This review has been interrupted by cats no fewer than five times already: a cat chewed my pen while I took notes; a cat stood on my mouse and blocked 90% of the monitor; head-butted the iPad out of my hands; turned my notebook pages until my place was lost; sat on my lap and demanded one of my typing hands be used as a petting hand at all times. And I only own two cats.
In Fort Meow, Nia has to contend with hundreds of the furry attention mongers. She’s going to need a bigger fort.
Our story begins when young protagonist Nia goes to her grandparents’ home for her yearly summer stay. With her grandfather in the hospital for surgery, Nia isn’t too surprised to be greeted by a darkened, empty house and quickly heads to her favorite room to pass time: the attic. Amongst the heirlooms and antiques she’s grown fond of exploring in years past, Nia finds a new item, her grandfather’s journal, and eagerly sits down to read.
Almost immediately after finding a comfortable reading position, however, a cat pounces from the darkness and lands on Nia’s lap. Nia—and cat owners everywhere—knows that she won’t be making any progress like this, so she devises an anti-cat fort made up of attic clutter to allow her to read in cat-free peace.
Building this anti-cat fort is the primary gameplay focus of Fort Meow. The premise is similar to Cover Orange, but the execution feels more like SimpleRockets: players will have a set number of items at their disposal to stack around Nia. Each item costs a certain amount of “time” out of your allotted total. (You have unlimited real-time to actually place and move items; “time” is just the objects’ currency.) Once you run out of time to spend, or feel your fort is adequate enough, you hit “Defend” and let the wave of cats begin their pounce-attack.
As cats fly into view, they’ll hit your fort’s objects, damaging and eventually breaking them over time. If a cat makes it through your defenses and lands on Nia, the round is failed and you’ll have to try again. If Nia’s lap stays cat-free through the entire wave, you’ll win that round and move onto the next set of cats.
As you progress through the game, more and more cats join the lap-seeking brigade, increasing the number and type of felines you’ll have to guard against. Different cats bring different dangers, such as the fat cat that can smash through numerous defenses at once, or the melon-hatted cat that likes to charge your fort from the floor. You’re warned ahead of time how many of each type of cat is incoming, which allows you to change up your strategy and build accordingly.
Adding to the strategy and fun of fort-prep is the wide variety of objects Nia can use to her advantage. All of your defenses are items found around the house, such as old armchairs, pillows, brooms, and even toasters. Each of the 20 in-game items has an associated strength (in hit points) determining how many cat pounces it can handle before breaking, as well as a “time cost” that detracts from your ever-growing total. Most items also feature a bonus ability, for instance: beanbag chairs stand up to fat cats and hilariously bounce them away, cardboard boxes trap the first cat that hits them, and catnip attracts cats so you can lead them towards certain parts of your fort.
The different shapes of these items requires you to plan and execute your stacking carefully: you’ll typically need a wider, sturdier base built up of things like coffee tables and mattresses, while slotting in smaller items like lamps and trophies wherever they can fit. Objects don’t snap together but merely pile on top of one another, so a poorly planned fort can topple over under the stress of cat cannonballs.
The physics is usually spot-on and feels tangibly correct, with lightweight objects getting knocked away easily and heavier objects collapsing in on themselves. However, we did have trouble with beanbag chairs—they are always considered the “heaviest” object, even alongside things like grandfather clocks—and our fort occasionally falling apart randomly after a round even if it was sturdy during the actual wave.
Time not spent building your fort will be split between exploring the house to find new objects and catching up on grandfather’s journal entries. These entries act as the story and progression for the game and offer insight into the unending cat attacks Nia is currently facing.
It would have been easy for Fort Meow to simply be a level-based, straight defense game, but the additional touches of an unfolding plot—complete with some surprising twists—and interactive house make it feel much more alive and complete. Other features, like small puzzles within the house, collectable stamps, and random items you can actively use during the wave defense, are bonus treats on top of the highly entertaining plot-progressive gameplay. The one disadvantage to this plot-focused play is that once it’s over, it’s over: there’s no endless mode or free play afterwards, only the option of starting over.
But we’re happy to start over with Nia. Fort Meow has combined the joys of fort-building and cat-flinging into one charmingly atmospheric experience that’s worth a first, second, and beyond play—as long as you have a cat-free iPad at your disposal.