Calico review: delightfully sweet but lacking substance
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Featured Image Credit: Whitethorn Games
If you’re a fan of so-called cosy games, Calico holds the potential to catch your eye. All of the key ingredients are here. Community sim? Check. Cafe management? Check. Baking minigames? Check. Oh, and you can collect a variety of cute critters to hang out in your humble abode all while traversing this candy-coloured town atop a giant calico cat? You might be thinking, what’s not to love? The problem is, while Calico is deliciously adorable on the surface, it’s a sweet treat that’s painfully lacking in substance.
Calico was released to PC, Xbox, and Nintendo Switch back in 2020 - with the PlayStation version finally landing today, on 28 November. It’s clear that developers have ironed out the various bugs and glitches that tarred the game’s original release. That being said, Calico still has one glaringly large issue: its lack of longevity. While I’ve enjoyed my time with the game, it won’t take you long to hit 100% completion, and there’s little incentive to continue playing once you’ve done so.
Take a look at Calico in action below.
When Calico begins, you’re the newest resident in town. Mayor Kiva welcomes you as the latest owner of the town’s rundown cat cafe. Well, I say ‘cat cafe’, while the game markets it as such, you can actually invite a wide array of inhabitants including deer, red pandas, and polar bears. You’ll be able to stock the display cases by purchasing and collecting recipes, whilst also completing a number of fetch quests for the town’s residents with this acting as the game’s main campaign - although I use the phrase ‘main campaign’ as lightly as a dusting of icing sugar.
I did say that Calico has all of the ingredients to create the perfect cosy game. It’s just that everything is done so halfheartedly. The incorporation of cats is extremely limited despite the game’s title. Yes, you have your main calico cat which you can use to traverse town. Outside of this though, besides inviting the town’s various creatures to sleep and hang out in your cafe, you’re simply able to pet them, pick them up, or ask them to follow you.
This makes for a game that looks cute and pleasing. Who doesn’t want to ride a giant cat with another feline atop their head, while followed by a herd of polar bears? However, Calico’s creatures are just window dressing. There’s no real point or advantage to your interactions with them. The townsfolk are slightly more helpful and as you progress through the various fetch quests, you’ll unlock more of the map. There’s only so long you can tolerate moving from A to B though when all you end up with in return is either a new recipe, potion, design, or piece of furniture. You may be thinking, “Kate, gaining those things sounds quite useful?” Well, that leads me onto my next problem: the cafe.
Once you’ve gained furniture, you’ll be able to drop it in your cafe. Likewise, your recipes will be stored in the kitchen, ready for you to prepare some new sweet treats. Every now and then, the townsfolk will stop by your cafe, and you’ll see your funds increase on the game’s UI. The trick to success is stocking savoury, sweet, and ‘fancy’ treats to appeal to as many customers as possible. With this money you can … buy more furniture and recipes.
You soon become stuck in a slightly mundane loop. You can’t level up your cafe, nor expand it. Calico is severely lacking in any kind of gameplay that ensures longevity. Once you’ve pet every animal and prepared all the recipes, there’s very little left to do. Calico is a game that can be begun and finished in a matter of hours or days. When I hear cat cafe community sim, I perhaps wrongly assumed that I’d be playing a game I could keep coming back to - capturing that warm homely feeling the very best cosy games achieve.
I did enjoy Calico’s baking minigames. While, yes, they are a tad repetitive, they reminded me of my love of the Cooking Mama franchise back in the Nintendo DS era. The quicker and more accurate you are, the higher your score. The controls are rudimentary. You’ll shrink down to the size of a mouse for reasons unexplained as you throw ingredients into a cauldron, use a pogo stick to cut out cookie shapes, and run on a hamster wheel to bake your sweet treats evenly.
These minigames added a much needed slice of variety to Calico, even if the tart recipe snooker inspired task did make me far too angry. This aspect of the game though also has its limitations. Your stock will become stale from time to time, prompting you to remake the item in question. You see where I’m heading: repetitiveness sets in.
I have to praise the game’s character creator. There are a ton of options here, and you can tell that developers Peachy Keen Games wanted players to feel represented. You do begin with a basic outfit but that’s also something you can improve as you earn cash from your cafe, purchasing new styles and accessories. Calico’s world, although basic, is also very dreamy. Who doesn’t want to frolic through cotton candy trees and swathes of flower-filled meadows?
My time with Calico left me wanting more, and it’s annoyingly a tale of two halves. I quickly warmed to the delightful characters, but was left feeling shortchanged by the limited storytelling and quests. I had fun running around with a cat on my head, but was underwhelmed by the lack of any needs required to be fulfilled regarding my animal friends. I enjoyed baking sweet treats and decorating my cafe, but quickly discovered I couldn’t expand the premises. I can only hope that devs continue to invest in this world and seize the clear yet missed opportunity for growth.
For now though, Calico is all eye-catching icing and sprinkles lacking in the kind of substance that’ll keep players returning for more.
Pros: enjoyable baking minigames, adorable animal interactions, low-stakes relaxing gameplay
Cons: fetch quests become tiresome, no long-term incentive to play
For fans of: Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Stardew Valley, Fae Farm
Calico is out now on PlayStation 5 (version tested), PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, PC, and Xbox One. A review code was provided by the publisher, Whitethorn Games. Read a guide to our review scores here.