Cat Cafe Manager is an utterly magical experience. Having followed it from way back when Roost Games announced it in 2020 and reading the dev blogs diligently ever since, I was utterly smitten with this kitten-themed sim from the very beginning, and I’m glad to say, I certainly haven’t been disappointed.
Similar to Stardew Valley, you start out as a city slicker heading out to the countryside to start a new life, but, instead of a farm, you’re refurbishing your Grandma Nain’s old cat cafe. However, when you first arrive at Cataurwal, there’s nothing but an empty field – no building in sight. That’s when you first meet a clumsy old fisherman named Bonner, all ‘chafed knuckles and smiling eyes’, and your journey begins.
The game is utterly charming from the moment you open the menu. You’re greeted by a serene scene depicting a tabby cat sat in a window, its tail swinging as a hot cup of coffee steams away in the foreground. This could easily be mistaken for any lo-fi chill beats YouTube stream, perfectly translating exactly what kind of relaxing experience you’re in for. Even the loading bar flashes charming text like ‘spinning yarn’ and ‘gathering magic toads’ as you wait, adding even more personality in the simplest ways.
This adorable attention to detail and dedication to chill vibes is present through the entire game. As you build up your business, collect more cats, and greet new customers, it’s entirely up to you how seriously you take it. There’s enough depth to the mechanics to treat this as a thoughtful business sim, but, as the dev blogs highlight, Roost Games worked extremely hard trying to balance engaging gameplay with a relaxing atmosphere, and that’s truly evident in every cute and cosy little corner of the game.
The story is simple but utterly adorable, with a cast of wonderful, unique characters. While Bonner is easily my favourite, I personally find every one of them radiates their own charm – from the grumpy punk with a secret soft spot for cooking, to the bright, optimistic witch who’s experiencing some family troubles at the moment. Each character has their individual struggles and interests, and as they continue to visit your cafe you build up friendships with them, helping them make decisions and receiving gifts of adorable furniture and new special cat lures from them in return.
The character dialogue is fun, cute, and at times touching, and the interwoven tales of the people of Caterwaul truly makes the world of Cat Cafe Manager feel alive, even if it’s a little simplistic at times. Plus, their designs are wonderful – in fact, every illustration in this game is adorable, radiating wholesome, Steven Universe meets Studio Ghibli vibes. I love every one of the characters and cats and will protect them with my life.
Now, enough of my gushing about characters and vibes – what’s the gameplay like? Well, if you ask me, it’s utterly delightful. There are three main areas to the game – the site of your cafe, the town where you can visit different shops like Gruff Decorations and the Pet Emporium to purchase items for your business and pets, and the mysterious shrine (more about that later). The areas are small and simple, but they’re beautifully drawn and very easy to navigate.
The bulk of the gameplay has you moving around your cafe, serving and chatting to customers, fixing your utilities, cleaning up spills, and generally maintaining your business. As you gain more resources, you can expand your cafe and add new furniture, all of which can be done on the fly through the build mode. The build mode is intuitive and easy to use, though it can feel a little clunky at times, and I did find a few bugs now and then when placing objects around characters and staff during the day.
There’s a huge range of furniture, flooring, walls, and utilities to choose from which you unlock over time, and everything is placeable on a top-down/isometric snap-grid that helps you align your objects with ease. While you’re quite limited by resources and options at the beginning, that only makes it all the more satisfying to unlock new items and see your cafe evolve into something that truly suits your tastes.
When it comes to cats, you start off by picking one of three options, but, as you progress, you can put out a variety of lures to pull in strays, then go out and pet them to win their trust. Over time, you unlock more lures, including unique ones used to pull in rare and unusual, cat-shaped creatures. Every time I get my paws on a new type of lure, I’m overcome with excitement to see what cute little critter will show up on my doorstep next.
While there’s a number limit on how many cats you can own at a time, that means you shouldn’t always adopt every cat that wanders past and max out your capacity straight away – I fell into that trap in my first playthrough and soon learnt the folly of my ways. Instead, you should think of adopting each cat as you would a real one – ensuring your cafe has enough litter boxes, food, and toys to keep them happy before you bring them in (or at the very least, making sure you have enough resources to buy these items as soon as the kitty arrives) otherwise, you’ll be met by a lot of zoomy kitties causing havoc, yelling about food, and leaving little messes all over the floor.
Also, keep in mind that there are always ads on the community board in town looking for kitties, so should you pick up too many fuzz balls or find another kitten in the streets in need of rescuing, you can find furever homes for your existing friends and bring joy to the people of Caterwaul in exchange for even more resources.
Instead of one standard universal currency in the game, different types of customers pay with different types of resources, including wood, gems, cloth, fish, and more. If there’s something specific you need, you can use the advertisement feature in your menu to narrow down which type of customers you want to attract. For example, if you want to expand the size of your cafe you need wood, a resource provided by punks. Therefore, you need to make sure you advertise to punks using the board, and make sure you have plenty of food, furnishings, and cats that appeal to them.
Though I’m telling you now, never stop advertising to witches. The nectar they pay you is needed to purchase recipes and ingredients, and is easily the most useful resource in the game – and with ingredients being so expensive, you often find yourself running out. Managing all these different resources can feel a little overwhelming at first, but it adds a tangible sense of depth and challenge to the game. I often find myself trying to work out how to balance resources in order to keep my cupboards stocked, my customers happy, and my cats’ tummies full, which keeps me entertained for hours.
As well as enjoying your time customising your cafe, managing your resources, and spending time with your cats, one of your main goals is to delight your customers. Fulfil their needs to increase their satisfaction in order to generate delight, which is used to upgrade the shrine.
Ensuring you meet the needs of all of your customers can also be tricky, especially as you progress further and they start making more demands – from witches wanting an absolute ton of toilets to businessmen wanting the cushiest (and most expensive) chairs in the world, there’s always something to aim for in order to keep everyone happy. But don’t stress – though you earn more resources when your customers reach max satisfaction, there’s no fail state. So, if for some bizarre reason you decide to just sit there staring at your cats and not serve a single customer one day, that’s perfectly fine, and the next morning is business as usual.
On top of expanding your cafe, earning resources, and luring in customers and cats, there are also light RPG mechanics in Cat Cafe Manager that add a tangible sense of progression. This is also where that shrine comes in. After your first day at the cafe, you meet Grimalkin (who looks shockingly like my new kitten), a talking cat who was friends with your grandma. He shows you an overgrown shrine, which you upgrade by taking on projects as a part of a skill tree. These projects unlock a variety of features including new furniture sets, more slots for cats and chairs, and the ability to take on staff, who can be hired through the community board to give you some extra help around your cafe.
In order to finish these projects, you need to gain a certain amount of delight. Some projects are also locked behind reaching specific friendship levels with your regulars, which you can achieve by calling them and having them visit your cafe regularly.
You, your cats, and your staff all have your own personal skills and traits. As you level up, you can upgrade skills such as cleaning, cooking, service, pet taming, and more, while also gaining the option to pick traits at regular intervals. These traits range from being better at a specific skill, working faster at certain times of the day, and more. Your cats have the same system, though their skills are dependent on which types of customers they bond with, and their traits cover all sorts of handy stuff, from not needing to eat as much, to earning more resources for you, and even stopping your customers from ever dropping trash. That pact with the alien cat was totally worth it… Right?
Balancing all of these different elements can feel a little tough and cumbersome at first, but as you get into the rhythm and gain access to staff who automate certain processes, the gameplay takes on a smooth and relaxing flow. The RPG elements and resource management add a lovely level of depth to the gameplay of Cat Cafe Manager, cleverly building on the foundations set up by previous business sims while still making it accessible to players new to the genre.
On the more technical side, the game controls well for the most part, and only the opening load time is really noticeable – when you’re in, everything is snappy and responsive. I did suffer from a few performance issues and occasional frame drops – especially when I fully expand my cafe and filled it with lots of items, and during busy hours when there were loads of customers. However, whether on handheld or docked mode, I didn’t find these a big enough problem to impact my enjoyment. I do sometimes struggle when trying to target interaction hitboxes such as cleaning a spill or taking an order, and I’ve had to walk away and reposition myself multiple times to fix this problem.
The original soundtrack and SFX are very cute and wholesome, and definitely give you that evening coffee shop vibe, but I find the loop of the main music to be quite short and repetitive. If you play this as much as I have, there are only so many times you can listen to it before you get frustrated and mute it so you can listen to something else – but that might just be me, if I’m honest. Nobody asked me to complete the game nearly three times before I reviewed it.
Cat Cafe Manager is a sweet and simple little game that belies a surprising amount of depth in the form of intricate, business sim mechanics, while still maintaining its relaxing sense of charm. As someone who suffers from a chronic health condition, this has quickly become a comfort game for me, and whenever I have a particularly rough day and I need to chase away those blues, there’s nothing better than curling up with a cup of tea and playing Cat Cafe Manager.
A delightfully charming business sim with cute characters, fun mechanics, and adorable kitties. Cat Cafe Manager is the purrfect way to relax and unwind after a long day.