Calico is possibly the cutest fetch quest game I’ve played. That will be both music to some gamers ears and chalk on a board to others. It is very difficult to be ambivalent to a game like Calico which is designed to be somewhat of an anti-game. You play at your pace and take on whatever you fancy, eventually meandering into the story and its conclusion if you want to. That makes it fun but potentially unengaging.
Let’s start with the joyous charm of Calico upfront. The island you move to is filled with over 100 animals. You can pet all of them. You can also throw potions most of them and then ride them around the island too. if I’m honest, this was what I spent most of my time doing as the main story of Calico follows a Summer In Mara styled NPC fetch quest system. There is no skill to speak of in completing these. You just need to find an animal, make a certain cake or buy some styles of furniture to build up your café. Your mileage with this style of gameplay will vary greatly but one thing Calico has in its favour is that your neighbours are largely open, welcoming and inviting. They don’t look down on you and send you on your way like other games in the genre. Calico understands that you are building a community and that this takes friendship and collaboration. A smile in the text box goes a long way.
Community is at the heart of the game and each character on the island runs on a schedule. Sometimes that means the shop owner will be hiding elsewhere, or neighbours will be travelling. You can track where they are on a map and simply ride to them for a chat. They’ll give you a task and you can add it to your UI for reference. Chat with them enough and they’ll become friends and stop by the café. When they do, they’ll buy your food and this earns you money to spend on café cosmetics or toys for all these cats and dogs you’ve been hoarding on your travels. Putting a little bit of all styles of furniture seems to keep everyone happy and motivates them to clear bridges or give goods to you to expand the island. This gives you access to more areas with more NPCs with more quests. The circle of life continues.
The cats, of which there are loads, can all be commanded after you meet them. Up to four can travel with you for a jaunty band of kitties, or you can send them back home. This means they’ll be running around all the visitors to your café and keeping the island looking alive and healthy. It is exceptionally cute and the extra pick up and shake controls make the animals look like stretchy plushies. This cuteness extends to characters too and the diverse openness they have. Calico prides itself on picking characters from a range of backgrounds, genders and sexualities and ensures that at no point do these become talking points. With animals everywhere, the island is just a happy place to live in harmony and that is welcome in todays ‘gritty is a must’ gaming world.
Visually, the blocky watercolours looked both beautiful and awkward at the same time. When out in the wilderness and running around with animals, it is beautiful. When in a dense area or inside your home, the graphics and the camera are less than helpful. The watercolours often become huge seas of hazy colour shades that then block your view. You can zoom the camera in and out but it seems to get caught behind every wall going. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the Alice in Wonderland cooking mini-game. Here you are shrunk to a tiny person and pick up ingredients to throw them into the mixing bowl. The mini-game works fine – just get your camera in a nice position first. The same issue is much worse in furniture placement mode. You have plenty of options but placing them inside the building requires a wrestle. In the end, I dumped my furniture outside and declared it a summer venue! A shame then that the weather forecast gave all my punters rain the next day!
Calico has a lot going for it but I did find pure fetch quest gameplay wore me down. Towards the end of the story I was rushing to get through and I don’t think that is what the developers intended. I think I wanted more from the world-building as after the initial introductions, stories became quite mundane and tasks were repeated. I do think fans of farming sims, community sims and slice of life gaming will have plenty to enjoy though. It does lose a little engagement from not having a commercial backbone though. Food is so easy to create, you don’t have to think about it at all. There is no grind to get anywhere so some of the achievements you accomplish don’t feel like they’ve been earned. Beyond running around from person to person, everything is already laid out for you.
If you don’t mind Calico being easy peasy, add a point on. It is a lovely world it inhabit whilst the charm lasts. After you’ve petted all the animals and made all the cakes though, I was ready to move on to pastures new.
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