By Josh Speer / July 7th, 2015
|Developer||Achtung!Creative!, FK Digital|
|Release Date||July 7th, 2015|
|Age Rating||Rating Pending|
There is something you should know about me: I love cats. Not that I share any special hatred for dogs, but I just find felines more entertaining, complex and diabolical. Thus, when Neko Entertainment offered me a review code for NekoBuro CatsBlock, I found myself unable to decline. All I knew about the game going in was that it was a puzzle game developed by FK Digital and Achtung! involving alien Square Cats who are using energy waves to find their lost feline companions. It looked charming, strange and delightful. Was NekoBuro CatsBlock as fun as it looked, or should it have remained in the litter box?
The game starts out with a little introduction showing how the Square Cats, traveling through space, are afflicted by an energy storm and one named Totan finds himself flung to Earth. There, terrified of everything he sees, he comes upon Rino, a kind-hearted teenage girl. Rino, full of energy and about as mild mannered as a Power Puff Girl, saves Totan from a obnoxious dog and decides to take it upon herself to give the little guy a home. Nevermind the fact that Totan is a completely square shaped feline, Rino just assumes it’s the latest Japanese trend, like growing watermelons in square molds. Upon reaching home, Totan loses his fear of Rino, and quickly realizes he can manipulate the simple human via traditional cat techniques, and decides Rino must view him as a god. Thus, our adventure begins, with Totan using the TV in Rino’s home to find the other lost Square Cats and bring them to Earth.
There is a certain weird, lovable charm about NekoBuro, and it translates to all aspects of the game, from the cut scenes to the art. The meat of the game, however, is found in the Adventure Mode, which is split between 5 separate chapters composed of 10 missions each, which must be beaten to unlock the following chapters. Each chapter you beat unlocks a new Square cat, all of which look very distinct and have very different personalities. There are a total of six, ranging from Totan, who is full of boundless curiosity, to Dante, who is quick to anger, to Hepburn, who is the decided diva of the Square Cats. Though they are all adorable, there isn’t a lot of character development in the game, and each character is basically a quickly rendered stereotype. However, this isn’t really a negative, since match 3 puzzle games aren’t really that invested in plot or characterization.
Speaking of puzzles, the gameplay all consists around matching 3 of any similar colored cat in a row, be it diagonal, horizontal or vertical. This is done by using the D-Pad to move them around, and switching the order of a group of three cats with X or O. It starts out pretty easy, as you only have a couple colors to work with at the beginning, but the more cats you save, the more challenging it gets, since each of the 6 differently colored Square Cats will later eventually be found on the game board. Each time you match 3 cats, a little bar on the bottom screen will fill up, consisting of 5 different levels. Filling up level 1 will grant you a Leaf, level 2 will grant you a Apple, level 3 a Bell, level 4 a Melon and level 5 a Square. By pressing the L or R button once any level is filled, you will transfer that item to your standby. Pressing the same button a second time will move the item from standby to the head of whichever cat is the front of the current group. Matching that cat will unleash a special attack. Matching with the Leaf will clear a horizontal row, clearing with the Apple will clear a 3×3 square of cats, the Bell will clear a vertical row, the Melon will clear all cats of the same color, and the Square will clear the entire board.
As if that wasn’t enough, Adventure Mode will throw unique challenges at you to mix things up. There will be levels where the screen is constantly shifting upwards, or blocks will fall every few turns that can only be destroyed by using an item, or Noise Cats which will block the screen for a few turns before turning into a random colored Square Cat. Furthermore, certain levels will have specific requirements, such as surviving for a certain amount of time, or clearing the level with X amount of items, or X amount of colored Square Cats. Adventure Mode certainly keeps things interesting, not least of which since each level will be graded. I’m not entirely sure what factors contribute to the score, but the highest score you can receive is an SS. I received my fair share of SS scores, but I also got a handful of B and lower. The later levels in Adventure Mode are no joke, and can really test your ability.
The art direction in NekoBuro was definitely one of the highlights. I loved the cartoony, chibi Square Cats, and the colorful art direction. Everything was bursting with a sense of joy, and it kept me invested in the random craziness that happened. The sound direction was a bit less impressive, but I was surprised that each of the Square Cats had Japanese VA. My biggest complaint with that regard is the high pitched “Nyan!” that you hear each time you match 3 Square Cats. It started out cute, but quickly got irritating.
As much as I enjoyed most of the aspects of the game, there was one glaring low point in NekoBuro — the localization. The text that complements the story aspects of the game were sloppy at best, and painfully “Engrish” at worst. At first I found it somewhat cute, but when it kept me from understanding what the characters were saying, I grew to resent it. I almost wish that the game had eschewed the text portions of the game entirely and just focused on the gameplay, as that is where it excelled. Then again, most of the charm of the characters is in their interaction, so perhaps the answer was just investing more money in a competent localization.
Overall, I was mostly pleased with my time with NekoBuro CatsBlock. It was a short game, as I beat Adventure Mode in just about 3 hours, but it was fun while it lasted. Though there is replay value in the games you can play with the cats or in decorating your room, those features just weren’t complex or fulfilling enough for me to do more than tinker with them. Most of the replay value can be found in the endless Survival Mode where you keep playing and the difficulty ramps up the longer you play. For $7.99, I feel you are getting your money’s worth with this game. I can highly recommend it for Vita owners looking for their next puzzle game fix, or simply for those who like quirky, adorable games.
Review Copy Provided by Publisher
Achtung!FK DigitalNeko EntertainmentNekoBuro CatsBlock