Let’s cut to the chase: I don’t like mobile games and the trend towards them frightens me. But here I am, checking on my damn cats several times a day.
Neko Atsume is a cat collecting simulator developed and released by Hit-Point for iOS and Android last October in Japan. The premise is simple: certain cats like certain toys, furniture, and food, and it’s up to you to put those things out to make them come and visit you. They’re transient critters, exiting your humble abode once they’ve had their fill. But as mercurial as they are, they’re definitely not ungrateful. Upon departing, they leave you currency (silver and gold fish) to buy more stuff with. The cycle repeats, and before you know it you’ve got an impressive collection of cats and more toys and furniture than you know what to do with.
The game was recently localized for English speakers (much to the joy of any Westerner with an even slight interest in All Things Japanese) and has been adding even more users to its half billion. It’s an impressive figure, even for mobile games which generally have a much easier time in racking up downloads than full-fledged console games. People frickin’ love this game.
And hey, despite the fact that I feel like I should be hating it, I’m loving the game as well. There’s undoubtedly a dimension of addiction to this; Neko Atsume wants you to keep playing it and it does a damn good job of accomplishing that. But there’s also a part of me that believes Neko Atsume is a legitimately good video game.
Neko Atsume delivers its rewards at a gradual trickle à la Animal Crossing. There’s a plethora of cats to see, things to buy, and layouts to experiment with. You can optimize your garden all you want, buying the best food and maximizing the amount of space available for visiting cat, but the game still won’t move all that quickly because it won’t make cats come and go any faster.
The only real way to accelerate Neko Atsume‘s pace is to buy in-game currency using real dough and completely buy out the shop. At that point, all that’s left to do is put out the right items and watch the cats come.
But this sort of ruins the experience. This game can take up a lot of time and I think you should let it (if you want to enjoy it). While the short term instant gratification of total completion is nice, there’s not much to this game if you just spend all your time watching cats come and go. Neko Atsume’s sense of progression, scattered with moments finally being able to afford this or that and finally being able to see a sought-after cat, is what makes it compelling. It’s at least partly the same strategy Bandai employed to turn the Tamagotchi into a gargantuan success, or to use a previous example, how Nintendo keeps managing to sell tons and tons of copies of Animal Crossing. I think that if you want to experience Neko Atsume for all that it has to offer, you’re better off accumulating currency at slower clip and just enjoying the ride.
Of course, there are other lovely things about this game that have held my attention. The art and music are adorable without being nauseating and the soundtrack (a single looping track that somehow doesn’t get old) create an environment oozing with tranquility with that greatly benefits the mobile platform. Checking in on my cats is pretty much always a positive experience.
Can anyone really be surprised that a cat collecting simulator is taking the world by storm? Probably not. Fortunately, while this kind of thing can happen whether or not a game is “good”, I’m happy to say that Hit-Point have done a great job with this one. Once I’ve seen every cat and bought every toy and piece of furniture, Neko Atsume will assuredly lose its grip on me. I’m happy to keep on collecting until then.
(And maybe slightly less happy to be checking in on them forty times a day because I could not help myself if I tried.)