Cute kittens grow into expensive cats

Naughty Kitties is an adorable, energetic mash-up of two genres that excel on mobile: endless runner and tower defense.  It’s a unique pairing that works surprisingly well.  The nonstop obstacles of the ever-scrolling runner have become targets that must be destroyed instead of dodged.  The strategic unit positioning and between-game level-ups of tower defense offer more activities than your standard jump, duck, dive.  The kitties are icing on the already delicious gameplay fishcake.

Unfortunately, despite a strong base and charming theme, Naughty Kitties falls short of revolutionary.  Runs are often repetitive and unbalanced, crawling through boring spans of enemy-free territory until you hit an overly aggressive and indefensible attack.  Its freemium model forces frequent downtime on players through an easily-emptied energy meter.  Kitties are expensive and difficult to unlock, resulting in replaying levels with the same units again and again.  The result is a game that’s great fun for the first dozen or so runs, but inevitably grind-heavy for players who don’t wish to shell out real clams.

Naughty Kitties

Each run pits your crew of artillery-laden attack cats against a never-ending invasion of robot-piloting aliens.  These amorphous fiends are trying to take over the Cat’s Planet, and only the kitty army and their rundown spaceship can stop them.  Luckily, the cats that inhabit this world have mastered the art of spray-and-pray, and have an unlimited arsenal of weaponry at their disposal. 

Naughty Kitties‘ endless runner heritage has your catship hurtling through space as the aliens come at you nonstop, shooting and slamming into your ship for damage.  Your run ends when the ship’s health bar reaches zero, and your score is tied to the distance you managed to travel.  The tower defense portion comes from what you’ll actually be doing as all this automatic action takes place: assigning and managing kitty defenders who man the ship and retaliate against the alien onslaught. 

Kitties appear randomly in a deck at the bottom of the screen and must be dragged onto platforms on the ship in order to join active duty.  Once placed, your kitty units will automatically attack any enemies they see that are within range, or—in the case of Chou-chou the “alpacatca” mechanic—will repair the ship once it receives damage.  Placed units will fight until they run out of energy and abandon ship, but they can also be replaced at any time by another cat unit that will fill the previously-empty deck slot after a short wait.

Naughty Kitties

There are a few features that increase the strategy of Naughty Kitties and prevent it from merely being a cat-flinging frenzy.  On-ship cats receive damage boosts whenever there are three of the same units active.  These boosts are critical for taking down tough bosses, and can be chained into combos by continuously replacing cats with their same type.  Each time a boost or combo activates, all affected cats will also recharge their energy, allowing you to keep the same cats active for longer periods. 

You can also remove cats from the deck at any time without placing them on the ship, to help ensure you have a specific unit on hand.  If you’re trying to keep a combo going, it’s wise to always have one of the combo’d cats at the ready.  Your other options are a ship-specific laser and one type of power-up gadget—such as a distance-boosting propeller—both of which can be manually discharged as needed. 

Between battles, you’ll need to manage a number of choices, including leveling up your cats for increased power and feeding them to make them more efficient in battle.  Both of these merely amount to paying coins for their desired effect, but allow you to pamper the cats you use most.  Your ship can also be upgraded for more health and laser-damage, additional ships or gadgets purchased, cats assigned to battle, or new cat units bought.

Naughty Kitties

There’s plenty to unlock, but it all revolves around a three-currency economy that quickly turns stingy.  Coins are earned by blowing up enemies and completing missions, and are used for most of the purchases mentioned above—to a point.  Cats, for instance, can be leveled up with coins twice, but leveling beyond that demands the premium currency, fish.  Unlocking a new cat unit requires six fish, a high cost when fish are doled out at a rate of one per slow level-up.  (Technically, you can “gamble” two fish for either a new cat or a gadget, but you’re going to get a gadget.) 

The final currency is cookies, which act as the energy meter we hoped would be removed before the final release.  They remain, and are still capped at five cookies max, meaning five runs before you’ll be locked out of playing.  With the game already essentially forcing you to buy fish to adopt all of the different cats available—or save your money and grow bored of playing with the same litter—this playtime limiter is an unnecessary second wall to enjoying the game.

Naughty Kitties

Even if you opted to spend money to change up your units, upgrade your cats, and deck out your ship, the gameplay itself eventually wears thin.  Since Chou-chou is the only method of repairing damage, you’ll have to bring him along on every run, automatically limiting the available units.  Enemies have little variety and appear in predictable patterns of easy enemies-tough boss-easy enemies, until a random super-wave of immediate death strikes.  And while cat-comboing and deck-management is a fun alternative to jumping and dodging, there’s little strategy beyond these basics.

Naughty Kitties is endearing at first, but difficult to love once you’ve seen all its tricks.  Like many free-to-play endless runners, its failures are repetition and an unfriendly economy.  Its tower defense features, adorable kitties, and playful attitude make it worth checking out, but these cats won’t find a forever home on your device.