There are games in this world that I wish I could play sometimes, but pervasive free-to-play elements are too overwhelming. They undermine the overall experience. The original The Battle Cats was like this. It’s an entertaining enough strategy game, but sometimes it feels like it’s nickel and diming you. The Battle Cats Pop!, the Nintendo 3DS port, is a far superior experience, even if it isn’t caught up with all of the battles and cats from the mobile release.
For those who have never heard of The Battle Cats Pop!, allow me to set the stage. Cats are taking over the world. You’ll have to take my word for it, because some of these cats would be better described as “cats.” Think of yourself as their general, sending out the appropriate troops to deal with enemies of varying types, sizes, and skills. It’s a 2D, real-time strategy game, best compared to Swords & Soldiers, only weirder.
Let me give you an example of how weird The Battle Cats Pop! can get. The cat above is Sadako Cat, a Super Rare Cat from the in-game gacha. She evolved from Kotatsu Cat at level 10. It’s a slow unit with a single target attack, but is fantastic against floating enemies, lowering their attack and taking 1/4th the damage from their attacks. The floating cat in the first screenshot is Salon Cat, which has a long, strong, ranged area attack and can be produced quickly, but has no special ability. It’s character description says it pairs well with Sexy Legs cat, as the two together will look like a full cat-woman. Both of these cats make some of the other cats in the game look normal.
The strangeness is a big part of The Battle Cats Pop!’s charm, and the Nintendo 3DS version means you get to see and savor that more than you would in the mobile version. Earning experience is easier, since you have more opportunities to replay missions. You also acquire Cat Food quicker, which can be put toward purchasing experience points. Though, pumping them into the Rare gacha is even better, since duplicate cats from there net you at least 15,000 XP when traded in for points. You’re able to raise characters to level 10 faster, see enemies quicker, and put together glossaries with those precious definitions that make the game so much fun. One of the game’s enemies is Jackie Peng, a penguin whose bio says, “Loves Kung Fu movies, aims to break into Hollywood. Uses self-taught Kung Fu.” My favorite is Gory, whose bio says, “Got kicked out of the zoo because of his scary face. No job or education, so turned to drink and poker.”
Such flavor text will help propel you through The Battle Cats Pop!. It’s mostly a grind fest, until you get into the final third. Many of the battles can be won by maxing out your cats’ levels at 10, as well as your canon, worker cats, and base. Going back to acquire each mission’s highest quality treasure helps too, as it gives a permanent boost to various elements for going for the gold. When many of the early levels involve sending out a few basic units, like the normal Cat (or Macho Cat), Moneko (or Miss Moneko!), or Axe Cat (Brave Cat), then getting enough accrued currency to send out the 2,000+ units like Ice Cat or the Cat Mecha.
Once you do start getting to the later missions, The Battle Cats Pop! starts to do a better job of impressing the player. While some levels may feel a bit cheap, as though they need items or help from the Cat God to complete, there are some that are legitimately difficult due to the different units encountered. You’ll actually need to start building teams designed to handle red, black, floating, or alien enemies.
The only holdover from the free-to-play days is energy. You’re allowed a certain allotment at a time, which can be increased by pumping experience into Cat Energy. Even then, the most energy you can get is 190, and when missions start taking over 40 energy to attempt, that goes fast. You can refill it with Cat Food, but who wants to waste that on energy when it can be put toward rare cats? It’s disappointing to get into a groove, then have to pull back because of the old freemium trappings.
Still, energy is The Battle Cats Pop!’s only failing. The Nintendo 3DS port of the mobile game is a delight. It offers all of the humor from the original game, plenty of rare cats and eventually challenging missions, and opportunities to acquire and enjoy everything without worrying about additional purchases past the $10 investment. It’s a joyful diversion, even more so if you have a friend for local multiplayer antics.
The Battle Cats Pop! is immediately available for the Nintendo 3DS.