Cattails Review: Smash Scratch Fever
Kalvin Martinez / Dec 19th, 2018 No Comments
Everybody wants to be a cat. That is as true a statement today than when it was originally said by a bunch of stray jazz cats, perhaps more so now, honestly. However, what would it actually be like to be a stray cat?
Cattails does an admirable job of letting players experience what it is like to be a stray cat making it within a complex society of other stray cats, but the results are a mixed bag.
Find Your Way
Cattails is the story of a cat that has to learn to exist in a new world after being abandoned on the side of a road by its former owner, a precious little girl. She had this cat since it was a kitten, but following an incident at home, her mom forced her to give the cat up. Alone and scared in the wilderness, you wonder what’s going to happen to this cat.
Fortunately, the wilderness is full of other stray, abandoned cats who have banded together to form societies. Life won’t be easy, but this cat will survive … well, if it can learn to hunt, fight and forage.
There’s no longer a sweet little girl to dote over and feed the cat. To fill its tummy, it will need to learn to pounce on prey and find edible plants and berries. It will also need to navigate the complex structure of cat societies, including helping in disputes over turf.
Cattails creates an emotional response from the start. Being abandoned and left to fend for yourself is a convincing reason to buy into the rest of the story. To be clear, the story isn’t solely about survival, but that is a major component. You will also experience warring factions of cats, helping out the moles in underground mines, re-awakening a forest guardian’s totems, and building a life with a wife and children.
While there are a lot of fascinating story elements, to interact with them involves a lot of work that feels like a chore.
The coolest part of the story involves the temple in the middle of the map where you need to activate the forest spirit’s totems. To move forward, you need to hunt and forage for a lot of animals, plants and shells. This is a problem since the gameplay is the game’s biggest drawback.
Hunt, Fight, Forage and Love
Going from domesticity to having to provide for yourself is a major change. During your first night in the wilderness, Coco gives you the low down on how to survive outside a home. Coco lets you know that you need to toughen up and learn how to hunt and forage because you’ll starve if you don’t. He also tells you to find a place to live because the elements are just as dangerous as starving.
Luckily, there are three societies of cats that are willing to take in new citizens. At the beginning of the game, you’ll find a new home within the forest settlement. Naturally, these cat societies don’t get along. They are constantly clashing over turf and resources.
Coco informs you that you’ll also have to learn how to fight if you want to survive. This forms the bulk of the gameplay for Cattails. You’ll roam around the map looking for prey to stalk, hunt and eat while keeping an eye out for berries and other plants to either eat or sell. You have to eat constantly to keep yourself from starving. Starvation mode is indicated by the hunger gauge and has dire consequences.
Occasionally, you’ll come across hostile cats either by themselves or fighting in a group against other cats from your settlement. Whether you fight or run is up to you, but avoiding a fight you can’t win is a good idea. Dying isn’t a joke. While it isn’t necessarily the end for you, you will lose anything you’ve gathered in terms of food or resources.
Besides the basic survival activities, you can help the moles out by smashing rocks in their underground mines for precious minerals. This allows you to go through a grueling dungeon-style set of floors where you’ll have to smash rocks to find minerals and get to the stairs to the next floor. Mines become a grueling gauntlet of survival. You’ll starve if you don’t bring enough food with you, and smashing rocks takes a huge toll on your hunger level.
Mechnically, these elements are sound. When you get in a fight, your button presses are responsive and there is a minor level of strategy to fights. The same goes for hunting. You’ll do what you want when you perform your button inputs. The only problem is they just aren’t that fun. Fights look chaotic on screen, but they don’t feel visceral or immediate. It feels like you’re mashing the attack button until you either win or lose.
The drawback with hunting is that it is very tedious. While it simulates the methodical act of hunting prey, it gets boring after awhile. Since you spend so much time hunting in the game, a huge portion of gameplay feels dull. The worst part of hunting is that you need to hunt all types of animals in order to interact with the ruins in the game.
In the ruins, you’re tasked with activating the pillars inside, but to do so, you need to hunt or forage for a specific number of resources. After gathering and hunting the proper amount of resources, you can offer them up to the pillars. Doing so activates the pillar, opening up a bunker somewhere on the map. Traveling to this bunker and solving the puzzle allows you to find a way to get close to the secret of the temple.
There is a lot to like about Cattails, but it has issues. The story is wildly intriguing, but the writing is bland. What is worse is in order to experience the more exciting aspects of the story you need to dig deep into the gameplay, which is the weakest part of the game.
Gameplay shows promise with its RPG elements, the ability to create a Sims-like life with a family, house decorating, and mystical elements. However, the majority of the gameplay feels like work rather than a treat.
Cattails has a ton of cool elements to it, but they never gel together to create a compelling experience.
Cattails was reviewed on Nintendo Switch with a code provided by the developer.
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