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I thought Cat Quest 3 wouldn’t be for me. I was very wrong

Characters pose in the key art for Cat Quest 3.
Kepler Interactive

Video games that try to thread the needle between younger and older audiences have a tricky job. Games like Detective Pikachu Returns can find themselves walking a difficult tightrope act as they waffle between which age group they want to cater to. That can result in an imbalance between simplistic writing and complex gameplay or vice versa. While the idea of courting a wide age range is appealing, it’s not an easy task.

That’s why I’m impressed by Cat Quest 3 so far. On its surface the pirate RPG certainly looks and sounds like a straight-up kid’s game. It has an adorable art style and a script full of easy feline puns. And yet, I found myself deeply engaged as I played through a lengthy demo. Deep RPG systems had me so locked in that I was surprised when I hit the end of my time.

Why was a game that seemed so geared toward young players speaking to me? That’s because Cat Quest 3 has a more nuanced audience in mind: players who are young at heart.

Sail away

I was unfamiliar with the Cat Quest series before starting my demo, so its setup initially caught me off guard. I’d always assumed it was a fairly straightforward 2D platformer, but that’s far from reality. Instead, Cat Quest 3 sets players loose in an overworld that resembles ones found in classic RPGs. One quick glance and you might assume it’s a retro throwback with turn-based encounters. That’s not the case either. This is very much the kind of book that you can’t judge by its cover.

While the threequel might be surprising to newcomers, Cat Quest fans will find a familiar formula here. I’d drop into my demo with just a sword and start slashing enemies, grabbing treasure, and growing stronger with each level up. It almost feels like a small dungeon-crawler at moments, as I slash through “Pi-Rats” and collect valuable gear from chests. I’d quickly get a main objective as I was told to track down a specific treasure, but I was free to explore a small patch of islands in any way I saw fit.

A cat runs through an overworld in Cat Quest 3.
Kepler Interactive

The freeform exploration stands out immediately. Cat Quest 3 has some of the hooks of your standard open-world game, but discoveries feel much more organic. Rather than plopping markers on a map, I routinely bump into sidequests and hidden chests as I sail around islands either on foot or in my ship. When I sail north, I find a fisherman being harassed by some ships. I blast them with canons, but the crusty fisherman refuses to give me a reward. He quickly relents and clues me into a nearby treasure chest, giving me a valuable rewards. Moments like that made me eager to explore every corner of the map that I could during the demo. And what I saw here was only a small taste of its much bigger map.

I’d similarly find myself surprised by both the combat and RPG systems the deeper I got. At first, it all seemed simple. I slashed some early enemies by mashing a button and dodging attacks. Soon, my arsenal would expand as I gained fire and lightning spells I could bind to my bumpers. I could swap to a long-range pistol with the tap of a button, and that playstyle changed a few times as I found weapons with very different fire and reload speeds (I’d end my demo with a machine gun with tons of rounds). By the end of my demo, I had already bought in on the surprisingly fast-paced battles that had me carefully juggling my close- and long-range options.

All of that pairs with ship combat, which allows me to blast boats and doors with a heavy cannon, and deep customization. I had several gear slots to manage during my demo, including clothing, weapons, perks, spells, ship upgrades, and more. Each of those can be upgraded at a blacksmith or fortune teller, increasing their stats. The final challenge of the demo had me trying to beat a raging boar in the open world. I couldn’t quite hack it at first, but then I remembered that I’d amassed a large bounty of gold. After some careful spending, I came back much stronger and wiped the floor with it. That level of reward for grinding and exploration brought me back to the kind of old-school RPGs I grew up with. And I don’t think those warm feelings are an accident.

Young at heart

It really feels like Cat Quest 3 understands and caters to a specific audience. It’s not so much geared toward kids as it is the kind of players who still carry a youthful energy and want to see that in their games too. The tone is playful, with a pirate story and swashbuckling characters that’ll take older players back. It’s similar to the tone of a retro throwback like Sea of Stars, though it’s even more unabashed in its good-natured silliness. All the while, it delivers deep and engaging systems that don’t leave it feeling simplistic.

The tone might leave some players rolling their eyes, even if they are the intended audience. A good chunk of the dialogue I read boiled down to low-hanging cat puns that get old fast. Expect to see words like “purr” and “fur” shoehorned into as many words as possible. That’s where the adventure can start to feel just a little patronizing, slipping off its tightrope ever so slightly.

Boats sail on the ocean in Cat Quest 3.
Kepler Interactive

Aside from that, though, Cat Quest 3 isn’t setting off too many red flags. The only minor annoyance comes from its newest addition: ship exploration. Being able to summon a boat at any dock with the press of a button and sail around islands opens up exploration even more, though turning and aiming at enemies can be just a bit inelegant. It didn’t take long to get used to that, though, and I ultimately found myself enjoying how ships could change some familiar dynamics. For instance, if I saw a group of enemies hanging out on a shore, I could choose to roll up on them with my boat and unleash fire instead of disembarking and doing it myself. A health bar ensures that I don’t just spam that, as taking too much damage will require me to stand near my ship for a bit until it repairs itself.

Cat Quest 3 feels like it’s finding a great balance so far, merging RPG depths with youthful storytelling and some surprising combat challenges. I went in assuming it just wouldn’t be for me, but I’ve come out of it itching to explore more. Consider my curiosity piqued.

Cat Quest 3 launches on August 8 for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

Editors' Recommendations

Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
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