Cat Cafe Manager Review: Meow We’re In Business

Few games are as informative in name as Cat Cafe Manager. Just reading it, you likely have a good idea as to whether or not it’s something you’d enjoy. The combination of a cat adoption game and a restaurant sim is enough to make coziness-seeking gamers jump in without inspecting any further. And while Cat Cafe Manager is definitely a cozy experience, it also has its faults, and the hands-off direction of it all can lend itself to both fun and frustration at different times.

The setup is a familiar one. You’re new to town and have been given a plot of land. Naturally, you do what any sensible landowner would do: begin to build a small business that combines two of humanity’s greatest idols: brunch and cats. Immediately upon setting off to build the cafe of your dreams, the bubbly music and adorable 2D art direction provide the lax vibes you might expect from a game like this.

But just as soon, Cat Cafe inundates you with messy, text-only tutorials. It’s a heap of information dumped at your lap, which may be a rough opening for any player, but especially the younger or less-experienced crowd such a game may attract. Still, once the busy UI has been deciphered, the game’s economy is actually well-designed, demanding you cater your cafe to different clientele to serve different needs.

For example, if you need more building supplies to expand the square footage of your cafe, you need to advertise to the town’s punks and ensure you’re serving their favorite dishes and drinks for maximum satisfaction. If instead it’s ingredients and recipes you need, you’ll want to get witches to visit. There are six customer types in all, and each has their own currency, as well as their own wants and needs in order to have a lovely time in your cafe.

This business-side consideration smartly extends into several aspects of the game. You’ll need more than just the right selection of items for the right customers. You’ll also need to adopt and train the right stray cats to cuddle up on customers’ laps, befriend particular locals, and hire and train the right staff to ensure they can cook well, serve quickly, and, yes, even clean up cat pee.

In between business days, you’ll start new projects–skills, really–such as gaining more staff or chair slots, restock on food supplies and cat toys, and further enhance your cafe with more stylish wallpaper, prettier plants, and snazzier tables and chairs. Eventually, your once-modest cafe will toss out the mismatched decor in favor of a consistent theme such as a bewitching bistro, a hipster hangout, or a straight-up dive bar.

Collectively, all of these considerations pour into an overall cafe rating, and each day you’ll receive customer ratings from every single person who patronizes your store. It’s a lovely in-game economy that guarantees there’s always something to do, at least for the first dozen or so hours.

It’s just too bad none of it really matters. You see, that cafe rating has little effect on anything. Your mismatched dining sets may bring down your overall rating, and a witch who was denied her beloved pretzel may mean she didn’t have a great time, but Lemonade Stand this is not. Nothing is of any real consequence in Cat Cafe Manager.

During my time with the game, my almost three-year-old daughter became obsessed with it, so in times when I wasn’t playing, I’d let her mess around. Naturally, this meant some menu items weren’t restocked and some customers left unhappy. Certainly even some of that aforementioned cat pee went unmopped, I’m sorry to say. But when I’d take the game back for myself, I’d find I was nonetheless rich in its many currencies and resources. Because your hired staff behave autonomously, the game essentially plays itself once you bring in some coworkers a few hours in. Sure, the coffee machine may break down, but customers always settle for a backup order, even if it’s simply a glass of water in the most dire of cases.

In this way, the game’s laissez-faire design is a bit too hands-off, revealing this isn’t so much a proper restaurant simulation, but rather set dressing for an admittedly adorable game about cats and coffee. There’s no way to fail and no way even to really succeed at any notable level, as the number of customers you serve in a day comes down solely to the number of chairs you can purchase and place in your cafe.

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