A funny feline adventure that resembles Stardew Valley and Harvest Moon.
“Stardew Valley but with cats” is a hell of a hook. Hearing that said about Falcon Development’s Switch debut Cattails had me at full attention. Much like the beloved modern Harvest Moon-influenced classic, Cattails puts you in control of a created newcomer, arriving to a new area to live life and help the land prosper. It just so happens that instead of a farm, you’re in a forest and also you and everyone else is a cat. It’s a cute idea that makes for an enjoyable world to explore and toy with, but falls short if you’re gunning for a stronger linear play experience.
You take control of a house cat who got lost (as a cat owner, the opening sequence guts me) and can choose between one of three colonies: Forest, Mountain, and Mystic, all with their own cast of felines and specialities. For example, the war-hungry Mountain tribe is more focused on combat. After getting acclimated to your colony, the relative flow of the game is revealed: you just kind of wander around and explore while participating in cat battles and earning the respect of not just your colony, but all colonies. Items to collect are littered around the map, which can be used to keep your health and hunger meters filled and as gifts to woo suitors to have kittens with you, among other sundry goals. You can even take a hit of catnip and watch the screen distort to represent your cat tripping.
Along the way, a driving narrative unfurls focused on restoring order to the land by pleasing the Forest Guardian, which features the most compelling and guided elements, with puzzles and trials that almost seem similar to Breath of the Wild’s Shrines. The completion of this quest unlocks the ability to make your own colony, which is cool but all that lies at the end of that is the daily gameplay loop of exploration, combat, and catnaps.
Controls are simple enough, but I warred with menus much more than the movement and combat. The menus are clumsy to work your way through sometimes, and it’s apparent this game was made for PC first. Combat is mostly chaotic cat tussles where you spam the attack button and hope you can outlast the litter of dueling kittens. Hunting is more nuanced as you have to hold down a button to get ready to pounce, and then press a button with good timing to successfully attack the bird or rodent. A learning curve exists for combat and hunting, but if you’re having trouble, a variable difficulty setting can be toggled higher or lower at any time. Additionally, those core skills can be leveled up with experience points earned by living in the cat-ridden world.
A variety of secrets lay beneath the surface of this 10-by-10 grid of spaces to travel through, with hidden areas galore that I kept stumbling upon hours into the game. That sense of exploration is how Cattails excels. I found it fell apart the more I tried to play it as a guided narrative experience. While the main quest is solid, it’s more fun to just mess around, and my favorite moments were when I just talked to random cats and sought out new areas just to see what was there. Romancing other cats can be a blast, especially since a successful pairing leads to kittens, which can be used to assist your routine. A pleasant soundtrack and simple, colorful pixel art help to emphasize the relaxing playfulness of the world.
Cattails lives up to the high concept elevator pitch. This is really Stardew Valley but with cats, and that’s an adorable and cute experience. It might not have the longevity of that and other farming games, but it has more heart than the majority of those games. This is a chill romp through a relaxing world that is best experienced by someone who just wants to take their time and smell the catnip.