Thanks to Wayforward for the review code
Title: Cat Girl Without Salad: Amuse-Bouche
System: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Release Date: 04/01/2020
In this April Fools title, you take control of Kebako, a girl who sets out across the universe to take on some bounties from her past, in this completely nonsensical story. Being an April Fools gag that just suddenly showed up on the Switch this year, there really isn’t much to this one, and it shows.
Some of the usual Wayforward charm shows through this game, and I mean only some: this game is clearly not nearly as polished as their other titles, and thus the animation isn’t nearly as hot, nor are the visuals in general. Everything still looks similar to their usual artstyle, but it definitely has less polish to it, though the colors are still top-notch.
The soundtrack here is average at best, and while it’s well-composed, I didn’t find any tracks in the game too memorable. One aspect of the sound that did stick out more though was the voice acting, and unfortunately it isn’t in a good way. Kebako talks excessively throughout the stages, along with her squid companion, and it just feels like she never shuts up. I get the sort of sense it’s meant to be intentionally bad with how the game pokes fun at itself at times, but the voice work here is honestly pretty poor, and whether or not you’ll find it charming is up to you, though I personally couldn’t stand it.
Cat Girl is a side scrolling shooter, taking place across three stages with differing enemies as you fly around and fire your weapon, leading to a pretty typical shooter experience. Kebako’s default weapon is a literal pea shooter (only firing peas), that deal a decent amount of damage to enemies and bosses in the first two stages, and act like any other normal shot would.
However, the powerups in this game are the real interesting aspect here, since they’re all based off different types of video games! You have weapons such as the Platformer Gun, which shoots out not-Mega Man to jump into enemies, the RPG Gun, which lets you choose from a menu to attack enemies or heal yourself, or the Puzzle Gun, which shoots bubbles towards enemies to attack them, or allows you to clear three connecting bubbles for an explosion, Puzzle Bobble style. The puzzle gun is by far the most entertaining weapon of choice in the game, so it feels really great when you snag a weapon and are in control of it, though some other weapons feel like novelties or barely useful in the slightest.
Unfortunately, with one hit the weapon goes away and you’re back to the default weapon. The good news is your hit box only consists of the bow Kebako is wearing, so it’s really small and generous, but that doesn’t mean it can’t get irritating to have a fun quirky powerup only for it to be taken away mere seconds after you snag it. Still, the first two stages aren’t that tough, although they do take a couple of minutes to go through and are a bit slow paced. Each stage ends in a boss fight, and they’re OK at best, just consisting of lengthy sessions of finding an open spot to shoot before firing at the boss until all their forms are dead, though the designs of the ones I got to were somewhat cool at least.
In general, Cat Girl is rather easy, at least until the game’s third and final stage, when the simple gameplay ends up spiraling out of control into a disaster. That may sound like an exaggeration, but trust me, it isn’t. The final stage is longer and harder than all the others before it, which makes sense considering it is the last stage. But while most other shooters do perfectly executed buildups to an epic climax, or a boss rush of sorts, Cat Girl feels more than happy to flood the screen with enemies and bullets and call it a day, and this gets absolutely infuriating due to the fact that the standard enemies in the stage take way, way too many hits to die from your normal weapon, making powerups a must for surviving the stage in order to deal with the enemy sponges.
The big problem with all this, comes from how sparse they are in this final stage, as they rarely show up, and the increased amount of enemies will make it almost a certainty that you’ll lose the weapon in mere seconds unless you’re super careful. Considering the gradual increase of the difficulty in the first two stages, this final stage just feels as if two or three more stages were skipped over, and it’s just a horrible, unfun disaster of a level. It also doesn’t help that being very long, the risk of dying is a lot more common than in the prior two stages, and when you die in this game, it’s back to the stage select for you. Over two hours of time on this game practicing the stages and trying the final stage again and again, and I once very nearly made it to the final boss, only to die from a spongy at what felt like the finish line. Without any sort of powerups, I just didn’t stand a chance, so the third stage is more focused on survival rather than taking out enemies, and it’s not even balanced as smartly as most games in the genre.
It’s a shame too, as while the shooting action in the previous stages weren’t stellar or anything, they were competent and the quirky powerups and fair difficulty made them worth sitting through. Yet it feels that in order to get around the fact this game is very short, the final stage was packed with spongy enemies that are unfun and a complete tonal shift from what came beforehand, and that’s very unfortunate. Even for an april fools gag meant to be as quirky and strange as possible, it just seems that this game overdid things in the final act, when it could have been a lot more fun and addicting to beat your high scores on a per-level basis.
In conclusion, Cat Girl without Salad does indeed feel like an April Fools gag, for better or worse. While some similar gags like 8-Bit Bayonetta or the Shin Megami Tensei metroidvania still lead to solid games made in a shorter amount of time, Cat Girl ends up as a bigger mixed bag, due to being only three stages long, with each of those feeling like a dull slog through the mud. The powerups are super cool and nifty, but since they rarely appear and the final stage is filled with enemy sponges, they never felt truly realized or useful.
It also doesn’t help that this game doesn’t have much going for it, and even after trying to beat the final boss and failing to do so, I don’t feel the energy to go right back into action and beat the game, which is a rather disappointing case for one of my favorite genres. It’s definitely a crazy, parody-filled adventure fitting of the holiday, but not a memorable one in the slightest, and all the game really has going for it is the fact that it’s deliberately annoying and references a bunch of stuff. If it just had a bit more polish, this could have honestly been something incredibly special, but as of now, it’s just a middle of the road shooter with too many problems for me to enjoy, and at an $8 pricepoint, you can easily substitute this for the many, many better shooters available via Arcade Archives, so just go with something like Sunset Riders or Salamander instead.
I give Cat Girl without Salad: Amuse-Bouche a 4 out of 10.