Remember when cat cafes were a thing? While I’ve never seen one in person, they sound delightful in theory (minus the hair and smells)! Since going to cafes safely is still touch and go, these types of experiences may be best-saved post-vaccination. I’ve personally opted for more digital experiences since there are seemingly more video games with cafe settings and DIY options. Visiting virtual cafes, like these Animal Crossing cafes, has never been easier! But if you ever thought the cat cafe theme has been missing from previous simulation games, INDIE developer Peachy Keen Games sought to change that with their fitting title, Calico.
As the resident coffee-adjacent video game reviewer here at Sprudge, Calico was a no-brainer for me. Imagine your favorite sim game; now sprinkle in some magic, cute animals to befriend, and a cat cafe to customize at your discretion, and you have the trifecta of sims. For only $11.99, this game makes for a great addition to any cat cafe lover's library or games, but really it's perfect for anyone looking for a dose of escapism.
Calico is a stress-free community sim that’s both adorable and relaxing. You play as your very own magical person who is preparing for their move to take over your retired aunt’s old cat cafe in Heart Village, a quiet town nestled in a forest of pink cherry blossom trees. Before playing, you’ll have a chance to customize your character to your liking. Calico invites you to express yourself through limitless features and clothing choices—not forcing anyone, including NPCs, into a binary.
After settling in, you meet the mayor, who gives you the rundown of your main objective of the game; restore and revitalize the island’s only cafe. You’ll need three key things to be successful; furniture, food and drinks, and cuddly animals. Of course, you don’t have much to work with at first, but by helping your neighbors and unlocking new areas, you’ll be rewarded generously with items, recipes, and future customers.
Those looking for a game heavily influenced by a barista's day-in-the-life won’t find it here. This title is more focused on self-paced exploration and customization than it is an actual cafe simulator. There’s no need to pour drinks or bus tables, which may be a good thing if you already sling coffee for a living. The most you’ll need to do inside the cafe is whip up new cat-themed pastries and drinks for your display case and occasionally redecorate by adding more furniture options for both humans and animals.
Each cafe item is created by way of a mini-game. You are magically tinified to run around the kitchen to grab ingredients for each recipe and toss them into a giant bowl, transforming it into a treat adorned with a signature cat face. While cute, the physics could use some tweaking. Overall, it’s a lax job that is self-operating once you set things up how you like. Customers can even buy items without you being present.
Most of the game is spent running around the island to solve each quest and finding fun distractions along the way. Of course, if you want that cash, it’s in your favor to pay attention to each customer's preferences and regularly ask them for new tasks. Blossom wants daisy-shaped tables for her engagement shoot with Sunny, Lumi wants to see an arctic fox while sipping coffee, and Poppy loves your aunt’s croissants so much he wants you to try your best to recreate them. The more you play, the more you’ll discover about each character. After learning their favorite order, it’s logged in your townsfolk journal, which you can later reference to earn more money when they come to visit. Completing quests will eventually unlock recipes such as boba tea, sandwiches, tarts, and more.
Truthfully, I would have liked more steps in the baking process and more interactive dialogue from NPCs to fill out the gameplay, but Calico streamlines daily cafe activities to allow you to wander to your heart's content.
Where Calico truly shines is the animal interactions. The island is full of friendly critters, all of whom you can pet, pick up to cuddle, or ride across the map. Unlike ordinary cat cafes, Calico allows any animal to join without additional costs to customers. Who says you can’t have cats, dogs, and polar bears all under one roof? And there's magic afoot thanks to in-game potions. Want to turn your cat into a giant? Done. Wish you could make the capybaras purple and wear flower crowns? Done. You can even turn crows into griffins (well sorta)—truly this is content I never knew I needed. The magical features add an element of wonderment and gameplay not achievable in other sims allowing the game to push the boundaries of players' imaginations.
The sheer amount of thought the developers put into Calico allows it to stand out among the growing community sim genre, especially from a small indie game developer like Peachy Keen. There’s a lot to love here, and for the price, the amount of gameplay hours is considerable; After 12 hours in, I still need to unlock more recipes and quests. Quite honestly, there’s nothing more I want than to be a magical girl running a cat cafe while practicing witchcraft on the side.
Calico is available on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PC, and Mac.