I loved the idea behind Calico, a game where you manage a cat (and other animal) cafe. I’m a big fan of magical realism and the aesthetic welcomes you into a pastel, pleasant world. I was incredibly surprised to see it as a shadowdrop following the December 2020 Indie World Direct, especially after I’d just reported on the Kickstarter a year before. I love the idea of it, but the problem is that it needed more time to cook.
I had an idea that I was in for a ride when I started playing Calico on launch day and realized you pressed B to confirm on the Switch. I stumbled upon this by accident, because the game doesn’t tell you and I was desperately pressing buttons trying to start a new game. (Don’t worry, because there’s a patch coming for that.)
Once I got into the character creator, it further confirmed its clunkiness. There are a lot of options there, with different hairstyles and colors to choose from. But setting yourself up is decidedly unfriendly, you can’t zoom in to check out finer details, and even picking colors from the large palettes can be more difficult than it needs to be.
I wish I could show you examples, but Calico is a game that doesn’t allow screenshots or videos. (There’s a patch coming for that too, apparently.)
Which is a shame, because I experienced so many bugs in not only my first hour, but my first fifteen minutes. See, after you get your cafe, you’re supposed to do some introductory things like place furniture, get an animal friend to roam around the place, and make some food. That’s when the trouble began. When you enter buildings or homes, the walls cut away in the oddest and most uncomfortable ways. When I’d place furniture, I wasn’t exactly sure of how to remove it. (There are a lot of trial and error elements.) The controls are constantly displayed on-screen, obscuring things around you.
But it was when I went to find a furry friend that I realized some of Calico’s biggest initial problems. The first is that this town (and world) is far too big with far too little in it. I did pass one black cat floating in midair that I couldn’t reach. I got caught on hills, trees, and in rivers. And by caught, I mean when I looked online I found I had to completely close the game, losing all unsaved progress, and go back in to move again. By the time I found an animal I could grab that wasn’t a cat, Patches the Red Panda, I then got stuck trying to hop/walk up a steep hill. Which meant when I exited and went back in, I went with the calico roaming around the cafe because it was there and easy to get.
Cooking is also cumbersome as-is. It becomes a physics-based affair. You’re shrunk down to the countertop and need to find, grab, and chuck the correct ingredient into a bowl. When the right items are in, the food or drink will be made. But sometimes things don’t go where you’d expect when you through them. It’s also pretty tedious to have to make things.
But Calico is a game at its worst when you’re trying to do things that are its main selling points. Running a cafe can be difficult, because sometimes people can’t even get in. I’d notice roadblocks when people would come in and try to visit. Then even if they did visit, it didn’t seem like things were being bought and I was making money. (When those things would happen, I would quit without saving in hopes that would help.)
The concept is sound, and Calico seems like a game that could eventually be playable and pleasant as its premise suggests. But it isn’t that now. There are too many bugs here, and some are big enough that you could very well find yourself unable to complete your personal goals or tasks due to things not working as planned. Eventually, it might be worth it, as Peachy Keen Games says on Twitter that patches are in the works. But it isn’t ready yet. Once it is, people could enjoy something of a grand opening.