This article was featured in our 2023 March issue. Check out more articles and interviews in the full issue.
Cats and cafés go together like strawberry and cream. These businesses sprang up all over Asia and especially in Japan during the 2000s and have never really gone out of fashion. They are often filled with cozy furniture for both the cats and guests to enjoy, and serve delicious treats and coffee. Some cafés even double as rescue shelters that take in strays and let them play with guests while they look for new owners. Have you ever wanted to play a casual management sim where you get to be in charge? Look no further than Hidebu's very wholesome Cat Café 101.
You start the game by landing on an island that is apparently filled with stray cats. Your spouse reminds you of your shared dream: rescue a hundred of the island's cats and open a fabulous cat café. Along the way, you can unlock recipes at the patisserie and buy furniture, and make your café the best it can be.
You already have one cat: Mimi, the cat from another of Hidebu's games, Mimi and animals. The other hundred are roaming all over the island, waiting to be rescued. The more cats in your café, the more customers you'll attract, and the more money you'll make. You can also pick up pretty stones, seashells, branches, and other ephemera to sell. And thus, you are set loose on the island to handle all of this at your own pace.
You begin in a pretty small area with a dozen or so cats roaming around. You use your meager starting allowance to buy a couple of cans of cat food, which you can use to feed stray cats and hopefully get them to go to the café. All 101 cats in the game have their own name, and give this adorable warbling meow when you talk to them. Every aspect of this game just oozes charm and likeability.
Giving canned food to a cat brings up a dialogue box that slowly fills with ellipses. If you were successful, the cat heads off to the café. But if you fail, the cat turns up its nose, and you have to use another can to try again. This mechanic is rather like the Pokéball "shakes" when catching Pokémon. This gives each cat encounter a small but tangible sense of anticipation and risk.
Cat Café 101 also uses a day-night cycle. When it starts getting dark, you should head back home and sleep for the night. Failing to go to bed before the sun rises means you miss your chance to get your allowance from your spouse, and thus start the day at a significant disadvantage. Having to juggle your time and money efficiently while straying further and further afield to recruit cats makes up the central balancing act of the game.
As you recruit more cats and receive a heftier daily allowance, you can start paying these mysterious Men In Black-looking dudes who block the path to new areas. These characters may look shady, but talking to them reveals that they want to use the money to donate to good causes or buy some sushi. All the NPC dialogue is in this vein: laid-back and sweet.
Opening up new areas of course means reaching new cats, but you can also start reaching gift boxes that contain money or canned food, and more items on the ground that sell for more money. These objects refresh every day, so it can be worth coming back to old areas to gather up more things to sell, though at the expense of a good chunk of daylight.
Each new area also contains a message in a bottle. These messages are actually recipes that you need to deliver to the patisserie. Delivering recipes gives you a bit of money, and also lets the café start serving delicious treats. There is also a not-Ikea furniture store where you can buy more stuff to decorate the café. What started off as a huge and mostly empty building starts filling out with comfy and cozy digs. It is delightful stopping by the café every once in a while to see how things are coming along.
All told, the game can be played from start to finish in a couple of hours. I actually replayed the game in full to get screenshots for this article, and found myself pulled right back in to its simple yet captivating loop. Cat Café 101 is a creative merger of idle games and monster-catching titles, wrapped up in the delightful pixel art that Hidebu's games are known for. It's a great game to play while snuggled up against any pets you may have. I highly recommend checking it out!
You can play Cat Café 101 in English or Japanese in your browser, or download it for Windows and Mac from itch. Follow Hidebu on Twitter @hidebugames and visit their itch profile for more games. And you can watch us play Cat Café 101 on stream!