Developer Peachy Keen Games, along with publishers Whitehorn Digital and Maple Whispering Limited, present Calico for review. They hope players seeking a feline-filled magical chill session pop by their island to run a cat café. Get into a sunny groove with the music, seek out a few furry friends and festive folks frolicking freely, and attract more customers by finding out what they enjoy while decorating the cat café to everyone’s satisfaction.
Calico is a single-player game that mixes light business management simulation with similarly light exploration. There is no assigned avatar, and the player creates their own model plus cat café details upon starting the game. The player may progress as they wish either by fulfilling requests of the populace to open up new areas of the island, or creating new goods to sell while turning those profits into remodeling currency. Through careful search and listening to the environment, multiple animals – not just cats – may be added to the café as an attraction or to the player’s party. Eventual upgrades allow the player to decorate their treats or enlarge friendly animals as a mount.
I want to love Calico so badly. It creates the kind of sunny, aesthetically robust, and overall cheery vibe that’s been lacking in our recent despair-soaked times. And – dear reader – I am not made of stone. When the watercolor-esque landscape came into view and I heard, “Every day is something new,” gently unroll on the soundtrack I felt giddy.
So many little things in Calico continued to elicit the same initial giddy reaction. I went to make a few treats for my shop when *ZAP* I’m suddenly Smurf-sized and throwing ingredients into the pan for creation. A crow was bouncing by so I picked them up to make friends and *WHOOSH* I suddenly have a hilariously attached wings akimbo makeshift hat thanks to my feathered friend. One quest required a gigantic feline to break through a barrier, so I obtain a potion then *POOF* I am riding a cat this is the best feeling ever.
Those elated hits were temporary. For every moment of giddiness there came the gloomy realization that a game built around that giddiness is not enjoyable, and what bits of game there is continues to be deeply bugged. Throwing ingredients as a tiny magical girl loses its luster after grabbing the same bag of sugar from the same spot multiple times. The ability to befriend and hold ragdoll pets is initially a delight. But, then the limbs twist too far and my avatar plus animal have fused into a disjointed shape that’s more abstract art than cuddly pair. NPCs don’t respond to me despite my previous action, so they’ll wonder where a specific animal is even though I’m holding or wearing it on my head. Then a general boredom sets in when I realize there’s not much to do, so I’m circling the island yet again waiting for the NPCs to do their business so I might have more money to buy items then wait even more.
It’s a dull gameplay loop which, once I got accustomed to, also left time to feel out the glitches. One month on since I first played it and Calico still wonks out graphically with limbs, pets, people, and all manner of items clipping through its own existence. One colossal kitty clipped in and out of a log so badly that it comes close to warranting its own seizure warning. Dialogue options are duplicated in multiple conversations, and it got to the point where it felt creepy that my avatar’s insistence on this solitary expression was needed to be listed repeatedly.
For each bit of Calico‘s appeal, there continued to be glitches or gameplay redundancies such as those. The two exceptions are the previously mentioned music and the character creation. It’s lovingly nonbinary, recognizing that humans exist in way more varied shapes than video games portray, and I ended up looking like the cutest straight-haired chubby angel in town. However – dressing your character and getting the clothing edit system to work properly? That’s still buggy and, even with my stubbornness, lost patience making chubby angel me color-coordinated.
For the first time writing video game reviews, I waited almost a month on patches to what was released as a 1.0 product hoping for positive change. That's how badly I wanted to love Calico, and how those brief joyful moments are now tinged with disappointment. There's promise in this island and its magical denizens, but it's gonna need far more polish and sustenance to satisfy as more than a one-time snack.
- Soft watercolor-esque visuals and sunny music create an initial warm invitation to play.
- Character creator embraces the variety of humans in existence and is uniquely nonbinary in construction.
- Glitches in abundance from the world falling in on itself, grotesque limb contortion, or repeated dialogue options.
- Beyond the glitches, there's not much to do in Calico and the breadth of the experience maxes out early on.
Prognosis is Fair