The first time I merged a kitty cat into another, I was immediately rewarded with a new type, the kitten. But it took two kittens to make a sneaky cat, and four kittens to make a Japanese bobtail. By the time I reached the 20th cat, the elusive Egyptian Mau, it took merging 262,144 kitty cats together.
It’s been weeks since I began playing Cat Condo, a mobile game on iOS and Android, created by a Taiwanese start-up called Zepni Ltd., and progress has definitely stalled. It’s an idle clicker game where the goal is to match cats to breed more cats and use the money each cat makes to buy even more, until your photo gallery is filled up with rare species. But to me, this difficulty in getting to the next 20 rare and unobtainable cats is what makes Cat Condo an appealing game to open during my subway commute.
The art and premise resemble Neko Atsume, but Cat Condo is a much more capitalistic game. In Neko Atsume, cats have the free will to walk in and out, and their only job is to look cute. In Cat Condo, they’re forced to sit atop a cat condo, where they make money for you. Slowly, you’ll amass quadrillions of dollars, as you merge one cat into another, creating increasingly rare cats.
Rather than attempt to merge 262,144 kitty cats one by one, I buy the cats from the shops. To get that money, I have to wait around a lot, similar to Neko Atsume. But whereas in Neko Atsume you can relax and enjoy your cats wandering around, slurping on fish, in Cat Condo it’s a grind to the top, where the adorable faces of cats purr as signs of encouragement. As someone who grew up playing the massively multiplayer MapleStory and the more chill browser game Neopets, I am familiar with the grind. It’s a comforting thing.
In addition to buying cats, there are also gift boxes and surprise boxes that award you with middle-tier cats to speed up your journey. And, like other idle clicker games such as AdVenture Capitalist, watching 30-second ads can speed up money-making, upgrade the cats you get from gift boxes, and double the money you’ve made when you exit the app and return. While watching ads might ruin the gaming experience for some, after staring at my computer all day for work and then my phone at night for fun, it’s a great time to look away and rest my eyes.
Initially, it might seem like Cat Condo is a pay-to-win game. There are two options to spend real money, with somewhat unclear descriptions: better boxes and faster speed. The English translations in the game are a bit ambiguous, so I tried both to see what they were. Better boxes means the basic cats that the game produces are upgraded to a higher-level cat, but it doesn’t mean surprise or gift boxes get upgrades. (You still have to watch ads for that.) Faster speed means the basic cats are produced much faster, but it doesn’t speed up money-making. Neither is an especially great bonus.
For folks like me who are allergic to cat dander and therefore can’t go up to a cat and hug them, this game is a great way to fill the void. The cats vary in sizes, but they’re all tiny and significantly more adorable than their real-life counterparts. The Scottish Fold, for instance, is a lot cuter in-game.
The joy of this sometimes tedious, sometimes opaque game comes from admiring these cats. Some are fluffy and rotund, while others are bizarre-looking and scrawny. The merges make a result that’s often nonsensical, as two cats make another that obviously isn’t from the same lineage and can’t be related. The fun is having no idea what you’ll get next when you can finally combine to the next level, like two Somali cats turning into a Bengal cat. And the best part is that unlike real cats, these don’t run away, but instead sit patiently awaiting your return.