Developer: Falcon Development
Cattails has been sitting on my Switch wishlist for probably over a year now, and I finally picked it up during a recent sale. Continuing on my recent endeavor to play cozy games comfortably in my bed, I decided to start this one right away. Cattails is a life sim in a world of feuding cat colonies where you must learn to survive and start a new life. Cattails is adorable and addicting, but it combines different game elements that don't always seem to be tied together well and it lacks some work in being optimized for console gaming.
Cattails starts off with a short bit of sad backstory. You, the protagonist, are a cat who was once happily domesticated and lived with a family of humans. One day, they decide to get rid of you and leave you on the side of the road. Lost and alone, you meet a cat named Coco who shows you the basic of how to survive in the wilderness. This serves as a good tutorial to everything you can do in the game. Lastly, Coco has you decide which of three cat colonies you would like to join. I went with the first option, the Forest Colony, since I didn't have too much to base my choice off of. The first hour of Cattails is... pretty tough, and the simple act of surviving is not easy. Your hunger bar goes down fairly fast, cats from other colonies attack you, and even a small river can drag you away and drown you. It definitely makes it clear that you are a housecat and the real would is hard and unforgiving. I struggled so much with hunting at the beginning that I had to turn the difficulty down from Normal to Easy, as I was worried I would starve. I'm not sure how big a difference the mode made, but I did finally get the hang of hunting (and realized I could eat certain plants) so by hour 2 I felt like I could really play now, so I started getting into a really nice rhythm. Once I did, it was hard to stop playing.
Many have described Cattails as Stardew Valley but with cats. As much as this is an accurate description, I would add one big caveat: Stardew Valley with cats and turf wars. It's a strange combination of a relaxing life simulator (I wanted to call it a farming sim but you don't actually do much farming) with an extra layer of diplomacy and strategy on top. Sometimes this strange combination makes for a surprisingly different experiences. You could be peacefully picking berries and enjoying the beautiful environment when suddenly an army of cats is running your way, ready for battle. A few seconds later, you've won the fight, and your comrades who fought alongside you just walk away like nothing happened. I don't particularly mind that this game involves fighting other cats and strategizing expansion, but I would have liked it better if the game addressed it more and tied it in to the story. There's joyous seasonal events where all the cats mingle, and yet there's also endless raging territorial wars between the same cats?!
Knowing it's a pretty small indie title, I was shocked to learn how much is packed into Cattails. you could easily sink 50+ hours into it if you wanted to see every possible outcome and do every objective. I have played for 25+ hours, I'm on year 3, and I've only somewhat recently now gotten to an important part of the game that really changes up everything. I won't spoil it, but, it's definitely worth completing all of the temple challenges. I waited a bit but I finally got married to Missy, the absolutely over-the-top diva cat who for some reason won my heart. I haven't gotten to kittens yet, so that'll be the next thing for me as I continue my playthrough even after this review. At each seasonal festival, you get to play mini-games against the cats, although some of these games are better than others (Pumpkin Carving? Very finicky. Flower frenzy? Good and not stressful.) As part of collecting special items for the Temple (sort of like the Community Center in Stardew Valley), you also need to do puzzles to fully complete each separate requirement. I was surprised to find some of these puzzles were fairly tricky and took some time, including have to start over and re-think my strategy. Finding items for the Temple was a requirement in itself, especially when I didn't know where to find specific bugs or prey. Luckily, there's actually a really well-done and informative Cattails wiki available with plenty of information about all the cats and items in the game. It's also thanks to that wiki that I was able to get Missy to like me.
The pixel art style is somewhat similar to Stardew Valley but with its own charm of a wilder, freer world with no humans around. However, I do wish the art and UI had been better optimized for playing on Switch. The main menu operates like you're supposed to be using a cursor, having to move across the menu to get to your map, items, and everything else, instead of just being able to assign those to certain buttons. You get used to it, but a lot menu interactions could be a lot faster. Also, it often felt difficult to read text and distinguish items from one another when I was playing docked and sitting a couple feet away from my TV. All in all, it's probably a game best played handheld, so if you do that, this one won't be problem. The music in Cattails is not only relaxing, but for the most part it carries a really nice jazzy vibe. My favorite was the definitely the first track that played during Winter. Usually winter in life sim games like this one are the least fun season to play through, but by year 2 I was excited for it due to the environment art and the music.
Cattails is an experience in the life of a wild cat, full of surprises. It seems to have a dedicated community of fans and clearly had a lot of support during it's Kickstarter, shown by how many custom colors/skins were available for specific backers. It's easy to get sucked in to it and explore, hunt, fight, mingle, raise a family, and more. It starts out with a little bit of a steep climb to get used to it, but it feels satisfying to learn to be a cat in this world. I'll likely keep playing as there's much left for me to do. If you're fan of peaceful life sims, I still recommend Cattails - just go in knowing that there's also a good bit of fighting and cat politics additional to what you may know about this genre.
Note: Okay, so I've never actually read the Warrior Cats book series, but I'm fairly sure Cattails was inspired by those books. I had a friend explain them to me enough to learn about the cat clans, cat political drama, cat diplomacy, and cat titles. If you're a fan of those books at all, this is definitely the game for you.
Cattails is available on PC and Nintendo Switch.
Played on: Switch
Last Played: 11/17/2020
Playtime: 25 hrs