- Developer: WayForward
- Publisher: WayForward
- Release Date: 01/04/2020
- Price: £6.24 / $7.99
- Review code provided by WayForward
Introducing: Cat Girl Without Salad Switch Review
I’m drawn to overt zaniness in games. The stranger the concept, the more intrigued I tend to be. Running the gamut from the likes of Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes to Death Stranding, I’m always in the market for something subversive and weird. Such endeavors don’t always pan out—I didn’t care for Death Stranding—but I always admire risk taking and unbridled creativity. It always piques my interest. As such, when WayForward released Cat Girl Without Salad: Amuse-Bouche, I was immediately curious, on purely the basis of the title’s absurdity and WayForward’s pedigree. Having now played Cat Girl Without Salad, I can confidently declare it as one of the strangest games I’ve experienced on the platform. Yet, it’s also one that hooked me, and despite its issues, I found myself finishing its woefully short campaign wanting much more.
Essentially, Cat Girl Without Salad is a standard side-scrolling shoot ‘em up. Across the game’s three stages, you’ll play as kawaii bounty hunter Kebako, blasting onslaughts of foes as they blitzkrieg projectiles onto the screen that must be dodged. It is a classical setup. While it features some unique boss fights, fans of the genre won’t be surprised by the nuts and bolts of this game. This is doubly true of the Switch audience, as the shoot ‘em up (shmup) is certainly prominent in the console’s library. However, for as derivative as Cat Girl Without Salad is on a base level, especially standing next to the other genre titans on the platform, I’d be hard pressed to find a shmup with more personality that Cat Girl Without Salad.
It’s almost impossible to articulate how larger than life Cat Girl Without Salad feels. The entirety of each stage is voice-acted, as Kebako banters with her sidekick and the bounties she’s tracking down as the level unfolds. It all adds texture to the experience, but it is fairly superfluous, and the humor will be rather hit-or-miss. Its wacky, “haha so random” stylings aren’t my jam, but the voice acting is top-notch, and the writing is quippy. I did cringe my way though some exchanges, but more often than not, I begrudgingly smiled and played along with this dialog, which is a compliment. Its blend of meme humor was able to appeal even to me.
Of course, it helps that the game is gorgeously drawn and animated. WayForward consistently produces some of the highest quality 2D animation in the industry, and Cat Girl’s visual style is just as good. While Kebako herself could’ve used a little more animation to truly come alive, by and large, the game’s presentation is expressive and colorful. It’s also outrageous and eclectic visually, pulling in music and culinary paraphernalia as often as it pulls in 80s and 90s gaming references. At times, it seems like the lead art designer at WayForward looked into their home junk drawer for Cat Girl’s aesthetic inspiration, drawing upon whatever odds and ends they could find. Somehow, though, the game remains cohesive and consistently enjoyable visually, due in large part to how seamless the animation is.
While the core of Cat Girl Without Salad’s gameplay is par for its genre course, on the surface, it is just as zany as its presentation. This is due to the game’s brilliantly named gun cartridge mechanic. The name is literal, but not in the sense that one would expect. These aren’t magazines full of ammunition, but actual game cartridges that Kebako slots into her gun to augment its abilities. Each cartridge corresponds to a different game genre, from the platformer to the RPG.
The projectiles Kebako fires when her gun has been upgraded with a cartridge are so imaginative. When the platformer cart is inserted, Kebako fires a little man, who proceeds to march across the screen. After firing, any time you fire again, you’ll actually make this little guy jump. If he lands back on the head of an enemy, he’s deal significantly more damage than if he just ran into them head on. When the RPG cart is inserted, an action menu will pop up over the left-hand side of the screen and you’ll have to select Kebako’s attacks.
The gun cartridge mechanic is incredibly novel and fun, it just isn’t implemented in the most organic way. Until you’ve completed the game’s three bounties, these cartridges are randomly obtained, and they’re lost after getting hit a single time. Losing a cartridge reverts Kebako to her pea shooter, which feels ineffectual and soft regardless of which enemy you’re targeting. It doesn’t feel balanced or fun to constantly be losing the central object that makes Cat Girl’s gameplay feel fresh and original. Several of the gun cartridges also require the player to take their focus off of evading projectiles to use properly, such as the rhythm cartridge, and so this divided focus makes getting hit even easier. Getting into the zone with a gun cartridge, enjoying its central gimmick, and then losing it in a second to a stray bullet simply doesn’t feel fun.
This is doubly frustrating during the game’s boss fights. These are tough. It could partially be my unfamiliarity with the shmup genre, but I found myself white-knuckling my way through these encounters, as I tightly danced around attacks in these multi-phase battles. Of course, with so much going on you’ll lose your cartridge very quickly, so I found myself running through these fights largely with the basic pea shooter, which just isn’t as engaging. It’s a shame, because the bosses are so legitimately well designed and enjoyable. If I could’ve taken them on with the game’s eclectic arsenal, I would’ve enjoyed them even more.
After the credits have rolled, the weapons become permanently equipped and can be cycled through mid-stage using L/R. This solves a fundamental issue with the gameplay loop in Cat Girl Without Salad, but it comes far too late. The largest issue with the game is how diminutive of an experience it is. If Amuse-Bouche subtitle spells things out, this really is just an appetizer. The game has three stages and can be beaten easily within an hour. Completing the game unlocks the ability to weapon cycle, but there isn’t any incentive to replay stages. There isn’t an endless mode nor are there leaderboards, so replaying bounties with the new weapons system only serves to vapidly illustrate how the game should’ve played from the beginning.
A Taste of Something Greater
It’s unclear what WayForward’s intention with Cat Girl is. The game’s final boss, once defeated, postures about six more bounties that must be completed before the universe is actually saved. I thought that these would be unlocked after the credits. But, they aren’t. Whether WayForward plans on updating this game with new stages in the future, is working on a full Cat Girl title, or is simply trying to sequel bait, I’m unsure. What I do know, though, is that it is hard to justify picking up the game with how limited of an experience this is.
As such, I’m of a few minds with Cat Girl Without Salad: Amuse-Bouche. I was pleasantly surprised by its endearing and eclectic presentation. Its gun cartridge mechanic is innovative and fun. But, this package feels like a proof of concept. There is barely any meat on the bone, and as such, it doesn’t leave a huge impact. That said, I really did roll the credits wanting more. This is a polished and engaging shoot ‘em up that is just begging to be turned into a full experience. If you can get this on sale for a few dollars, or you have some Gold Coins kicking around, there is a fun morsel here. That said, this is just an appetizer, and I’m hungrily awaiting the main course.
- Zany personality
- Beautifully animated presentation
- Unique central mechanic
- Great boss fights
- Seriously lacking replayablity
- Very short
- Flawed implementation of gameplay innovation
Cat Girl Without Salad: Amuse-Bouche is delightfully creative shoot ’em up full of good ideas that are undercut by flawed design and a woefully shallow package.