There’s big news today in the world of Neko Atsume, the oddly compelling game that has ensnared countless people around the world in its adorable cat-collecting loop — despite being entirely in Japanese. Developers Hit-Point have released an update that fully localizes the game into English, meaning you’ll no longer need to use an online guide to work out exactly which treats you’re buying in an attempt to lure new feline friends. The English version is called Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector, and is out today — just hours after National Cat Day in the US wrapped up.
Speaking via video conference from Hit-Point’s base city of Kyoto, Neko Atsume project manager Yutaka Takazaki tells me that the game’s success outside Japan took the company completely by surprise. “When we made the game we weren’t thinking about foreign users — we were only thinking about the Japanese audience,” he says. “It’s very helpful that the community is helping each other out.”
The English version isn’t a rushed or literal translation, which is very much for the best; Hit-Point outsourced the localization to renowned external agency 8-4 in part because of resources, but also in part because converting the game to English offers up some particular challenges. "Neko Atsume itself was designed with the Japanese language in mind," says Takazaki. "For example, something written with two kanji characters will have to have a bigger width for the English translation."
And the issues weren’t only technical — the cats’ names needed to be localized in a way that made sense. Direct translations of the Japanese names would often be overly literal or miss some cultural nuance, so in the English version Shironeko ("white cat") becomes Snowball, Haiiro ("gray") is now Shadow, and Kutsushita ("socks," bearing some resemblance to a popular Japanese character with a similar name) is known as Smokey. The -san honorific at the end of each cat’s name has also been dropped.
If you’ve already succumbed to Neko Atsume’s charms despite the language barrier, don't worry — you’ll be able to switch between English and Japanese at will within the app, meaning you won’t need to start from scratch in your quest to master the capricious desires of cats. But the biggest question I had was to what extent the appeal of Neko Atsume so far was helped by, rather than being in spite of, its Japanese nature. I played the game in Japanese long before I knew anyone was doing the same outside the country, and it definitely keeps its charm when you’re playing it without a guide. But I wondered whether many of those English-speaking players got far more into it than I ever did because of the added level of engagement needed to understand the game at all.
Takazaki thinks that players can have it both ways with the new version. "You can switch between Japanese and English any time you want, so I think that’ll be a new way to enjoy the app," he says. "Looking at the Japanese UI and thinking ‘well this is neat’" and then going back to English." I personally wouldn’t be surprised if people continued to play Neko Atsume in Japanese, because at this point the meta-game of working out how to play it and remembering the cats' names might as well be part of the game itself. But the English version should, of course, open up Neko Atsume to a whole new potential audience of people who just want an impossibly cute app to look at while in line at the supermarket.
The new localized version of Neko Atsume is out now on Android, and should be coming to iOS soon. The game is free and can be enjoyed without spending money, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself paying for gold fish to buy toys in the hope of attracting even more cats.