Released On: December 1, 2017 Genre: RPG Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Falcon Development Studio Publisher: Falcon Development
I can’t begin to tell you how long I’ve waited for a moment like this. The chance to live out my feline catspirations in a game dedicated to letting me become a cat. It’s honestly surprising to me that we haven’t seen more video game incursions into the lives of our furry little friends, so I was more than delighted at a chance to sink my fangs into a new project by a small, new indie developer Falcon Development. I’m going to apawlogize in advance for the purrvasive cat puns.
Enter Cattails, an adorable top-down RPG that invites you to test your mettle as a kitty in a variety of situations from your most basic necessities of hunting and foraging for important cat-supplies, to the more political aspects of cat-life; namely defending your territory against would-be attackers and prowling about the map to stake your own territory. Have I mentioned yet how absolutely stoked I am that this game even exists?
Gameplay in Cattails is fairly straightforward, and luckily for this console gamer they have wonderfully integrated gamepad support. Your core objective in the game is to survive. While the game may not explicitly state that, since you have a constantly depleting hunger bar and can be attacked by roving bands of bandit-cats at any point, this needs to be cat-priority number one. The game actually doesn’t explicitly state many things through a formal tutorial past the core gameplay mechanics, and leaves you to wander around the map and make discoveries for yourself. While in some instances I would have found this to be annoying — it’s nice to start out the game with some semblance of direction — previous dialogue had been littered with hints about where I needed to go.
You begin the game by meeting Coco, an oddly kind and receptive cat who is willing to show you the ropes after you are suddenly thrown out on your furry butt by your former owners, and the only cat who doesn’t belong to a faction of some sort. Thus begins the life of the wild cat — Siren in my case, named after my own adorable cat — and Coco is kind enough to explain the regional warring cat-factions to you and walk you through how to hunt animals. After this though you must choose a colony to join and learn how to fend for yourself in the wilderness with fairly little guidance. After meeting Coco again at the Sacred Temple you learn what the true goal of the game is: to collect items to appease glowing pillars to hopefully return the Forest Guardian who has disappeared from the forest and left it in disarray. Maybe it’s just me, but maybe it’s the warring cat-factions which have set the world off-kilter? Purrhaps not.
Collecting these items, and balancing the collection of these items with the food that you need to hunt will be your toughest balancing act in the game. There were numerous instances when I had one of the items that I needed to give to a pillar, but if I gave up the morsel of food I was surely to starve before I’d find something else. You can also buy food and other various items — including permanent power-ups — from several stores in the game, but collecting the currency to use these can be more time-consuming than hunting the food itself, so it’s an option that’s best saved for dire circumstances.
You could almost call Cattails a survival RPG at its core; if you’re not consistently foraging for food, you’re likely to end up losing one of your nine lives sooner than later. And hunting does not come naturally to this newly wild cat. You hold down one key [or left trigger] to start sneaking, and once a small blue circle fills beside your target you can try to pounce and instantly kill them. The only problem is, you have to judge the right distance to land a coup-de-grace without alerting your target and having them scurry off. If you don’t time your jump purrfectly, you’ll liable to end up going hungry more often than not. You can chase after your prey if you miss them, but even with the Sprint skill it’s hard to catch them.
Luckily there are four main Passive skills — hunting, foraging, fighting, and fishing — each of which help you to better come to grips with your new cat life. You gain XP through completing almost any action — including sleeping of course — and upgrading these skills allows you to passively function better at each of the related actions. For example, upgrading your Hunting skill allows you to get closer to prey before they spook and jump further when you pounce, and upgrading your swimming skill stops you from being swept away from the current and drowning, which happened to me on several occasions before I smartened up.
The world is populated by a wealth of plants and animals, which change slightly along with the seasons. From my experience there seem to be a number of plants [like berries] or animals [like mice] which exist throughout the season’s change, and mean there is always a reliable source of food around The other flora and fauna which are harder to find tend to be the ones which to be necessary for completing the pillar’s hunting lists. I especially had a hard time finding one specific bug and a handful of underwater creatures, which I eventually obtained through some fairly tedious exploration.
My perhaps one real issue with the flow of Cattails— and it’s not a big one — is that it’s hard to determine where some of the wildlife will spawn that you need to gather for the pillar quests. You can purchase a few of these at the seasonal Festivals or through the Mole Money/faction shops if you are lucky, but for the most part you need to track them down in the wilderness. In most of these cases though it just was a matter of me needing to explore a different area of the map, or wait for the season to change to bring about a different type of plant or animal. The latter took a fair amount of time, but it’s part of the enjoyment of these games; it would have been no fun if Cattails made it obvious where all the necessary items were. It just took some time.
As was mentioned earlier there are three colonies/factions in the game: The Forest, Mountain, and Mystic Colony. Each of these groups is populated with a diverse group of feline characters, but once you make a decision it will be very hard to interact with some of the other factions without warring. If you manage to make it to a colony’s front gate you can give gifts to the guard to win over the colony’s friendship, but this doesn’t mean they will go easy on you when it comes to the next turf war. It just grants access to the colony’s amenities such as their shop and healer, as well as the ability to chat with the cats in town.
You’ll notice in the map that each faction is represented by a colour, and depending on how the daily battles between the cat colonies goes, you can expand your borders — as my Leader Leo is constantly wanting to talk about — or lose ground to opposing forces. These battles tend to spring up randomly along the edge of your region, and can be won or loss depending on your efforts to intervene and your fighting power or Active skills. Much like hunting, you fight cats and other would-be enemies by pressing the left mouse key [or right trigger in my case] and try to get as many hits in as possible.
There are a number of Active skills which you can purchase as well to help your chances of survival out in the wild. Some of the skills allow you to unleash devastating attacks on enemy cats, while others provide support functions like the ability to study your prey or heal nearby allies. They cost 100 XP each to unlock which can take some time to accrue, but it’s worth it to hold off on upgrading passive skills to unlock some of these abilities. Being able to tell my prey’s cone of detection, or finishing off an enemy cat with one fell swoop during regional contests definitely helped to turn the tide in my favor and make me feel like the alpha cat.
It’s hard to talk about Cattails without drawing some reference to Stardew Valley, which has clearly provided some inspiration for the game. That being said, it would be a great disservice to both games to write-off Cattails as simply Catdew Valley. While similarities exist not just visually, but in how you interact with your fellow cats and the overall objectives of gathering the items to appease the glowing pillars, there is a charm to Cattails that is all its own. The cat characters each have quirky cat personalities, and it was fun to write-off a particular comment as a “jerk move” only to realize moments later that it was a perfectly normal cat thing to do. Mechanically speaking, the faction warring system, skill growth, and prowling to food are all systems that are very uniquely Cattails and serve to advance the genre on the whole. That being said, it’s hard not to envision Stardew as you’re making your way down a mine shaft, clawing away at rocks to try to get precious gems for the mole-men.
In a similar respect as well, Cattails has seasonal festivals which are the only times each month that the cats from each colony come together to play nice. During these festivals you have the chance to participate in the cat games, and to earn special Festival Tokens which can be spent of food and power-ups which will increase your health or inventory capacity. These festivals also give you a chance to freely chat with the other factions, although you can’t give them gifts or improve your relationships. It’s pure caterwauling time. You can also court other cats after you have taken the time to give them gifts and win over their favor. Unsurprisingly, the cats are very discerning in who they choose to cuddle with.
The game isn’t without some minor issues, but it functions fluidly without any real problems. My biggest complaint is that there doesn’t appear to be anyway to open the map with the controller, so I had to use the keyboard anytime I wanted to check my location or find out where the nearest cat brawl was occurring. Other than that, I ran into no problems during my 30 or so hours with the game, and look forward to the addition of new implementations in 2018 by Falcon Development; namely the ability to create your own cat colony after beating the main campaign.
I also have to admire the husband and wife team that makes up Falcon Development. It’s truly heartening to see a team like this on the independent developer circuit, and Cattails was born out of a successful Kickstarter campaign which concluded in May 2017, reaching ten times their donation goal. It speaks volumes to the quality of their work not just in how genuinely entertaining Cattails is, but that there are next to no issues with the game. The duo released a number of unlockable skins and cat-pets — your cat can have a small pet mouse or bug — from their Stretch Goals, and are continuing to support the game post-launch through additional updates with new gameplay features. I’m looking forward to following the post-launch development, and continuing to stretch my paws in the wilderness.
Cattails is just fun. Period. While there can be moments of difficulty as you try to ensure you don’t die of starvation or track down the last of a pillar item, wandering around and hunting and making friends as a cat is just pure entertainment. I can’t recommend this game enough to cat-lovers, and fans of similarly styled strategy games — or even hunting/survival games — are likely to find something here to scratch their itch. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with a cozy bed of straw and my new pet dragonfly.
Final Score: 8.5/10
While deceptively simple on the surface, Cattails is a warm and engaging game that provides a mixture of joyful fun and tense survival.
The review copy of this game was a digital code provided by the publisher.