After months of heavyweight AAA titles, Cat Cafe Manager feels like the perfect summer palate cleanser.
It’s a straightforward management sim with oodles of charm — hours will blow by in minutes and you won’t even notice. It’s a perfect fit for Nintendo Switch due to its pick-up-and-play nature — despite a handful of unfortunate bugs.
The setup for Cat Cafe Manager is very much like Stardew Valley — you’ve just arrived in the small town of Caterwaul Way to rebuild your departed grandmother’s cat cafe. As you might expect you’ll have to start from absolute scratch and befriend the wacky citizens of Caterwaul along the way.
The first step is to actually construct your cafe — meaning the floors, walls, tables, and everything else. The more chairs you have in your cafe the more customers you’ll get in a day’s time. Another major aspect, of course, is the actual cats, considering it's a cat cafe. You get to adopt one cat at the very start, but you’ll soon find more by setting lures for strays and befriending them.
One Step at a Time
The core gameplay consists of controlling your character and taking customers’ orders and making them, cleaning up spills, feeding cats, and more. The whole thing isn’t overly complex as all you have to do is hold down a button to automatically do each action, but the real depth of Cat Cafe Manager lies in the development of your business. You’ll have to decide your menu and strive to better the design, all while making sure your cats are happy and cared for.
Cat Cafe Manager’s currency system — which also directly ties into the customers you get — stands out as being truly unique. There are six different customers types that each pay with a different kind of money. For example, Artists pay you in gems you need to buy furniture while Witches pay with potions that you use to purchase new menu items and ingredients. An advertising menu lets you pick which customers you want to visit your cafe, which adds a bit of strategic depth in terms of which income you want.
Things get more complex when you account for the different preferences of each customer type, in terms of what kind of food and decor they like. On top of that, each cat has its own stats and perks, and the higher they appeal to a customer type, the more that particular type will payout. The customer system is a nice feature that adds a lot of control over how you want to develop your cafe, and each customer type also has a specific regular that attends your cafe.
Each day you can call one regular, and raising their friendship level unlocks new benefits. This is how the bulk of the story plays out. Every time you get a new level, you get a bit of dialogue with that regular which is how you learn more about each person’s personality and history, the culture of Caterwaul, and the resident’s discontent with the mega-corporation that has moved in and taken control. While there’s not a ton of story the writing truly shines, and each of the regulars are genuinely charming and funny.
The Cat’s Meow
Early on in the game, a new wrinkle is added to the mix — a mystical cat shrine inhabited by an equally mystical creature. Your overall goal is to restore the shrine, which acts as your skill tree. Customers will award you with happiness on top of payment, which is used to restore each step of the shrine. This allows you to unlock vital features like hiring NPCs to help in your cafe, new recipes and kitchen items, the ability to adopt more cats, and more.
The real appeal of Cat Cafe Manager lies in adopting every adorable kitten you can, and seeing them help your business grow and shine. There are some more... unique cats that you can adopt too, which include a literal raccoon and a ghost cat.
Unfortunately, the overall experience is bookended by problems at the start and end. Getting your cafe up and running can be a bit of a slog, as getting more chairs and customers can take a bit. The real depth of Cat Cafe Manager’s systems doesn’t become apparent until a few hours in, and that slow opening could easily put some players off. Later, as my cafe got bigger, I encountered a steady stream of visual glitches and bugs. The Nintendo Switch version had trouble keeping up when things got too hectic, and I’d consistently experience short freeze once my cafe expanded in size. These are issues that patches can easily address, but it does put a bit of a damper on the overall experience.
What I appreciate the most about Cat Cafe Manager is that it lets the player go entirely at their own speed. Sure there’s an overall goal of restoring the shrine and cafe, but there’s no specific way you need to get there. You can adopt the cats you want, design your cafe however you want, and there are no “goals” to hit each day. It’s a game that simply wants you to revel in its cuteness and joy, and that’s honestly just a lovely change of pace.
Cat Cafe Manager is out now for PC and Nintendo Switch.
INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Every Inverse video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth your time? Are you getting what you pay for? We have no tolerance for endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or bugs that dilute the experience. We care deeply about a game’s design, world-building, character arcs, and storytelling come together. Inverse will never punch down, but we aren’t afraid to punch up. We love magic and science-fiction in equal measure, and as much as we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real-world context in which those games are made.