Calico has everything you’d want from a game about magical girls running cat cafes exists. You are a magical girl, you run a cat cafe, and there are cats… among plenty of other animals. Obviously you can pet them all. The graphics are adorable, with soft pastel colors. And most importantly, you can wear any animal within reach as a hat.
Calico is a delightful experience that’s a fantasy come true for players as much as it was for its creators. Creator, lead artist, and co-developer Kells told me “magical girls with cats” is a niche she was surprised to find under-served in the gaming market. As an industry vet, Kells says she received one inspiring piece of advice that stuck with her: “If you want to make a game, you have to make a game.”
Her idea “just made sense,” Kells told me at PAX East. “I’ll make my favorite things, which are magical girls! And there really aren’t many games about magical girls, which is wild to me. So, it just worked.”
Plus Kells observes that cute indie games are really, really in right now, both for developers and players. She makes an extremely fair point. So she and her co-developer, Andrew, set out to make this dream game.
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The team’s inspiration was met with equal enthusiasm — eventually. Unfortunately, its first Kickstarter, titled “Magical Catfe,” failed to meet its $90,000 goal. The devs were unhindered and regrouped with a rebranding and even a publisher. They re-strategized, set up a new Kickstarter, and found a new wave of success. Peachy Keen Studio hit its $30,000 goal in four days, and the project totaled over $70,000 in pledges. With this new success, and a new surge of social media popularity, Kells and Andrew got to work.
The reboot clearly paid off. While Kells and I chatted at the PAX East demo of Calico, tucked at the end of the Indie Minibooth, at least a few curious gamers looked on at all times. The demo stand was hard to ignore; it was draped with pink cloth and golden stars. One passerby complimented the game and shared that they followed its Twitter account. More bystanders cooed at some of the game’s cutest interactions.
During my sit-down, the demo introduced to my cat cafe and home combo. It asked me to pick between two demo characters, who are currently the game’s unofficial “mascots,” of sorts. However, the full version of Calico will have a fleshed out, gender-neutral character creator, with body-shape sliders, a variety of clothes, and pronoun selection.
Moments of Joy
With the help of an in-game mayor (and Kells), I decorated a cake, met the traveling vendor Oliver, and helped a witch find her own black cat. But Kells tells me all the quests are completely optional. If you want to bake, you can bake. Or you can ride your cat around the island.
Instead of focusing solely on objectives, Calico focuses on the potential of little interactions between you and the game’s world.
“We want to focus on ‘moments,’” Kells explained to me “because I find when I play Harvest Moon, or Stardew Valley, or Animal Crossing, it’s all about making these little moments for yourself.”
The mechanics in Calico reflect this ideal. In fact, you can ride the tubbiest, roundest cat you’ve ever seen by running on it like a treadmill. Meanwhile, smaller cats sit on your head. Or you can spend all day with your cats, picking them up and dropping them off. (I found one sitting on my bedroom keyboard at one point.) Most importantly to me, a red panda fanatic, I also found a red panda wandering around and cozying up in my cafe. Name aside, Calico isn’t exclusively about feline friends.
Much to Do
Kells told me that during the new Kickstarter campaign, one article called Calico a “dollhouse,” instead of the industry-standard “sandbox,” and it clicked perfectly with the style they were going for. The studio duo wants to give the player as many tools as possible for players to toy with in said house and the greater world.
And Peachy Keen Studios wants you to do a lot, as it sounds like its scope for Calico is ambitious. This demo I played was only a small slice of what Peachy Keen Studios promises.
The game will have five other terrain types on the star-shaped island: an arctic mountain, a city, a shore with flower fields, a deep forest, and a “mythical forest,” which will feature mythical creatures roaming among giant mushrooms. There will be weather-y “seasons,” each about 15 in-game days apart. Unique animals will auto-spawn throughout all the different regions. That’s a great incentive to explore, as well as mess around.
Flying Cats and Magical Change
Remember this is as much about magic as animals, too. There are potions to try, which let players to adjust their favorite animals in various ways, such as making them bigger or smaller. You can even put them into a terrarium.
Potions seem to be sort of a “shenanigans” tool for both players and Calico’s devs. At one point, a player who had taken over the demo tried to leap over a river, but the cat ended up leaping too high and floating around. But instead of frustration, Kells was met with unusual delight (plus an obligatory “bug or feature?” joke). She explained that “keep-it-in” glitches weren’t uncommon. Then Kells half-joked these are what potions were for in the first place.
Delight is the goal of Calico for all involved. Thankfully, it seems Peachy Keen will do whatever it takes to make that happen for players.