Almost a year to the day after launching on Steam, Cattails – an RPG from husband-and-wife team Falcon Development – now lands elegantly on Switch. Upon christening your mog, you’re abandoned by the roadside until a friendly stray named Coco takes pity and enlists you in one of three colonies. With rival gangs and turf to defend, it’s all a bit West Side Story at first, but there’s surprising depth to its systems and, ultimately, it’s a calming, restorative game that stands its ground against the big boys in the sit-down-with-a-nice-cuppa genre – we’re talking the Stardew Valleys and Animal Crossings of the world. Not bad for a scrappy upstart hobby-turned-Kickstarter project.

When you’re not being catty with the competition and tussling over who holds political sway, you’ll be picking fragrant flowers, collecting trinkets and building relationships – there’s even romance in the air if you’re into that sort of thing. Imagine Animal Crossing-lite with XP and different factions competing to dominate a larger territory and you’re in the ballpark.

The world map shows tiles, each with a bar indicating the balance of power in that region. Days and nights pass, seasons change but rivals show up constantly to challenge your authority. Defeating these interlopers with claws and comrades earns you XP and ‘Mews’, the cat-world currency. Hunting, fighting, swimming and foraging skills can be improved, with XP cost increasing with each upgrade, while more powerful ‘active’ skills with cooldowns (including temporary speed boosts, warping or the ability to call for assistance or heal your allies) must be equipped in your den, where you’ll also return to save and get some shut-eye.

You can chat with any non-hostile feline you fancy and curry favour by gifting them foraged items. Holding ‘ZL’ puts you into a crouch enabling you to creep up on small prey like mice, rabbits, frogs and the like, tapping ‘ZR’ to pounce at the right moment. Nabbing the blighters can be tricky, and we quickly pumped XP into the hunting skill to make life easier.

You’ll need to get good at catching critters – your existence depends on it. Health and hunger are two separate meters; eating animals or scavenged goodies will fill your stomach, but health is restored by using specific plants found in the wild, sleeping in your den or visiting the colony doctor and splashing some hard-earned Mews. Selling your wares or defeating rival gangs helps bolster your wallet. Lose all your health in a scrap and you’ll be revived back in the colony, minus all your loot.

All of this makes Cattails sound like a cutthroat survival game filled with depleting gauges and the constant stress of invasion, but it’s actually a calm, disarming experience. Donating gifts to other colonies grants you access to their areas and a sacred temple in the centre of the map houses six ancient pillars; make enough offerings and the possibility of forming your very own colony unlocks. The tranquil soundtrack also sets a peaceful tone and meandering across fields, offering little gifts to your buddies and participating in pumpkin carving or turtle racing at the festival games are relaxing alternatives if scratchy combat doesn’t interest you. Cattails is as chill as you want it to be, and you can change the difficulty any time.

New pelts for your cat or swanky den upgrades courtesy of Molby the (you guessed it!) Mole provide customisation options, enable you to woo a mate and, potentially, fill your den with kittens. Of course, not all cats are marriage material, but ply Mr/Mrs Right with enough dead rodents and berries and you’ll increase their star rating, enabling you to date – it’ll take more work if you want to pop the question.

Cattails is overflowing with charm, although some minor issues might rub you the wrong way. The clean, throwback art style grows on you, but it’s functional rather than attractive. Text could be bigger, and while it’s great to have touchscreen for the menus – specifically the map – inventory icons are too small to tap with confidence. Item sprites could be larger across the board – it’s hard to know what you’ve got in your mouth as you’re scrolling through with ‘R’. These aren’t huge problems, but some visual optimisation for Switch wouldn’t have gone amiss. Still, there’s an awful lot to love here if you’re after something to soothe the soul between heavy bouts of Smash over the holiday season. Most impressive of all, we’ve made it to the end of the review without a single cat pun.

Conclusion

A few rough edges do little to disturb the tranquillity Cattails lulls you into with its fun mechanics, cheerful writing and lovely soundtrack. Despite the conflict at its heart, you could happily while away hours frolicking in the fields, catching butterflies and chatting with your feline chums. If you’re after something light-hearted to relax with until Animal Crossing arrives next year, this fits the bill very nicely.