As a cat owner for 16 long, long years, I can say that having a cat can be a challenging experience. They won’t do what you want, they are difficult to please, and just when you think you understand them, they turn on you. So it makes sense that 1Button, developers of the notoriously difficult game Mr. Jump, would choose a cat to lead their newest fun frustration, Nekosan. Oh sure, it’s a cute little cat, but behind the goofy little smile is a rascal that’s going to make your life a lot more difficult.
To succeed in Nekosan, you must avoid obstacles to collect stars and advance through increasingly more difficult levels. Collect little golden fish to unlock other cute playable characters and try to beat your best time for a shot at leaderboard stardom. It is notable that though tapping is central to gameplay, Nekosan is not a mindless high score chaser with endless auto-generated environments, but instead, has repeatable levels to master with hard-learned skill.
There are currently eight worlds with a collection of stages in each, all loosely tied around certain mechanics. You’ll start a world with nine lives and when you inevitably die, you can earn three continues with five lives each by watching video ads. The good news is that because each level stays the same, it’s quite possible to improve a little each time once you figure out what to do and where you can go. If you still can’t survive the level with those 15 extra lives, you’ll have to start the whole thing over, no matter how late of a stage you were in. Alternatively, you can make anin-app purchase for additional lives, which is a rather fair monetization strategy.
The design of the game is simple and clean, with kawaii characters that will appeal to lovers of cats and their cute, furry brethren. Each stage feels handmade, with thoughtful consideration for obstacle placement, helper blocks and golden fish. Stages feature different elements such as mice to stomp, saw blades to avoid, or blocks to break. Each new addition of an environmental object feels like ascending one more rung on a ladder of skill. There is a tangible restraint in each little scene that makes the included components feel more meaningful in the process of improving over time.
I must confess that the control mechanics of Nekosan were pretty frustrating for me. I appreciate the challenge of attempting to solve a true one-handed, one-tap gameplay experience. The developers do a pretty good job solving the problem of every action being triggered by only a tap. However, as a user, the results feel pretty unintuitive and the learning curve is irritatingly steep. Of course, this steep learning curve is part of the game’s defining difficulty, and ultimately, its appeal for fans of the genre. The leaderboards prove that there are plenty of people willing to spend time mastering the idiosyncratic controls, while the rest of us sadly drop off.
If you’re up for a challenge and like cute, bouncing cats, Nekosan is worth a download. The monetization system is fair and will allow for a lot of free play, as long as you’re willing to watch some ads or replay some levels. The one-tap mechanic and the portrait orientation will also make it appealing for commuters, though the resulting cursing in frustration might not be ideal for public transportation.