System: Nintendo Switch
Developer/Publisher: Falcon Development
Age Rating: E for Everyone (ESRB)| 3+ (PEGI)
Price: $14.99 | £11.99 | €14.99
Release Date: 29 November 2018 (Switch)
The game is also available on PC.
Review code kindly provided by the publisher.
Have you ever wanted to play Stardew Valley but as a cat? Now you can.
Okay, it’s not quite Starcat Valley. Though Cattails resembles a farm RPG, in the absence of farming it’s more of a hunter-gatherer RPG in which you survive by hunting small prey and foraging.
Developed by a husband-and-wife team, Cattails is a sweet, laid-back little game with a lovely soundtrack. It distinguishes itself from the typical farm RPG in three elements I enjoyed: hunting, establishing your own cat colony, and child-rearing. The latter two can only be experienced late in the game but are worth waiting for.
My life as a hunter-gatherer
Cattails begins with a childlike sense of discovery. After choosing a cat colony (there are three: Forest, Mountain, and Mystic), you’re left to your own devices with little guidance.
Every day, you venture beyond the cozy refuge of your colony to explore the wild. It feels like being on holiday; no endless rat race of quests to complete. No agenda but to wander, enjoy the world’s beauty, and keep an eye out for food.
Aha, a squirrel. You creep up slowly… then pounce! You miss, and it runs off. You try again with a dove, a mouse, a frog… Don’t worry, you’ll get better over time as you level up in hunting. Just remember that prey can detect you from a certain distance — how far depends on their species.
Hunting is just one of four basic skills you should improve. Eating prey keeps hunger at bay, and you don’t want to start losing health points just because you got too hungry. You can forage for food too, but you’re more likely to encounter live prey than edible berries.
If hunting’s your job, then fighting’s your pastime. Fighting other cats is a great way to earn money (“mews”), colony influence, and experience points. You can invest experience points to level up the four basic skills — Hunting, Fighting, Swimming, and Foraging — or optional skills like Study Prey, Wild Slash, and Warp.
Because of this skill-point system, Cattails might feel more like an RPG than Stardew Valley or Harvest Moon does, in terms of character development. But in overall gameplay, Cattails is much simpler, less diverse and, I would say, less replayable than these farming titles.
I imagine subsequent playthroughs would look very similar — hunt, forage, fight, repeat. But thankfully, that isn’t all to Cattails.
Life in the wild is, ironically, about relationships
You’ll hunt and forage not just for self-sustenance but also for tantalizing gifts to give your catty friends.
Giving the right gifts to a cat will, over time, increase their friendship level. You can clearly see each cat’s friendship meter, which ranges from 1 to 5 stars.
Early on, I realized that Scout, one of my colony mates, likes mice and squirrels. When we became really good friends (4 or 5 stars), he started giving me gifts on occasion too!
At first, you can only befriend cats in your own colony. Later, when you’re able to travel to the “capital” of other colonies, you can befriend cats from rival colonies and even date them.
Each colony has a number of marriageable cats. Apparently, a cat can marry and divorce multiple partners. You can date any marriageable cat, and gender isn’t an issue here. (As a matter of fact, I’m not sure what my cat’s gender is, as I wasn’t asked to specify it at the beginning of the game…) I suppose each cat you meet is whatever gender you imagine them to be.
During my second year, I decided to date Scout (by initiating with a rose). After we married, which required proposing with a Shiny Trinket, Scout moved into my den. By then, I had already expanded my den with a storeroom and herb garden.
I wish I had tried to have kids earlier, as the process took time and was beyond my control. (More on kids below.) But I was all preoccupied with working on the main quest.
Wait, there’s a main quest?
The main quest, which took me 16 hours, is to “restore balance” to the Forest.
This involves collecting six sets of items: birds, fish, insects, mammals, herbs, and shells. Upon completing each set, you are given a “trial”. Trials involve an easy puzzle, a tough battle, or a combination of both.
Initially I was worried that finding these items would depend too much on luck — that is, whether I would encounter them randomly in the wild. But I was delighted to find that I could buy certain items from shopkeepers and win some from festival games. An excellent design choice, that! I even received a much-needed item from a cat friend who liked me a lot and wanted to give me a gift.
Advancing in the main quest gave me a concrete, satisfying sense of progress. Another element that kept my interest from waning over those 16 hours were the changing seasons.
As in farm RPGs, there are four seasons per year. Different seasons come with different plants, scenery, and music. Only 10 days long, each season ends with a different festival. The festival games are genuinely fun to play (unlike the festivals in my favorite Harvest Moon game), and it’s a pleasure to experience the seasonal change of scenery and soundtrack.
King of the hill
After finishing the main quest, I was surprised to discover the appearance of a new game element: starting my own colony. This brought freshness to the game just when it was getting too familiar.
I could still join or rejoin the existing colonies at any time. But I decided to build my own colony in a scenic spot by the river lined with cherry blossom trees. My den and spouse were magically transported to the new location.
After several more hours of play, I had built all possible dens: the doctor’s, the shopkeeper’s, the guard’s, and homes for three marriageable cats. My colony influence had spread rapidly, too, thanks to my guard Claudius’ battle efforts and my own forays into the frontlines. Only one thing remained in life…
Raising mini me
I had mastered the skills of a hunter-gatherer, and now, I wanted to groom a mini version of me. After Cadet was born and grew big enough to train, I took him (or her?) out into the wild.
Whatever I do, Cadet copies. As we work on the four basic skills, it’s satisfying to see my child level up. And amusing to watch him hunt, fumbling and scaring squirrels off before he can get close enough.
When we encounter hostile cats from rival colonies, Cadet always plunges into the fray. I’m always worried he’ll lose all his health points and be forced to return home. Turns out I once forgot to monitor my own health points and ended up getting knocked out. (There’s no dying in Cattails; you simply lose your inventory and regain consciousness the next day.)
Scout and I didn’t give birth to Cadet until after I had finished the main quest. It’s not clear how long the process of birth and growth takes, so I wasn’t sure if I would get to experience it. So I’m glad I kept playing, because raising kittens is fun!
Very minor criticisms
While I didn’t mind the minimal guidance in Cattails — tutorials are scarce, tips are almost non-existent — I think the game can do slightly better by telling players what to anticipate, most of all the prospect of raising and training children (as this isn’t a common mechanic in farm RPGs). I might have otherwise have stopped playing the game shortly after finishing the main quest.
But I wouldn’t have known about training kittens if I hadn’t looked up the Cattails Wiki. If not for the Wiki, I wouldn’t have known that kittens can have one of four personalities, which is pretty cool. Or that the number of kittens you can have is determined by how awesome you were at giving gifts to your love interest. Wish I’d known that earlier!
Length-wise, Cattails is on the short side for its genre. And unfortunately, after I’m done training my child, I don’t think there’s much to keep my interest.
Mining is the only activity I haven’t delved into very far. That’s because I’ve found it boring. I have no idea what awaits at the bottom of the two mines. I don’t feel like trying, because there’s no hint that my effort will be rewarded by some worthwhile item.
There are lots of items I haven’t tried to obtain, especially coat colors and fashion pieces. I’m more interested in home decor and furniture, and I wish the game had more of those.
I started Cattails very skeptical. It wasn’t visually impressive, and I wondered if it was a Stardew knock-off. Plus, I wasn’t cat lover (I’m a little scared of cats in real life). But the visual style grew on me and I love the soundtrack. I’ve come to find the cats rather cute too.
More significantly, I’m impressed with the ways Cattails is different from farming RPGs: a fun hunting mechanic, colony relationships, and meaningful interaction with children.
These 23 hours of gameplay have been relaxing and satisfying. A light survival element in the form of a hunger mechanic adds stakes without adding stress. While I don’t foresee myself continuing the game much longer or replaying it, I would recommend it to gamers who love cats and the farming RPG genre.
Cattails is a smaller, less diverse game than Stardew Valley but well-executed. While there’s no farming, it’s no loss. The substitute for farming — hunting — is actually more enjoyable and provides instant gratification once you’ve leveled up enough.
I really want to know if this husband-wife team has read the Warriors series by Erin Hunter. TOTALLY getting Warriors vibes. Basically Warriors as a game but I’m here for it!
While I’m not familiar with the Warriors series, I’ve read comments from other Cattails players that the game reminded them of that series!
Sounds good Pikodoodle!
I like you added so many photo’s.
Haha, I wondered if it was too many. Good to know, Ronja 🙂
This game looks super cute! It does remind me a lot of Stardew Valley on the surface, but it’s neat that there are many different things to do. I might have to check this one out! 🙂