April Fools day and video games go super well together. Not every joke lands, such as the umpteenth “Visual novels, am I right?” bits. But most of the time, it’s all about the community having fun every year, with publishers and developers taking the chance to be silly and most people being in on the joke. In some rare cases, the jokes even lead to real stuff happening. That’s literally the case with WayForward’s Cat Girl Without Salad: Amuse-Bouche, which started as a joke over five years ago and became a real game you can buy and play. While it isn’t 1:1 with the original gag, Cat Girl Without Salad is a great afternoon’s worth of insular gaming humor.
Cat Girl Without Salad’s original form as a 2013 April Fools’ joke was largely WayForward poking fun at itself in the most concentrated possible way. Even then, WayForward was known as a kitschy, retro-inspired developer that made cutesy puzzle-platformers like Shantae, along with licensed fare. So Cat Girl Without Salad was the kitchen sink version of the stereotypical WayForward joint, a game somehow comprising every possible genre you could think of and then some. Here’s what it used to look like:
It was hilarious and evergreen! Years later, the derivative retro-inspired aesthetic is more powerful than ever, and Cat Girl Without Salad popped up on the Humble Bundle market as a subscriber exclusive. In 2020, the game was released on the Nintendo Switch exactly on April 1st, bringing this stupid, but lovable, joke game to a wider audience. Obviously, there’s no way the original concept is even remotely possible, so the real game version is pared down significantly. But for what it is, a sort of saccharine self-own in shmup form, Cat Girl Without Salad’s humor totally works.
Kebako is a bounty hunter, the kind who has cat ears, bright pink hair, and a sense of humor that punches right through the fourth wall. She hates salad, loves candy, and also loves to pack heat and blast away anything in her way. Her gun is able to power up like any classic shmup weapon, via special pickups dropped by enemies. But instead of a spreadshot or screen-clearing explosive, she gets Famicom-like cartridges granting bullets based on video games.
Each power-up drastically changes Cat Girl Without Salad’s gameplay and makes the player split focus between the usual bullet-dodging shmup play and controlling the bullets as a separate, hybrid control scheme. One weapon takes the form of a DDR-style rhythm game, while the other turns your bullets into a Mega Man-shaped dude who jumps across the screen (dealing bonus damage if the little guy lands on an enemy). My personal favorite was the arcade pickup, that turns bullets into Totally Not Pac-Man, making each bullet independently maneuverable.
Every time I got a new bullet, I laughed. Sometimes the humor helped fog over frustration, as controlling the joke sometimes made actually winning an unexpected challenge. I eventually settled on favorites (and ignored the rest), making the novelty wear off a little. But then Cat Girl Without Salad’s actual written humor was able to shine through, such as moments when the player, through Kebako, is able to rub salt in a boss’ wounds after beating them. As far as April Fools’ jokes go, Cat Girl Without Salad: Amuse-Bouche has one of the more fascinating arcs. Since there’s legitimate humor and video game fun on top of the goofy concept, it’s totally worth dropping a few bucks on such an elaborate goof.
Cat Girl Without Salad: Amuse-Bouche is currently available for the Nintendo Switch and the PC.