Full disclosure: We don’t like cats. Dipper isn’t a fan and I only ever grew up with dogs. Despite never owning a cat, I spent a lot of money on them as a kid. Beanie Babies. Books. And cat toys. I regularly spent my allowance on catnip mice and cat wands even though I didn’t actually have a cat. Cat toys and accessories are just so much cuter than dog toys. Covered beds? Cardboard tents? Hammocks?! Even now, as my closet is filled with cat-print sweaters and socks, I think cat culture is infinitely better than dog culture. Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector, a Japanese mobile app, is the most recent case in point.
Neko Atsume is a game about, well, collecting cats. It’s a lot more humane than it sounds. The player places food and various items—like beds, balls of yarn, and cardboard boxes—in a customizable garden and waits. Waits for what? Cats.
Stray cats visit the player’s garden to eat, play, and sleep. The premise of the game is really just to spot every cat. They bring fish that serve as currency, which the player uses to buy items and attract more cats. It’s everything I ever loved about cats in theory—watching them swat at feather wands and laze in the sun.
Simple and adorable
The game itself is very simple in gameplay, design, and even processing power. Neko Atsume is one of the few apps that will work on my archaic iPhone 4, and it doesn’t drain my battery. The game is stationary for the most part and only a few items are animated.
But the items are what I really love about Neko Atsume. They’re so reflective of what’s great about cat culture—cardboard boxes shaped like cafés and cheeseburger beds—all the stuff I wanted to spend my money on in third grade. They make for a game lighthearted and refreshing in its earnest sweetness.
I beat the game a few months ago but I recently started playing again after hearing about its English-language release. Neko Atsume is so fun—and simple—that I was willing and able to play it in Japanese!
Free and relaxing
Neko Atsume is free, but like any mobile game, there are micro-transactions. Or, using real money to buy in-game cat beds and sushi. But unlike most games, it’s entirely possible to beat the game without spending any money. In fact, it’s pretty easy—I collected every cat in about a month.
That is, I played for a few minutes every day for a month. At most, the player can really only spend five minutes on the game once every few hours before running out of things to do. For that reason, players can leave their cats alone for extended periods of time without any repercussions. It’s not like Nintendogs, where the player returns to a bunch of hungry, dirty, sad dogs after not touching the game for a week. That’s just something else for me to be anxious about.
For me, Neko Atsume is a way to placate my urge to buy toys for a cat I don’t have. For everyone else, it’s a great way to de-stress between classes or distract yourself on the train in an innocent, fun, and refreshing way.