Review: The Battle Cats Unite! (Nintendo Switch)

War and Purrrreace (okay yeah sorry that was terrible)

7 mins read

The Battle Cats have been doing the rounds for some years now. Originally released way back in 2012, the property is still going strong, with people even boasting at how many thousands of dollars they’ve spent on the “free to play” mobile original as recently as this year. There was a 3DS port of the basic Battle Cats a few years ago, and now it’s the Switch’s turn. The Battle Cats Unite has been kicking around in Japan for several years, but it’s finally out globally, and it’s as much good fun as ever.

Battle Cats Unite does have a bunch of great things going for it. There are no microtransactions, for a start. What you pay upfront is the full cost of the game and everything can be unlocked simply by playing. There’s a lot to unlock, with hundreds of cats to earn, and then level up, and then build your armies out of. Things start out simply enough, but it doesn’t take long for those cats to become wild in design. And often quite creepy.

There are even some minigames in this version, and while they’re not great, they add a bit more fun and zany variety to the mix. Of greater substance is there is also multiplayer! It’s possible to play Battle Cats both cooperatively and competitively (offline multiplayer only, sadly), and for such a silly, charming little game, if can become surprisingly competitive. Really, the only negative comment that I have about the work that has gone into this Switch game is that the sprites of the cats are looking a little low-resolution and fuzzy these days. Especially on the OLED Switch’s screen. I didn’t really expect the developers to “HD” the sheer weight of visual assets in Battle Cats, but on the other hand we are talking about a game where that particular quality is critical to its appeal.

A screenshot of The Battle Cats Unite

Otherwise, I’m just going to drop in a chunk of my review from the 3DS title, because it is much the same experience:

The game is broken down into levels, and each level steadily increases the power and range of enemy units. Luckily, after each level, you’ll earn experience points, which you can use to power up your cats, or recruit more powerful ones into your force. On mobile, this process was a bit of a drag, and required a fair amount of grinding to bring your forces to a standard that they’re realistically able to keep up with the enemies of a given level. Or in other words, the game put a drag on progress to try and inspire you to spend money. The 3DS version seems to have rebalanced things so this isn’t the case; I rarely found myself getting stuck this time, and when I did, I could use the “premium currency” cat food to give myself a booster, which is handed out like free candy by simply playing in this version.

It’s impressive just how much more streamlined and engaging games like this can become when the developer can rely on players providing an upfront amount of money in order to be able to play the game. I don’t begrudge developers success with free-to-play games, and I don’t believe that the monetisation model makes these games inferior, but I do like how developers that see potential for their games on console also understand that the straight-up free-to-play model can be tweaked to offer a premium experience that places fewer roadblocks to progress in front of the player.

A screenshot of Battle Cats Unite

Let’s forget all the above though, because what Battle Cats is really about is its balls-to-the-wall insanity. As you would have gathered by now, each unit you control has a cat face, but each unit is a weird creature thing with a cat face. The ranged cat looks like something from War of the Worlds, marching into battle on giant insect legs. The tank cat is stretched tall, like a moving bit of wall. There’s bird cats, bull cats, and weirder still. As a horde of them marches into battle against snakes, hippos, and other oddball enemies, a jazzy march tune bounces along merrily in the background.

None of it makes sense. None of it is meant to make sense. This is surrealism nonsense in a pure form, and the maelstrom of activity that it creates on the top screen is ridiculously charming for it. Cats, environments, and enemies are all simple in design, but the clash between the monochrome cats and normal enemies, bright, colourful backgrounds, and the occasional coloured-in enemy to designate a particularly powerful foe is both functional in making the action easy to follow, and delightful on the eyes.

Battle Cats has endured, successfully, for many years now for a very good reason. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times you play it on different platforms, either. You pick up a “new” version of it, such as with Battle Cats Unite here, and you get lost in it all over again. If that’s not classic, then nothing is, and now it has multiplayer!

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Matt S. is the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of DDNet. He's been writing about games for over 20 years, including a book, but is perhaps best-known for being the high priest of the Church of Hatsune Miku.

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