Cat Cafe Manager
April 14, 2022
Cat Cafe Manager is a business sim where you manage a cat cafe. That’s it, that’s the review.
I kid, of course. Actually, while you do spend most of your time handling the day-to-day tasks of a small business, there’s a lot going on just beneath the surface of this little game. I came in expecting Stardew Valley, but what I got was closer to Spiritfarer. Your endless to-do list—taking orders, making drinks, cleaning, shopping, decorating, and a dozen other things—is just the thread that strings the plot events together.
Basically, Cat Cafe Manager is a visual novel packaged as a management simulator.
You can level up your cats, your staff, and yourself, so add a sprinkling of RPG elements to that mix.
The Gameplay: Light, Sweet, And Addictive
Even so, running your cafe is the meat and potatoes (uh, kibble and wet food) of Cat Cafe Manager. Each day a steady stream of customers will come in to eat, drink, and talk. You’ll have to deal with them in between cleaning bathrooms, refilling food bowls, and making sure your cats are happy and calm. Basically, quick and easy tasks that you can feel good about completing while you watch your resource numbers go up.
On the other hand, once you've got a well-trained staff taking care of your customers, you can devote your time to the really important stuff. Like petting cats. It’s good to be the boss.
You can pet the cats in Cat Cafe Manager.
While the business management aspects are pretty light, there’s a bit more to it than “go to [thing] and press [do thing].” Naturally, a big part of managing a business is handling the finances; Cat Cafe Manager doesn’t have any money, exactly (how do you pay your taxes?), but it’s got a number of different resources that you get from your customers, then spend to improve your cafe and keep it running smoothly.
Every customer will also give you Delight based on how happy they were with your cafe. You can use Delight at the local cat shrine (yes, really) to unlock improvements for your cafe like increased staff size, expanded menu options, and new furniture. Taken all together, it creates a feedback loop between customers and resources that lets you keep expanding and improving your cafe.
Each type of customer gives you a different resource, which you can spend at the different shops in town. You can also change your advertising and menu on the fly to attract the types of customers you need.
Strangely, one major part of management—planning ahead—isn’t in Cat Cafe Manager in any meaningful way. You don’t need to do any prep work, or make sure that you have what you need for the day. You can, at any point, freeze time and handle the behind-the-scenes work of your cafe: hiring and training staff, buying supplies, expanding the building to make room for the furniture you just bought, and so on. Basically the only thing you need to do is make sure you’ve got enough Nectar to buy ingredients when you need them.
And no, the customers don’t seem to think it’s weird when the wall is suddenly 10 feet farther back and a new table appears out of nowhere.
It seems a little strange that a supposed business management sim would handwave one of the most difficult and crucial parts of business management. I think it’d be interesting if Cat Cafe Manager included a hard mode where you can only do those things outside of normal business hours, or you have to send one of your staff to run the errands and you’re shorthanded until they get back.
There’s even a “skip to morning” option because you really don’t need the night hours for anything.
The Plot: Unexpectedly Deep
Then again, maybe focusing too much on the mechanics of the business sim is missing the point. It’s supposed to be light and easy, because Cat Cafe Manager is really a story-driven game, and the characters are where it shines.
The town of Caterwaul (yes, really) is home to a wide variety of colorful characters, ranging from fishermen to witches to punks. While most of them just eat their food and leave, you’ll have a few regulars that you can build relationships with in order to learn more about the town, its history, and what’s going on now.
“What’s going on now” generally means the looming threat of Hawkable Acquisitions: A large, nonspecific company that’s killing small businesses, gentrifying the town, and similar capitalist nonsense. Almost from the very start, people warn you that Hawkable will come for your cafe sooner or later, and you’ll have to… you know, it’s not really clear how you’re supposed to fight them. It’s more of a “do your best and deal with it if/when it happens” situation.
Dude, you're drinking coffee and petting a cat, how bad can things be?
Of course, not everything is about the pseudo-Amazon setting up shop in your town. Your regulars have their own lives and concerns that they’re eager to discuss with you, and sometimes ask your advice on. Some of them have family issues, some have personal problems, and at least one has health concerns. You’ll be able to weigh in on their questions and help them live their best lives.
Strangely, the cats (with one notable exception) don’t really affect the story much. You keep hearing about how the fate of the town is deeply entwined with the local strays and how people treat them, but it takes until nearly the end of the game to find out exactly what that means. Mostly, they just hang around your cafe and do cute cat stuff.
Other important decisions include which strays to take in, and which forever homes to place them with.
In the end, your little cafe can have a big impact on Caterwaul and its inhabitants—both human and feline.
Who’s It For?
If you’re looking for a deep, crunchy management sim, Cat Cafe Manager is not the game for you. However, if you’re in the mood for light mechanics, deep characters, a compelling gameplay loop, and some adorable little cattos, this is a great way to kill some time. Finally, if you’ve got a Switch, that’s definitely the way to go for this one. It’s a perfect little game to play in short bursts while you’re on-the-go.
Overall, Cat Cafe Manager is a delightful little game—just not quite the type of delightful little game that it looks like.