tokens of appreciation, you’ll also earn experience for your character, staff, and cats. You can train humans to be better at serving, fixing, cleaning, and other aspects of food service, while cats can only be trained to appeal more to certain factions. This doesn’t have a huge impact on the points you earn from customers, but it does allow you to give them away to someone in town for a massive chunk of a particular currency. For example, the more appealing to witches a cat is, the more of their currency you’ll receive when you give it away for adoption. This is a nice way to bank up some points for when you need a boost to a particular wallet late in the game.
After a while, you’ll settle into the flow of your cat cafe, serving customers, completing projects, working on your relationships with the key characters, petting cats, and starting over again. While the range of goods you offer and the number of customers and staff you can have will increase, the game never gets more complex. Upgrading a relationship awards items that make your cat cafe more appealing to one faction over the others, but when you pack it with items from each, the change is barely noticeable. Cat Cafe Manager is definitely a game that’s more about breadth in its systems rather than depth.
You’ll end up being distracted from the gameplay systems by the chilled-out music and beautiful graphics Cat Cafe Manager has to offer. It feels like you’re playing a low-fi track, even when the customers stack up. The cozy visuals help soften the impact of anything close to stressful in the game, making it easy to return to day after day. This might be the most powerful move the game makes. Even if you get stressed out by not being able to serve every customer one day, you simply can’t put it down.
A litter tray full of tiny “surprises”
Unfortunately, the review copy of Cat Cafe Manager that we played on Nintendo Switch had quite a few bugs. Some of these caused the entire console to crash, while others simply stopped the music or caused the framerate to stutter. We don’t know if these will be fixed in the final build of the game or a day one update, but given how early we received our copy, we’d assume that most of them should be fixed by now.
Outside of these bugs, some elements of the game could definitely be improved upon. For example, you can’t ever see an inventory of your ingredients, so you only know you can’t serve customers when you run out. This leads to constant shopping trips to ensure you’re always fully stocked. The UI could also do with some work, since traits stack up and clip through their boxes, blocking other elements, when you have too many.
We also felt that the cats didn’t have as much of an impact as they could. You can ignore them when they require food or attention and you won’t be punished with poorer ambiance or losing your feline friends. This is another example of where the game could dig deeper to provide more impact through RPG elements. Still, you can put these issues to one side if you enjoy the gameplay loop enough.
We had a great time with Cat Cafe Manager but can’t help but feel that it could have added more systems. While it does offer a more frantic challenge than other management titles, the lack of depth means that you frantically rush to the end of the game and are left with nothing to do once you get there. You could repeat the final day and try to collect or see every cat and staff trait, but you’ll never really experience the impact they can offer. Restarting is the only logical choice, but after all the effort you’ve put in, it’s a hard step back to make.
Ultimately, Cat Cafe Manager feels like a light game you can pick up and play between meatier titles that take dozens of hours to finish. With that said, it’s a brilliant management game for those who don’t want to get bogged down in too many systems and want an unreasonable number of cats in their lives.
6 / 10
|+||Very relaxing experience, even on packed days|
|+||Satisfying gameplay loop|
|+||A constant sense of progression no matter how you play|
|–||Potential console-crashing bugs|
|–||Barely scratches the surface of the depths it could reach in complexity|
|–||Cats need to have more of an impact|