Whether you enjoy seeing cats or running your own cafe (or both!) in games, get ready to be enchanted by Cat Cafe Manager, a 2D management simulation developed by Roost Games and published by Freedom Games for PC and Nintendo Switch.
The following review is written based on version 1.0.378-windows of the game played on PC. (Addendum: The bugs with the footwalk tile, 13 Menu items, and missing cat headshots mentioned in this review are reportedly fixed as of patch 1.0.388.)
Rebuilding Lives in Caterwaul Way
Each “New Game” of Cat Cafe Manager is bound by the same brief storyline and by extension, begins with the same opening: you, the player, have moved from the City to Caterwaul Way to rebuild your grandmother’s cat cafe. After the familiar succinct introduction, you will create your player character through a clear-cut character customization screen that offers a name input and an avatar library with five hairstyles, 28 hair colors, and 11 skin colors. You will also select your starter Trait, which will boost one of your Skills by two points. Finally, you will be asked to name your cat cafe and adopt one stray cat as your starting companion before you can start building and managing your cat cafe.
The group of three starter Traits and starting companions to choose from are fixed. There is no significant advantage in choosing one Trait and companion over the others as opportunities to increase your Skill points and adopt the other stray cats present themselves very early on in the game. In fact, I find the Gourmand Trait redundant since the same Trait can be picked up later on.
As a management game, Cat Cafe Manager has quite a number of interconnected game stats that players have to be mindful of. However, unlike games where your businesses can go bankrupt and fold, this casual fail-safe game has no such game over condition. Your cat cafe opens at 7 a.m. and closes at 7 p.m. daily, which translates to roughly three minutes in real time without pausing the game. At the end of each day, an overview of your customers’ satisfaction levels will be shown. Depending on how well the day went, a grade ranging from the lowest D to the highest S+ will be assigned, though this is more for your bragging rights rather than anything practical in the game. While customers will pay slightly more when their satisfaction is high, everyone will still pay a minimum amount even if they left your cat cafe with 0% satisfaction. In addition, items in a shop that you cannot afford to purchase will be greyed out. This means you can never get into debt even if you try your hardest to ignore all your customers every day.
The only stat that will suffer from having unsatisfied customers is the total Delight points, which are spent at the Cat Shrine to unlock various upgrades to your cat cafe. Unsatisfied customers can leave at closing time with as low as zero Delight, but so long as you are able to grasp the basics of Cat Cafe Manager, you should rarely encounter such extreme cases.
An Overview of Game Controls and Features
Partial controller support is available, but I played Cat Cafe Manager using the keyboard and mouse. There is no option for remapping keys, but the default bindings used would be familiar and intuitive to most. Moving the player character around uses the WASD keys, and all interactions make use of the left mouse button. Several interactions require a single click, but plenty of important actions require a click and hold. For example, the basic interactions of taking a customer’s order, making the food, and serving the food are all click and hold. Performing a series of click and hold within a short time frame gets tiring for me over time, so I was actually happy to (accidentally) find out that holding the “E” key can also do the trick.
Scrolling the middle mouse button lets you zoom in and out or scroll through lists, while holding the right mouse button will enter an Inspect Mode where you may check the stats of any interactable item in your cat cafe. The “Esc” key closes a few sub-menus and brings up the in-game pause menu, which for some mind-boggling reason has a “Quit” button but not a “Quit to Main Menu” option. There is no “Load Game” under the in-game pause menu either, so whenever I want to load a different save file, I can only quit the game, then run it again, which is roundabout and a waste of time.
Apart from the Design Mode where you build and decorate your cat cafe, the camera’s focus and movement are always centered on the player character. There is no edge scrolling, and the camera in Design Mode is moved around with the WASD keys. Although the camera system in Cat Cafe Manager is simple, I have not found it to be limiting or inconvenient in any way.
The game performs an auto-save whenever you close the end-of-day overview, but also allows manual saving at any time. Moreover, there is an unlimited number of manual save slots available and the system lets you name and delete your manual save files too. There is not much visual design to the minimalistic Save/ Load menu to speak of, but I am very satisfied with its robustness. I have around 260 auto-saves made over two playthroughs and none have given me any issues like noticeable lag or data corruption. Manual saves are highly reliable too, though I find saving at the start or end of a day to be the safest. There was one time when I saved the game while the cat cafe was busy with people, and upon loading my save file, one of my cats was unfortunately populated inside an isolated enclosure. Thankfully, other than that poor cat, most other important information, such as the cat cafe’s stats and layout as well as the customers’ seating positions and their food orders were preserved.
In terms of optimization, Cat Cafe Manager is mostly okay. On my laptop, moving my player character starts to appear visibly laggy when my 32-seat cat cafe with 17 cats is populated with customers. The game also sometimes freezes for a moment when the cats pooped or peed at the same time while the cafe was still filled with customers. Momentary freezes tend to occur right before a Regular’s dialogue pops up as well, whether it is after they picked up the phone or before they left the cat cafe. Reducing the number of seats helps ease these issues, though even when things are kept as they are, they do not further worsen with each passing in-game day. Outside of the mentioned scenarios, freezes are guaranteed to happen whenever I attempt a large-scale demolishing of my cat cafe or replacement of its flooring. I have only ever encountered game crashes on three separate occasions when the end-of-day overview was being pulled out or tallied, but they resolved on their own after a reload.
On a few occasions, it gets difficult to interact with some of the customers, and I had to move around them to find the sweet spot. Otherwise, interactions with objects in the game are generally responsive as long as my player character is standing anywhere next to them.
As for game modes, Cat Cafe Manager has only one, which is the regular story-based mode. There is no sandbox mode or additional features such as unlimited building or expenditure. Nevertheless, the main storyline does not actually take up much focus in the entire game. Plus, you get to continue playing and place as many as 50 seats and 41 cats (though I could only find 22 stray cats) in your cat cafe after the end of the main storyline.
The Cat Cafe’s Manager
Your player character comes with five Skills, namely Cleaning, Cooking, Serving, Cat Care, and Fixing Skills. The individual Skills are upgraded with Staff Training Points, which accumulate as you and your subsequently hired staff members complete all kinds of tasks around the cat cafe. Unlike the player character, however, each hired staff has just two Skills by default: Cooking and Serving. They may only obtain an additional Cleaning Skill with the appropriate Trait upon leveling up. Thus, the player character is the only one who can fix broken equipment and take care of the adopted cats by filling their food bowls or playing with them.
With every five level-ups, each staff member will gain a new Trait, up to a maximum of 10 Traits. Most of these Traits, like the starter Trait you will pick for your player character, add bonus points to various Skills. While I appreciate the usefulness of two special Traits, i.e. the Cleaner and Gregarious Traits that enable your hired staff to clean the cat cafe and chat with the customers respectively, I do not like their implementation. More specifically, I dislike how I cannot micromanage my hired staff in Cat Cafe Manager. For example, I cannot assign some staff members to be kitchen staff who will focus solely on cooking. I also cannot instruct which tasks should be prioritized for different staff members. More often than not, it annoys me to see my staff members chatting with the customers when there are many others waiting for their orders to be taken. Or when one of them rushes out at opening time to clean up some spills that are not even inside the cat cafe. Really, I wish I could turn off their cleaning and chatting skills since they currently do not aid in my strategy to run the cat cafe efficiently.
My dissatisfaction with task delegation aside, the hired staff all do their tasks well. Their flow of action may break a bit during moments when they are preparing to cook but a required ingredient has run out or the cooking appliance has broken down, but they are on the whole reliable. They would get back on track once the ingredient is replenished or the appliance is fixed, and rarely stay stuck after that brief interruption. At most, I just have to finish up their cooking tasks for them and they will immediately start tending to other available tasks.
As for a more concrete bug, that would be the end-game’s promise of allowing more staff members but I can neither hire a fifth member of staff nor see more new hireable staff on the Community Notice Board.
Managing Your Cat Cafe
In Cat Cafe Manager, the currencies come in the form of Resources, which are split into six types: Fabric, Nectar, Fish, Gems, Gold, and Materials. The tutorial at the beginning of each new playthrough does a good job of introducing each Resource type one at a time. And you can review all previously seen tutorials by checking Granny’s Notebook from the in-game pause menu.
Different groups of customers will pay with different Resources as they visit your cat cafe. Vagabonds pay with Fabric, Witches pay with Nectar, Fisherfolk pay with Fish, Artists pay with Gems, Businesspeople pay with Gold, and Punks pay with Materials. By changing the groups of customers who will come to your cat cafe via the Advertising sub-menu, you can easily change which Resources you wish to gather more of. What’s more, you can change your target customer groups on the fly, though the new groups’ arrival is subject to seat availability in your cat cafe and the time when the change is made.
Naturally, earned Resources are meant to be spent. Every Resource in Cat Cafe Manager is designed to be important enough so you would have the incentive to constantly earn more of them, but Materials have the shortest currency lifespan. Materials are needed to buy land space for placing flooring tiles so as to expand your cat cafe. But once you reach the point where there is no more unbought space left, any further Materials you get from the Punks become essentially worthless. Well, at least that will be the case if not for an unexpected behavior of the footwalk tile. Directly replacing an existing flooring tile with a footwalk tile gives the same visual result as deleting the existing flooring tile away and filling the space with the footwalk tile. What is different is the latter two-steps method will return the Materials you had spent buying the tiled area while the former one-step method does not.
The only currency that will theoretically never expire in value is Nectar, which is used to purchase recipes and food ingredients. As long as your cat cafe is up and running, you will always need Nectar — unless you are content with serving everyone with water.
Just as how you can attract different groups of customers through the Advertising sub-menu, you can change your cat cafe’s menu on the fly with the Menu sub-menu. But unlike the other more self-explanatory sub-menus, the Menu sub-menu has caused me some confusion. First, I did not know I could select only 13 items to put on my cat cafe menu. There is no instruction about this restriction given, and the counter at the top right corner has always shown “/31”, which led me into thinking I could select up to a maximum of 31 items. Second, despite already having a maximum selection of 13 items, the Menu would sometimes append a few more items on its own after I load a save file. I would only realize something is amiss when ingredients I know were not used start to get depleted. Third, several items are missing the icons that indicate the customer groups who would order them. Not to mention, there is an unused Rating field that shows and does nothing. Of all the sub-menus, Menu has the cutest but also the most puzzling design.
Places to Visit in Caterwaul Way
From the Town map, you can visit a total of five locations outside of your cat cafe in Cat Cafe Manager, all of which are open 24/7. The Market would likely be your most frequented location since that is where you buy your ingredients and new recipes. There is also Gruff Decorations which sells furniture and decorations for your design needs and the Pet Emporium which sells pet goods for your adopted cats’ needs. The Cat Shrine, as mentioned, is for unlocking upgrades for your cat cafe. Last but not least, the Community Notice Board (labeled as “Note Board” on the map) is where you will find people who are looking for either a job at your cat cafe or a cat to adopt. Note that the Note Board does not appear until the Cat Shrine project that unlocks it is completed.
I like the design of the various shop screens. The shop owners, who are also Regulars of your cat cafe, show up next to their shop catalogs. The interesting thing is if you visit their shop while the shop owner is currently at your cat cafe, you will be greeted by their shop assistant instead. This may be a minor detail but it is surely a fun and thoughtful one.
Overall, the shop screens are easy to understand and navigate. Items in the shops are grouped by categories and listed alphabetically. There is a fixed quantity of each item that you are allowed to buy per in-game day but everything will be restocked the following day. An exception is the Pet Emporium’s cat toy selection; there are only three cat toys on sale each day and the selection is totally randomized. Thus, a cat toy for sale today may not be listed tomorrow. Imagine my disappointment when I finally managed to earn enough Resources to buy a particular cat toy but it just so happened to not be for sale that very day! Luckily, the cat toy selection is not huge, so the cat toy I wanted was back in stock again in no time.
At the Market, there are three visual cues to help you check which ingredients you ought to be buying. First, there is a summary of your current inventory for ingredients displayed near the top left corner. Second, as you hover over each ingredient in the catalog, the corresponding cell in your inventory summary that shows its quantity will be highlighted. Third, there will be information banners, each listing one ingredient you have run out of, by the left side of the catalog. All in all, these visual cues are sufficient but could be better. Personally, I would have preferred an eye-catching icon next to those ingredients on the catalog that I have zero quantity of. That way, I would not need to read the banner for the ingredient’s name, then mentally recite the alphabet as I scroll down the list to the one I need to buy. It may help reduce the chances of me misclicking too, as I had accidentally bought coconut milk when I needed to buy the coffee beans right beneath it on a few occasions.
On top of buying the wrong ingredients, I have also managed to buy the wrong furniture at Gruff Decorations before. Usually, such boo-boos of mine are no biggie because I could simply sell the unwanted items afterward for a partial recoupment. Unfortunately, here, you cannot sell anything you bought from the shops. Neither can you give or throw them away. Truly, I have no words to convey my sadness over those hard-earned Resources I had accidentally wasted on some eternal junk. Perhaps the worst thing is knowing those items will be sitting in my inventory forever mocking me at my folly.
Leaving the shops behind, we come to the Cat Shrine. It contains 40 projects that you may invest your customers’ Delight points into. The projects are split into four broad areas, allowing you to upgrade various aspects of your cat cafe from adopting more cats to accessing more furniture, decorations, recipes, and ingredients to hiring more staff and having more seats. To gain access to higher tier projects, not only do you have to complete the prerequisite projects, but you also have to meet certain Friendship level requirements with the Regulars. And as you complete more Cat Shrine projects, the main storyline will automatically progress as well. I was taken aback the first time when the storyline ended, though, as I had assumed I needed to complete all the 40 projects first.
The Friends You Make in Caterwaul Way
There are five Regulars in Cat Cafe Manager whom you can befriend and deepen your friendship with. They all have very distinct personalities that fit their unique appearances and identities. As they become closer friends with you, they will also share more about themselves. The time I spent with them may not have been long, but I like their down-to-earth personal stories and some really fun tidbits about their friendships with the other Regulars. Arwel the punk may actually be my favorite Regular.
When it comes to game mechanics, your Friendship levels with these Regulars are important for gaining access to higher tier Cat Shrine projects. The criteria set are kind of strange, however. For instance, the highest tier projects list two friendships at level 4 and two friendships at level 5 as requirements, but I could access them once I had two friendships at level 4. Initially, I thought this may have been an either/or case because the other requirements seem to follow the same pattern, but “two friendships at level 4 or two friendships at level 5” does not sound quite right since the latter implied the former.
Each Regular will send you gifts as their Friendship level increases, and all the gifts have utility value. Most of them are decorations that boost specific stats for your cat cafe, though not all may fit your intended aesthetics. The most useful gifts, in my opinion, are the cat lures that allow you to adopt some really unique cats. But I should note some of the cat lures do not look like cat lures at all.
Something that Cat Cafe Manager did not state in its tutorials is that your Friendship levels with the Regulars will directly affect the levels of the corresponding customer groups. That is to say, if your Friendship level with Arwel (a Punk) is at level 3, then the Punks visiting your cat cafe will also be at level 3. All customers, regardless of group, will have more demanding needs when their level is higher. I did not know this crucial point during my first playthrough, so I started struggling to keep up with my customers’ needs without knowing how the difficulty curve suddenly got so steep. Out of the blue, everyone was ordering food I had yet to purchase the recipes and equipment for, the Witches were disgusted by my cat cafe’s lack of plants and books, and the Businesspeople hated the same chairs they loved a few days ago. It almost feels like self-sabotaging when I went ahead to strengthen my friendships without understanding how it affects the customers I will get.
Designing Your Cat Cafe
Besides handling the business aspect, you have the opportunity to customize and design your cat cafe in Cat Cafe Manager. I really love the flexibility offered, be it the ability to put down flooring tiles anywhere I want or rotate the furniture and decorations around. Erecting walls inside the cat cafe is not intuitive, however. I only realized how to do so when I was randomly deleting some of the flooring tiles away.
There is a generally great selection of furniture and decorations sold at Gruff Decorations, though the current range of floorings and wallpapers feels a little lacking, especially since their colors are fixed. I wish there were more outdoor decor available as well. In addition, it would be nice to be able to place windows on the walls inside the cat cafe because the ones at the entrance wall are hidden from view all the time. Maybe it’s just me but I would like to see those nice windows I bought too!
While the Design Mode works quite perfectly, there are still a few issues worth pointing out. As mentioned, you cannot sell or throw items away. Any item you no longer want within your cat cafe can only be stored inside your inventory. Hence, your inventory can be prone to getting cluttered over time if you like to swap things out frequently. As someone who likes to keep their inventory as clean as possible, I find it mildly frustrating that I can do nothing about the items I know I do not need anymore.
Almost all items can be rotated around in four 90-degree turns. However, the Luxurious Toilet’s design in particular makes it quite impossible to tell where the door is facing after a turn. At least the Basic Toilet has a small handle to indicate if the door is on the right or left side after rotating it to the side, but even that handle can be tough to spot. Furthermore, some kitchen appliances under the Hipster series have symmetrical left and right views that can be difficult to tell apart until you take into account their alignments to the floor tiles as well. Perhaps I would not find this to be an issue if the game lets everyone interact with everything regardless of an item’s placement. Sad to say, I have noticed the staff members will not bother to interact with any kitchen appliance whose front end is not accessible to them.
It is not a complicated process to store items into your inventory or take them out through the Design Mode, but there is a bug when it comes to the cat food bowls. I have found out the hard way that if I put an empty cat food bowl into the inventory, the cat food bowl’s function will become broken. Even after I take it out, the cat food bowl will remain forever empty and I can never interact with it to fill it up again.
The Cats of Caterwaul Way
Cats are, of course, the main highlight of Cat Cafe Manager. The cat cafe gets so lively with these little cuties, I seriously cannot bring myself to give any of them away. I love hearing their purrs and watching them scramble about the cat cafe, paw at the scratch poles, wrestle with the air, or leap onto the customers’ laps. Moreover, I get to pet them any time!
Similar to the staff members, the adopted cats can level up as you invest Cat Training Points in them. Every cat gains a new Trait with every three level-ups, and while there is a much larger assortment of Traits compared to the ten for staff members, one of the Traits does not seem to work. Being the thrifty type, I was happy to see a cat Trait that grants a 25% furniture discount. But I never did see the promised discount when I visited Gruff Decorations after selecting that particular cat Trait. Another time when I felt cheated by a cat was when I adopted one whose unique Trait is rewarding you with Resources whenever you complete a Cat Shrine project. Sadly, this reward scheme does not work retrospectively; I managed to adopt it only after completing all the Cat Shrine projects and I was rewarded with nothing.
The cats work great, though they are not all without bugs. Notably, at least two of them have missing headshots under the Cats sub-menu and bottom-right banner. Sometimes, after filling up all the cat food bowls that are sufficient for all, a few cats would still have the food bowl icon that screams “Feed me!” over their heads. In a way, I am unsure if that is truly a bug or a faithful simulation of some cats’ behavior.
Visual and Audio Aspects
Cat Cafe Manager’s 2D cartoon art has a wonderful homey feel to it. Its user interface is neat and generally makes good use of visual and audio cues to signal important events. For me, the most attention-grabbing audio cue is the phone ringing sound effect, and I sometimes wish there is an option to turn just that sound off.
All the 15 background music tracks by Sonya Vos are upbeat, energetic, and pretty catchy. I love hearing the chirpy morning music changing into the more laidback evening music. And much to my pleasant surprise, the five Regulars have their own character theme music. Still, I find the times when we get to hear them are regrettably too sparse and short. The Regulars have partial voice-overs as well, and I like how their little greetings, chuckles, grunts, and exclamations can add so much flavor to their individual dialogue texts without being overbearing.
While I have spotted a number of visual bugs, such as the staff member’s Trait icons overflowing out of the box and some typos (most memorably, “peak” for “peek”), I am not too bothered by most of them. The only time a visual bug really bothered me was when a tooltip box got stuck on the screen, covering a chunk of a Regular’s dialogue box for the entire duration. In the end, I could not make out what the conversation was about.
If you love cats and cat cafes, you would likely find there is plenty to gush over in Cat Cafe Manager. Not only is its fail-safe game mechanics friendly for casual players, but the game’s addictive gameplay loop strengthened by the presence of multiple adorable cats would also satisfy cat lovers who enjoy management sims as well. Though the inventory and staff management could be better, I had fun designing and running my cat cafe in Caterwaul Way anyway. With amiable Regulars to meet, a short feel-good story to experience, and cheery music to listen to, Cat Cafe Manager is a fine relaxing game to hop onto after a hectic day.
CAT CAFE MANAGER IS RECOMMENDED
Many thanks go to Freedom Games for a PC review code for this title.
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A person with many hobbies (and even more WIPs), KuroKairin plays, playtests, and reviews PC games. She loves games with good stories that bring her on an emotional and thought-provoking journey. Her favourite genres include otome visual novel, point and click, puzzle, and RPG. Follow her @KuroKairin.