Dogs are great. I love dogs.
But cats were always an enigma to me, creatures that never piqued my interest despite being one of the most popular pet choices in the nation. In a way, their enigmatic nature is what attracts so many to felines, and just like its namesake, what attracts gamers to Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector.
As a game, Neko Atsume’s structure doesn’t do much to change up the pet-simulator genre, which has long been explored in classics such as Tamagotchi or Nintendogs. But to those unfamiliar with such games, Neko Atsume is in an odd position. Video game tropes, such as special achievements, coins, or even movement are all discarded in favor of fish and a still screen. There are no power-ups or even colorful characters besides your lovable felines.
Yer Neko Atsume excels. This is a game that doesn’t have many goals to reach or objectives to keep a player playing besides the player’s willpower. In contrast, Nintendo’s Nintendogs is one of the best-selling and critically-acclaimed pet-simulators of all time. The game often quickens its slow, leisurely pace by requiring the player to wash their puppy or take it for a walk, offering a unique and sufficient balance to the time a player spends waiting or spends actually playing the game.
Neko Atsume, on the other hand, does not attempt to break up the flow of cat-watching. The instant yuu download Neko Atsume to your iOS or Android device, chances are you will spend more time out of the game than on it because of the way developer Hit-Point crafted the game’s core structure. The player never really owns a cat that visits their yard; in fact, every cat that one sees on their screen will probably be gone within the next hour. So what’s the point? Why bother playing a game called Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector if you don’t exactly collect the kittens?
A Neko Atsume player spends no time owning a cat but instead focuses on attracting them, mostly achieved by making one’s yard as appealing as possible to a feline by purchasing “Goodies” through the in-game shop and setting them out in the yard for a passing cat to interact with. The basic in-game currency, silver fish, is enough to buy basic items like Frisky Bitz, Rubber Balls (in red, yellow, or blue), and Stress Relievers, all of which are usually enough to attract a new cat every now and then. However, even Neko Atsume cannot escape the West’s capitalist society; gold fish offer a rarer but more tasteful play experience; if enough are gold fish are accumulated, a player can purchase Cardboard Choo-choos, Cat Metropolises (the largest and most complex of four scratching posts), Cardboard Houses, or even a Yard Expansion to bring the cats into one’s home and thereby enlarge not only one’s space (really useful for putting all those Goodies out!) but also the chances of cats paying a visit. Silver fish and gold fish are awarded to the player when a cat leaves the yard after playing with a toy or sleeping in a blanket or anything of the sort.
The currency system is actually one of Neko Atsume’s strengths which keep it from falling into the money-grabbing scheme as much as do other gaming companies. No matter what platform they’re on, modern video games seem to have a tendency to lock content behind microtransactions, often called downloadable content or DLC (think paying $14.99 for a few new stages or $12.99 for new characters). Occasionally, downloadable content is offered in a fair way, such as paying $13.99 for content equivalent to half of a full $59.99 game or even the new content being completely free. Unfortunately, more often than not companies sell a game at full price but keep certain constituents unaccessible until an additional price is paid; the original purchase feels more like a swindle than an addition. Even if it’s not the first to do this, while Neko Atsume offers such microtransactions, it does it in a way that, if the player does not buy into it, they will still be able to experience the complete game. This is pulled off with the option of buying the heralded gold fish. For example, $0.99 can buy 50 gold fish and $3.99 can buy 300 gold fish; there are good deals on other numbers of gold fish at various prices. The cats will occasionally leave gold fish and take silver fish. The decision to purchase gold fish with actual money is (generally) fairly left up to the player. As small of a detail as this may be, it makes Neko Atsume feel more like a game for players to simply enjoy as opposed to a game meant for players to pay Hit-Point through the nose.
Neko Atsume’s interface and design aren’t overly intricate, but serve the game’s purpose well. Menus are easy to navigate and confusion is kept minimal with easy-to-access areas and sections. Bright colors and a simple art style are reminiscent of notebook doodles, yet the lack of detail adds to the overall cuteness and, in a way, pureness of the cats and the yards they populate. Simple animations emphasize the adorable nature of a kitten, such as a tabby grasping the Watermelon Ball with all four of its paws and rolling around on its back while lying against a tree stump. Despite the lack of detail, Neku Atsume manages to pull off its family-friendly vibe from its straightforward gameplay and its cutesy and colorful looks.
Personalization in Neku Atsume is the key to its success, but while it may be one of its greatest pros, it also brings up a looming con: Neku Atsume’s customization options are entertaining and engaging but they’re also quite limited. Players can decorate yards as they please (especially with that nifty Yard Expansion), and the cats themselves can be named appropriately if one ignores their predetermined generic names such as Socks or Billy. However, for a pet-simulator, there isn’t much else besides these basic actions. Players can take snapshots and choose their favorite for the respective cat’s picture in the Catbook, but they can’t alter their personalities to suit their kitty needs in the wild, write any notes about them in said Catbook, change the look of the yard itself (not everyone wants to live in a generic suburban neighborhood), or even feed them individually to increase their Power Levels. Although newcomers and more casual gamers may not notice these trivial complaints, those who have had experience with similar games might find Neko Atsume a tad lacking.
However, that is not to say the minimalist approach to pet simulation is deleterious to Neko Atsume’s unique take on the genre. As mentioned earlier, Neko Atsume is a game that prides itself on its waiting times because that’s really when most of the action happens – players simply reap the fishy rewards and stare at their tortoiseshell cat named Kumatora stand on the porch with a plastic bag on her head (come to think of it, is that really safe?) Whether or not this type of gameplay appeals to you depends, you have to take several factors into account.
Neko Atsume feels like a handheld game, or a game one plays in short breaks rather than longer sessions. Its gameplay consists of small bursts: refill the food bowl, put the pillow away and put out the baseball, etc. One could argue the gameplay is extended by features such as mementos (special treats individual cats leave), but for the most part,’s shorter play sessions are more convenient for those who rarely get to stop and indulge in a videogame but Neko Atsume might be too slow and trifling for those who are used to playing a certain game for hours.
Of course, the largest consideration is that the game is not much of an actual game; it is a diversion. From my experience, Neko Atsume’s indulging-yet-barebones style of gameplay caters more to those who are more interested in the felines than the game or gaming itself, and perhaps that is where Hit-Point draws most of its success with this app; the fact that it can appeal to such a wide demographic makes it all the more likely to resonate with its players. Neko Atsume may not be the first game to follow this path (e.g. Candy Crush), but as of now it seems to be one of the most popular and impactful.
One final note about Neko Atsume is its intensive quirkiness. In a world where games are looking grayer and more realistic (take big-name franchises such as Call of Duty and Battlefield, for instance), Neko Atsume favors a cartoony and bright artstyle to fit its kitty atmosphere. Even its writing is full of its own caprices, from the description of Goodies in the shop (“A straight tunnel that’s fun to crawl through. If a cat can’t fit, it may be time to cut down on the Ritzy Bitz,” reads a tunnel item’s description) to the strange self-awareness of the abundance of cat puns that are possible in a cat collection game (rarer cats such as Chairman Meow and Saint Purrtrick are notable examples). Neko Atsume may not have you burst out laughing, but its humorous nature is sure to bring at least a small smile to your face.
Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector finds its strengths in its simple o-purr-ations that don’t require significant amounts of skill or time. Its wide appeal and gentle pace makes it playable to people of all ages, but its minimalistic nature might prove too basic or plain for more experienced gamers. Nevertheless, Neko Atsume is a charming and simple game that provides satisfying achievement in its snapshot album, its yard decorations, and most of all, its cat collection.
I encourage you to try out Neko Atsume for yourself so you can form your own opinions on it.
Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector is currently available for iOS and Android platforms. It is a free download, but as mentioned there are in-game purchases available to the player. Languages available are English and Japanese, and these can be switched at any time.
However, despite the cutesy feel of the game’s, art, gameplay, and general content, Neko Atsume hides a complex narrative that deals with the struggle for survival in a cruel, totalitarian society. Behind every pair of adorable, innocent eyes lies the sinister truth about the cats: they are all identical. There is no difference in the cats other than a change in their fur and a one word summary of their personalities. This practice promotes a communistic society, as there is no individuality, only an illusion of it. The complex structure of beliefs, thoughts, and opinions are condensed into one generic term and categorized by an uncaring and unfeeling mechanical entity. Life is hard in Neko Atsume, which is why many cats have greater power levels and are able to take toys from other cats. Only the player can quench their insatiable thirst for toys and food by giving them toys and food. The player must feed the cats, but cannot selectively feed them, meaning that only the strong may survive in this post-apocalyptic, cat-themed cuteland/wasteland, creating a reference to the Darwinist idea of natural selection. The truth is that it is the player who promotes this twisted idea of civilization. All the cats flock to the player for sustenance and entertainment. Thus, Neko Atsume calls into question the player’s own identity. Are they really who they choose to be? Or are they another soulless being, created by the same process that has dictated human life for centuries?
Neko Atsume is a very deep and introspective game that draws inspiration from books like George Orwell’s 1984 and updates concepts and details to fit within modern society’s cultural norms, expertly using the symbol of cute and cuddly cats to represent the people created by the oppressive government that controls the commonwealth today.
It is also a fun and cute cat game.