cute magical girls with lots of animals

Calico – Review

Calico began life as a KickStarter project which was picked up by Whitethorn Games and Maple Whispering after achieving double its target goal. While previously released on PC, Switch and Xbox, Calico is pawing its way onto PlayStation, and I jumped at the chance to play this magical, cosy adventure.

The game begins as you inherit a cat café from your aunt, and while this could be the set-up for any slice-of-life sim game, it doesn’t take long for the magical and more “unexpected” elements to come into play.

a cafe with a strange mix of cute and colourful and spooky furniture

Firstly, you will want to create treats for your customers to purchase. To do this, you need to access the recipe book and choose the item you wish to create, then a mini-game will ensue, allowing you to make the recipe. Shrunk down to the size of a mouse, you then have to run about the kitchen, collecting ingredients, mixing batter and decorating in a delightful mix of different mini-game mechanics designed around the recipe you chose.

I suppose each recipe is more of a series of mini-game mechanics as each stage of the process requires something new. Doughnuts, for example, require you to make the dough, knead it, hula-hoop them into shape and throw them into the fryer, before fishing them out – with a fishing rod. There’s even one where you climb on a cat and give it scratches to knead the dough!

a tiny cat carrying an egg above its head over a kitchen counter

Things like running across the kitchen to get three eggs and only being able to carry one at a time were a little annoying, but I discovered much too late in the game I could simply throw most of the ingredients and they would move towards the pot. The time factor – measured only to give you bonus points – encourages you to use wooden spoons to catapult yourself across the kitchen. There is the option to skip the game and get the products if you have already completed them, but you don’t get any bonuses.

Once you have food ready, you will need furniture and animals to encourage people to come visit your café. This means you have to get familiar with the locals and see if they have any requests. These requests are less of a suggestion and required to progress the characters’ stories and are tracked alongside actual quests, but they’re all pretty simple things such as having a certain type of animal, food or furniture.

a girl looking at the butt of a giant calico cat who is stuck in a log

The main story quests are similarly low-pressure and tend towards fetch quests and animal hunts, but they’re cute and full of character. The magical-girl aesthetic brings with it a certain level of chaos and charm which carries over into the dialogue. There isn’t an epic story but it’s sweet. My main gripe with it was I never got to see a lot of things play out after quests, I just seemed to hear about it the next day when I handed in the quest, so I didn’t feel as if my character was a part of the story. The end-game credits also rolled after completing a certain task, when there were still things to discover and do. 

The map feels really big and there are different animals for you to discover in each area. You can pick these animals up and instruct them to follow you or return to the café, or equally, you can choose to put them on your head and walk around wearing them as a hat. As silly as this sounds, doing this with birds allows you to glide, and you can mount animals to travel faster. It’s when you start playing with potions that things really start to get interesting…

two characters speaking, one is a cute owl girl, Mala. She says "Hello there!"

Unlike a lot of shop-management games, you don’t need to manage your shop all that much and customers will come and go as they please. Items will go stale after a period, but there are no real negatives to this and no bills to worry about. Your biggest expense will be on recipes and furniture, and even then you’re rewarded them from citizen quests.

The music is soft and relaxing with an occasional sweet and cheerful voice over the twinkling tunes. Each area has its own theme and the sound design brings it all together nicely with the pastel tones of the landscapes. The characters aren’t voice-acted but have a yammer much like Banjo-Kazooie, but even that is softer and non-intrusive.

a character on a broom in a city filled with cats walking like people

The graphics are not especially amazing with obvious clipping and some wild animations, but they kind of lean into the charm of Calico. Things like the trees lacking collision make zooming around the landscapes more fun and watching your cat fly off into the horizon seems perfectly normal within the environment that’s been created. And again, this is an indie game with a small team, so even if these weren’t conscious design decisions, it’s still an incredible achievement.

I will note here that there have been several patches made to the game since its original release on other platforms, but I played on PlayStation 5 and had no major issues with bugs. There was a cat I put a potion on and made it float around so I couldn’t catch it and the animals had trouble keeping up with me at times, but I could carry a horse on a broomstick with a cat on my head, so it wasn’t something I felt broke the game. The most consistent glitch I happened across involved my horse, who kept trying to jump the fence and getting stuck mid leap like some elegant statue. I wouldn’t even say any of these things were bad, if anything they brought me much amusement.

a cat-person with a cat on their head and a horse suspended in mid air over a fence

I don’t normally pay character creation too much attention in reviews but I rather liked the changes Calico made to your usual setup and options. The use of fluff and a gender-neutral character base is cute and inclusive, and there were lots of options to customise the clothing from the store.

I finished Calico in a few sessions then went back to collect the platinum as the PlayStation trophies were not too complicated and I was curious to see which animals I had missed – there were some fun ones to find. It doesn’t draw the story out like Stardew Valley so you can focus on whichever task you wish with little consequences, but equally, there are no real goals, café expansions or upgrades to achieve with your character except buying potions and recipes, and you can only display six items at a time. Because of this, I wasn’t especially compelled to complete recipes or improve upon my café unless there was a quest attached – at least not until I saw there was a trophy connected to completing them all. For a game about a cat café, there was a significant lack of café-sim gameplay for my liking.

a character on a broom with a cow in their hands

What I mean to say is, I wanted to keep playing. I wanted more.

There are not many comfy magical-girl games on the market and even fewer ones with such fun mechanics as Calico. Would I have liked more development of the café side of things? Sure, but I feel that would also remove some of the cosy intent behind the game, and sometimes it’s nice to just play a game with no failure conditions or character health to worry about.

a character talking to a crow named Poe

The new release of Calico to the console is not one fans of cosy games should ignore. I really enjoyed my time with it so I’d love to see a sequel.

8/10 star rating

Platforms: PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, MORE

Developer: Peachy Keen Games

Publishers: Whitethorn Games, Maple Whispering





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