Cattails is a charming exploration game full of cute pixel cats and winsome personality! Many describe it as “Stardew Valley but with cats” and I would agree to a certain extent– mainly in the environmental design, the sacred temple (similar to the community center), and the wake-sleep, daily gameplay loop. Though a bit rough around the edges with room to grow, I found the game entirely enjoyable and addictive.
If you are someone who ever read the Warriors young adults novels by Erin Hunter in your teens, this game is for you! (It’s also for any cat or animal lovers in general.) Warriors was about four rival clans of cats living in the wilderness just outside the edge of human suburbia, each with their own speciality and hailing from different terrain and biomes (Forest, Marsh, Highland, Riverside). The main character is a house cat who is lured by the call of the wild and joins one of these feral clans, then slowly learn to survive in the wild and makes a name for himself.
In Cattails there are three wild colonies (Forest, Marsh, Highland), eventually four, and you play a house cat introduced to the wild who joins one of the colonies. The cats in Warriors have godlike entities called “Starclan”, their ancestor cats made of starlight that live in the night sky. In Cattails, the Forest Guardian you are tasked with restoring seems to be inspired by this. Cattails is the game Warriors fans wished had been around when they were younger. In fact the developer had made a browser game previously for Warriors.
Pixels and Characters
Cattails’ map sprites for both prey and cats are super cute, and so are the cat’s individual close up portraits! The map overall could use an extra detail and shading pass, as it appears a bit flat in places. There are a broad variety of cat pelt colors to choose, available from different vendors and festivals. You can tell which colony cats may have been designed by Kickstarter backers from their unique dialogue and appearances, some sporting unnatural colors. You can increase friendship/affinity with cats in your colony and in other colonies with gift giving to unlock new dialogue and interactions, though it is nothing nearly as complex as the friendship/romance cutscenes in Stardew.
Stardew Valley Parallels
Hunting and foraging takes the place of farming as your main form of sustenance and currency-earning in Cattails. You have to spot prey and sneak up, but not too close, hitting the pounce button at just the right time without scaring off your prey. Different prey is found in different areas based on the seasons. Instead of one town like in Stardew, there are three rival cat colonies, and you will eventually be able to found your own as the fourth. Interaction with other cats in the world is more limited than the Stardew Valley villagers with notable amounts of repeated dialogue. Each season is 10 days, with a festival on the last day of each season that features a cute mini game and seasonal cosmetics to purchase. Seeing all the colonies together at the festivals is heartwarming.
The only real direction you are given, aside from the daily colony noticeboard task, is to restore the Forest Guardian via completing quests found within the temple at the center of the map. These quests are similar to the community center bundles. When completed, a challenge is unlocked somewhere on the map to complete, one puzzle associated with each quest. When finished, you gain the ability to create, lead, and customize your own colony. This is the most interesting part of the game and it is a shame that there is little left to do after decorating and populating your colony.
I actually consider it somewhat unfair to compare Cattails with Stardew considering Stardew has had many more years for improvements and polish to be added, while Cattails released less than 2 years ago on PC and about half a year ago on Switch.
Exploration and Travel
A non-skill based fast walk or run function is sorely missed in Cattails. The Cattails map is surprisingly large with hidden, secret unlockable bonuses to discover, which was nice at first but soon began to feel tedious considering how slowly your character travels at default walking speed. You can only dash once every 30 seconds by using Sprint in one of your four ability slots. Due to the inability to cover ground quickly, it is borderline mandatory to use the “Teleport Home” skill in another ability slot to essentially double one’s daily exploration window.
Without this you have to account for the time is takes to walk across the map back to your den from where ever you have been that day. You can speed up your walking with a certain herb and by being well fed, but that herb is only found in specific seasons and you have to go into your inventory to use a new one every minute or so. The game encourages freedom of exploration in its broader design philosophy, then unintentionally limits the player due to these oversights.
Player Skills and Combat
Speaking of skills, there are quite a few to purchase with experience points and play around with. But again, you are limited by the must-use travel utility skills mentioned above. There are tiered passive skills to improve for your cat: Hunting, Fighting, Swimming, and Foraging. Increasing points in most of these make a noticeable impact per point the moment you upgrade them.
Combat is simple and straightforward. You claw at each other until one of your goes down first. There are a few combat abilities you can equip and your Fighting passive skill makes you hit harder and faster. I found myself wishing there were more variety of enemies to fight on the overworld rather than just the other clans. Perhaps the occasional stray dog, passing fox, a hawk or owl going after your prey, etc.
Customization and Romance
In Cattails there are various outfits, accessories, and even pet bugs you can deck out your cat with with. You can expand and customize your den with a handful of obtainable items as well, with the options to add storage, a small growing area for herbs, and a nursery.
That’s right, in Cattails you can have kittens, up to four! After maxing friendship with a marriageable cat, you can court them, marry them and have kittens that are a blend of the parent’s colors, each with their own personalities. The player character’s cat does not have an assigned gender and it is assumed to be the opposite gender of whatever cat you choose to romance, for the sake of breeding. Your partner cat will follow you if you move colonies or found your own.
Creating your own colony is pretty neat! You can choose the types of structures to set up, the style of buildings, and new cats move into them for you to befriend, attracted by the protection of a colony. You can direct the location of daily battles by talking to your guard cat and work on growing your own territory, while you raise your kittens with your chosen partner.
Cattails is a very chill, slow paced game meant for cat and animal lovers. It’s easy to play and enjoy while multitasking other media. If lack of direction or story in a game tends to dissuade you from playing it, Cattails may not be for you. The bulk of the gameplay loop involves exploring and hunting. It’s fun, addictive, and the flaws did not prevent me from thoroughly enjoying it. The only part that truly, negatively affected the gameplay experience for me was the slow walking speed of the player character in contrast with the large map.
Overall I’d give Cattails a 7.5/10. The time and money I’ve put towards the game was not misspent. The Cattails experience is pleasantly simplistic and wholesome, with a lot of love behind its design.
Thank you for reading!
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