The fun of a management sim mixed with the endless charm and cuteness of our feline friends? A game about running a cat cafe seems like the perfect recipe, but it’s also one that could easily go amiss if the pieces don’t line up just right. Luckily, Cat Cafe Manager has the goods, striking a nice balance between simulation depth, a relaxed atmosphere, charming characters, and a simple but satisfying game loop.
Cat Cafe Manager takes a lot of its cues from the Story of Seasons-style life sims that have been flourishing in the last few years. You’ve just moved from the city to a quaint rural town called Caterwaul, to take over your late grandmother’s cafe: a place for the locals to find peace, comfort, and a fluffy little snuggle, but also to provide a safe haven for the many stray cats in the area and help them find their forever homes. Or, rather, what’s left of it—which isn’t much, so it’s up to you to rebrand, reopen, and reignite the town’s love of adorable little furballs.
It’s a simple enough premise, but like most life sims, that’s it’s strength: the framework for a nice, laid-back game of running a business, getting to know the locals, and helping to determine a sleepy little town’s future while you slowly learn more about its past. The stories that run through Cat Cafe Manager, both the overarching plot and the character tales that unfold as your bonds deepen, are similarly simple, but touching and thoughtful. “A greedy, profit-obsessed mega-corporation is trying to crush all our small businesses!” may not be the most original story, but it’s a timely and timeless one, given weight through the rich characterisation of the people who are just trying to live their lives and carve out their place in the world.
Against that backdrop, Cat Cafe Manager is—as you’d expect—mostly focused on the day-to-day running of your establishment. Tame stray cats, decorate your cafe, set your menu, and serve and chat with the various people who visit, and if they leave happy (as they usually do—it’s a cat cafe, after all) you’ll get some payment and bring a bit more joy to Caterwaul. More happy customers means a better reputation and more chances to expand, with your growing reputation unlocking new decorative items, food and drink, and enticing treats for the more skittish strays.
It’s not a hardcore simulation by any stretch, and keeping customers happy and looked-after is rarely a difficult task. Instead, Cat Cafe Manager finds depth in a neat approach to resource management and the fun of running around the cafe floor to tend to everyone’s needs. Rather than using a shared, single currency—banks and coins are city business—the shopkeepers in Caterwaul all have their preferred methods of payment: the pet store takes fish, the food market takes nectar, the furniture store takes jewels and cloth, and so on. Coincidentally, different groups of customers happen to use those same things as payment when they visit your cafe: witches pay in nectar, fishermen pay in fish, and so on. Balancing your resource needs means targeting different customer groups through advertising, decor, and choice of menu items—a neat way to add a light strategic layer without compromising the relaxed atmosphere, and to encourage experimentation with your cafe layout and menu design.
Running the floor, meanwhile, feels a little reminiscent of Overcooked, as you run around taking orders and preparing food and drinks. It’s a simpler version of that design, without too much faffing about with ingredients—though more complex recipes do involve a few steps with different appliances—and not nearly as much time pressure, but it tickles a similar action-puzzle note as you juggle time management, order priorities, and efficient use of your space with a growing number of customers. Once you can hire staff, they’re a big help with keeping everyone covered, and while it’s a shame you can’t assign them tasks directly, the AI is generally good enough to be worthwhile.
The Switch version of Cat Cafe Manager suffers from some minor bugs and UI annoyances. There’s an expanded “cafe stats” window, normally bound to the X button, that seems to open on its own, and I’ve run into some occasional funny business with the cursor when browsing shop menus—not being able to select an item, the cursor getting stuck on an empty row, that sort of thing—that’s easily resolved by leaving the menu and then opening it again. Minor graphical glitches mean the odd instance of the wrong wallpaper displaying on a tile, or decorations overlapping in odd ways. There’s nothing game-breaking here—far from—but enough minor little nuisances to be worth a mention.
But such little problems are worth contending with for a game as pleasant and relaxing as Cat Cafe Manager. Just the right balance between a casual management sim, Story of Seasons-esque slice of small-town life, and laid-back but fun customer service game loop makes for a relaxing, engaging hook, all tied together with a host of adorable cats and charming locals to get to know, and the sometimes funny, often touching stories that unfold through them. It’s may not be groundbreaking, but Cat Cafe Manager hits just the right spot for a quiet way to unwind.