The millennial equivalent to having a mid-life crisis probably looks something like starting up an animal-themed coffeehouse in a nice quaint village. And before I jump into my new life as a cat-café hostess, wouldn’t it be convenient to try out the lifestyle before the harsh realities of operating and maintaining a business with ten various living creatures starts to set in…
Calico is a videogame primarily about running your own idyllic kitty bistro - but you’ll soon find your role in town to be the island’s courier and all-around errand runner!
There were times where the game had me delivering packages and returning messages back and forth between the townsfolk where I all but forgot about my little café on the hill. To the point where I wondered why I wasn’t delivering any of my own cat-themed confectionaries to my customers akin to Kiki’s Delivery Service!
Despite the relentless fetch quests thrown at me whenever I exchanged pleasantries; there is an alluring charm within Calico’s authentic janky quirkiness that’s self-aware in its writing and gameplay.
Whenever I caught even a glimpse of a wild critter, I would instantly drop any and all priorities and barrel towards the hapless creature like a bumbling toddler: arms outstretched, babbling like a baby without restraint.
Picking up any animal will petrify them into a ragdoll mush of limbs, letting out a solitary cry of acceptance knowing that its fate was now to be putty in my meaty humanoid hands. I maybe went a tad too far once I was caught by my colleagues asserting my dominance over a peaceful polar bear family by hoisting the mother over my head as her cubs watched.
Other than spending my time terrorising the local fauna and becoming a boogeyman figure amongst the strays, cooking in the kitchen mini-game served as a delightful respite from being fed up with being the town’s FedEx.
Shrinking down onto your countertop as you rifle through your groceries, and yeeting ingredients into the mixing bowl motivated me to seek out more recipes from my neighbours - just so I could get back into the kitchen and whip up some more adorable treats!
The same could be said with remodeling your coffee shop - however, you’ll need to amass the funds and wait a couple of days in order to pimp out your cattery to your specifications.
For a while, my café was pretty much how you would imagine a crazy cat lady’s place may look like: being an absolute incoherent mess with hardly any food, way too many cats, and even more health and safety code violations. But towards the end of my playthrough, I had turned my animal house into an animal home… with still too many cats, and probably the same amount of health and safety rules broken.
Switching from player to furnishing mode is extremely fluid and intuitive to use; and in retrospect, the whole game ran just as smoothly with absolutely no loading times whatsoever.
There’s a distinct visual style that is partly up to subjective taste, but objectively pretty lackluster. Even though I have a tolerance for pastel palettes, cell-shading, and ghibli-esque quaintness - it may be even too sweet to be everyone’s cup of tea.
Unfortunately, where the eccentricities flourish in the aforementioned writing and gameplay, the graphics lie somewhere between “early access”-core and “beta testing” aesthetics. Altogether making Calico come off less as rustic and chic, but instead cheap and cheerful (with emphasis on feeling cheap).
Pairing that with how all the human characters look eerily related to one another, and their cold vacant stares into the void - the models can be unsettling as they act more like dolls rather than people at times.
But what they lack in facial features and expressions, most of them make up for in their own personal quests via dialogue; most notably so being the half-cat, half-human witch Autumn (who lives in a gorgeous house enclosed in a giant glass potion vial on a hill).
Not only is she one of the more interesting characters visually and narratively, but she also sells potions which act as quasi-cheat codes - allowing you to change the weather, alter your appearance, make any smaller quadruped pets big and mountable, as well as instant teleportation back to your café. Best of all, once you purchase any potion, they’ll never run out!
And her house isn’t the only bit of eye-candy around, as Calico has many great landmarks! Most of which are almost always obstructed by the overbearing environment, rendering you lost a lot of the time. If you aren’t good at remembering faces and names off the top of your head, you’ll be spending a fair chunk of time trying to find the right person; something that is easily avoidable with a simple name tag over their head, or a contact list with their profile accessible.
The traversal speed too can be strange, as the fastest you can be when running or riding your furry friends feels laboriously slow - though cramming a bird onto your bonnet and jumping off a high ledge, gliding around the island is both a hilarious sight and useful too!
Even though I vocalised my grievances, my time at the Calico café wasn’t nearly as bad as I may have made it seem. There's a fantastic little treat underneath the layers of thick, garish icing; of which I wish I could scrape off. Perhaps I'm not exactly the target audience for this game - had I been seven or so years old, I would without a doubt cherish this game as a childhood classic.
Calico (Reviewed on Windows)
Game is enjoyable, outweighing the issues there may be.
Both a tranquil and amusing game that has its moment of natural charm in certain gameplay and narrative elements, but falls short when that charm feels forced. The lack of quality in its visuals and quest lines hinder it from being a great game, but still worth a look for younger audiences.