REVIEW: ‘Calico’ Is Magical Cat Cafe Life (Xbox One)

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Calico - But Why Tho?

Calico is a slice-of-life cat cafe simulator developed by Peachy Keen Games and published by Whitethorn Digital. After your aunt retires from the cat cafe-owning life to travel the world, you inherent the joint and are tasked with rebuilding it so that your new friends and neighbors have a spot to enjoy light food and beverage in the presence of cuddly animals.

As a self-described slice-of-life game, the plot and gameplay are nice and simple. You are tested with quests around the magical island meeting its residents, discovering their relationships, their likes, their dislikes, and asking if they need help. The dialogue imbues personality into everyone, including yourself. I particularly loved the responses I gave, whether forced into a single choice or given several, because unlike most video games where you give stoic, placid responses to emotional moments, everything my character said was a fully-realized and characterized response.

As you run around the island completing tasks for folks, attempting to clear the mysterious blockages that separate the various regions, it may feel a bit empty. The space between inhabited areas has little going on besides gorgeous scenery, which is fine in a slow-paced game, except that I was constantly getting turned around by the lack of directional arrow on the game’s map. While making your way around though, be on the lookout for stray animals. Every single one, from a cat to a bear to a raven can become your friend.

There is a great number of diverse and adorable animals lurking around the map for you to pick up, hug, and ask to either join you at your cafe, follow you around, or roam free but be cataloged in your journal. Many quests are tied to finding certain animals, so remembering where you met each one becomes important, as your journal does not include this information and you can only have five animals in your party and ten at your cafe at a time. I loved roaming around with a cat, a dog, a raven, a polar bear, and an arctic fox in tow. Also, when you “store” an animal to take them to somebody else, you put them on your head. And it’s the cutest thing ever.

Calico is just the greatest to look at and listen to. It’s nothing fancy, but the art style is fluffy and magical, filled with bright colors that look hand-painted. The character and animal models are a tad polygonal, but for a small kickstarted game, the outfits that you can adorn and hats for your animal friends more than make up for it aesthetically. And while the soundtrack by Slide20XX that loops in the background can get repetitive after a while, just when it does, a lyrical version of the main theme kicks in and makes me stop everything I’m doing to listen. It’s a simple, lovely song about friendship and I want to listen to it on repeat. The soundtrack, and clearly the whole game, are inspired in-part by Steven Universe and you know what? Thank goodness, because it is the perfect vibe for this game.

The sim aspect of Calico comes from your cat cafe. As you play, you’ll learn new recipes to prepare through a simple mini-game and sell to the island’s denizens for some cash you can spend on outfits, animal toys, and furniture for the cafe. The outfits are just fun for you while the toys just trigger cute animations for the animals. However, the furniture, which you can arrange rather freely inside your cafe, will be necessary for attracting customers and making sales. Certain folks, like the rest of us, prefer a certain aesthetic, so each furniture item is part of one of several sets, such as “rad,” cute,” or “flower.” Placing certain items in your cafe will appeal to certain customers.

It’s satisfying watching the folks you meet and become friends with come by your cafe and sit and talk. Describing Calico as a slice of life game over any other type is perfect because it is the sort of game where I will certainly not play it for hours straight, but I will absolutely hop in for a break once a day or so to bask in its sweet charm, complete a few tasks, and pet a couple of cats. It’s slow-paced, and while the movement from place to place is slow—even when you have discovered the magic potion to embiggen pets and ride them—it’s nice to just take it slowly.

The game is a touch clunky with some sometimes awkward movement and furniture placing, but it’s never really a hindrance and the first of several bug-fixing patches has already been implemented at the time of writing, only a day after the game’s release.

One of Calico’s shining components is its dedication to bodily autonomy. The character creator does not ask you to select a gender and the game never refers to you by any pronouns. You simply use sliders to decide what shape you would like your body to have, specifically around the chest, stomach, and legs. This game allows you to make realistically fat bodies, as opposed to the caricatures of fatness most games often feel like, and the way its sliders are designed and labeled feel like they are embracing and loving of all bodies. This is furthered by the fact that a lot of the game’s characters, including the ones on the cover, are fat and every single one of them is their own unique, adorable, realized person.

Every NPC’s pronouns are also shown in your journal to make sure you refer to them how they would like. This is a game blessed with people of all self-identities, so it seems natural it would include this small feature, but you know what, it makes me really wish more games would start including pronouns in their flavor text or even subtitles.

Calico is nothing grand or over the top, but that’s the point. This small, quaint game is filled with lovely people and adorable animals for you to pet, collect, and ride as you resolve simple tasks and sell cute pastries in a beautiful little world.

Calico is available now on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, Xbox One, macOS.

Calico
  • 8/10
    Rating - 8/10
8/10

TL;DR

Calico is nothing grand or over the top, but that’s the point. This small, quaint game is filled with lovely people and adorable animals for you to pet, collect, and ride as you resolve simple tasks and sell cute pastries in a beautiful little world.