Cutthroat, but oh so cute
On the distant Cat’s Planet, a war is waging. An army of blobby alien invaders, cozy and confident in their heavily-armed spaceships, are attempting to invade. While they’ve come equipped with lasers, mines, and missiles, the cats refuse to surrender. In an attempt to protect their home world and everything they hold dearâ€”naps and snacksâ€”the cats take to the air and fight back.
This fight is the basis for Coconut Island’s upcoming strategic runner, Naughty Kitties. One part tower defense, one part endless runner, and all parts adorable, Naughty Kitties successfully combines twitchy reaction gaming with a need for pre-planning and forethought. Each play is a distance-scored run graded by how many kilometers your kitties’ ship manages to fly before being destroyed. On the destroying end of that equation are the alien attackers, flying at and into your ship with guns blazing and bombs exploding, continuously reducing your ship’s health meter with each direct hit.
The defense comes from your band of kitties, who are outnumbered but far from outgunned. Kitty units are stationed on the ever-hurtling spaceship by dragging them from the deck at the bottom of the screen to one of the artillery posts on the ship’s hull. There are always three kitties available to choose from, so long as you didn’t just assign a kittyâ€”if so, you’ll have to wait a few seconds for that unit to reload with a new, randomly selected feline. You can also discard from the deck by swiping a kitty aside, but you’ll still have to wait for his spot to refresh.
Each type of kitty is a specific class, and you have to pick your available units before going into flight. Kitties’ specialties vary from firing missiles to ship repair, but all have a place in battle. Michale, the Rambo-wannabe orange tabby, fires eggs from a machine gun at high speed. Catzilla, usually half-asleep in his favorite pot, launches powerful-yet-slow fish-bone bombs. Chou-chou, the always-essential mechanic, is actually an alpaca who believes he is a cat, but that’s close enough for the nondiscriminatory cat army.
While runs will vary according to what enemies are thrown at you and which kitties you’ve decided to bring along, the primary gameplay remains the same. Kitties are assigned to their post on the ship and attack incoming enemies automatically. Each kitty has an energy meter that begins decreasing as soon as they start attacking; once this meter is exhausted, they will fall off the ship, leaving an empty spot until you assign a new cat. You can replace a cat at any time before their energy is depleted, which comes in handy for quick ship repairs or creating “combo” attacks.
Combos are triggered when three of the same kitty units are active on the ship. During a combo, all three kitties receive a boost to their attack power and their energy meters refill. You can create chains of combos by putting new kitties of the same unit on the ship repeatedly, but it’s difficult to keep up indefinitely as combos drain kitties’ energy very quickly.
You’ll run into large waves of minor enemies that can usually be dispatched easily by one or two attack-cats, but intermittent boss battles require more strategy. These are large, health-plentiful ships which throw a variety of attacks your way and usually require at least one Chou-chou to be on deck at all times. To help manage boss battles, your ship does have a laser beam that can be fired manually any time it is charged, and a targeting system lets you direct your kitties to attack a specific enemy only.
Run preparation is also key, and Naughty Kitties features a surprisingly deep upgrade backend that is managed by three different in-game currencies. Coinsâ€”which are plentiful and earned by destroying enemies, completing missions, and leveling upâ€”can be used to upgrade your cats for more damage, feed them to increase their energy meter, purchase new and stronger ships, or stock up on useful gadgets like a damage-immune force field. Fish, the premium and quite hard-to-come-by currency, are used to unlock new kitty units as well as continue a run once you’ve died. The final currency is heart-shaped cookies, which are used to actually play the game. Each run costs one cookie, and cookies recharge at a rate of one every 15 minutesâ€”but your stockpile currently holds five cookies max.
While everything we’ve seen in Naughty Kitties screams fast-paced, easy-to-pick-up gameplayâ€”coupled with a deep and engaging backendâ€”we are a little concerned about these three currencies. Having a rare premium currency is one thing, but layering an energy meter on top of that is especially restrictive. We hope Coconut Island reconsiders this economy before launch and lets us take our kitties for a death-defying ride whenever we’d like, not just before the cookies crumble.