I’m always on the hunt for a comforting, heart-warming gaming experience, especially after any stressful work day or week. So, when I found the demo of Copycat, which its Steam page describes as a “wholesome narrative-driven game” I was overjoyed. However, despite the story's initial appearance as sweet and cute, Copycat quickly entwines its narrative with harrowing themes, making it far from the wholesome experience I was searching for.
In actuality, Copycat is a heart-breaking narrative-driven game that uses the relationships you develop at the beginning against you. When rejection starts to become one of the most prominent themes this game becomes far from its wholesome descriptor and no longer matches that initial tag.
You take on the role of an adopted shelter cat who needs to discover the real meaning of home. In doing so, you are challenged to make various decisions about your actions, which affect your relationship with Olive, the elderly lady who adopts you. But, while the adventure initially seems to be about your relationship with your new owner, as you progress through the demo you start to learn that home isn’t just the four walls that you inhabit but stretches further afield with themes of family and, in turn, abandonment.
Although the free demo of Copycat doesn’t show you the entire adventure into what home really means, it does set the tone for what we can expect when it finally releases.
In the short amount of time you do spend with Copycat, you get a feel for the relationship between the cat and Olive, alongside a little bit of backstory into Olive’s life and any cats that came before you. Genuinely, it’s a poignant story that anyone who has a pet or feels connected to animals in any way will find equal parts emotional and entertaining. However, the latter doesn’t outweigh the former, and tears will flow the further you sink your claws in.
As an adopted cat, your first encounter with Olive is terrifying. Every prompt of action choice you get only involves negative actions rather than anything that might encourage a more positive relationship. For example, rather than immediately trusting your owner, you have to choose between scratching or biting when she reaches into your travel case. Although these options are pretty unsavory for someone like me who always prefers to take the polite route, it does reinforce the fact that you are a terrified shelter cat in an overwhelming new environment.
However, these harsh beginnings do help you notice the gradual development of a relationship between characters. After a lot of desperation from Olive, and a lot of patience with your bad moods and uncertainty while you adjust to your new setting, the occasional positive prompt will appear. Something simple such as crawling slightly closer to Olive, or holding ‘Y’ to purr when you finally let your guard down shows that you’re slowly warming up to the idea of being at home. Each time you’re presented with one of these options, you feel a great sense of vicarious pride.
Due to the fact these prompts don’t immediately come, it feels like you’re making genuine progress when they do. However, this transition from a moody and uncaring cat into one that is starting to show warmth and happiness only serves to make what's to come even sadder.
Curiosity killed the cat
You later find out that you're not the first cat Olive has had, as she eventually lets you know that she previously had an identical one before you who went missing. This fact is reinforced by a phone call that happens later in the demo between Olive and her daughter, who seems confused that the cat has reappeared after going missing for so long. After you discover this, there’s a looming sense of dread that hangs over the experience.
The cat (you) is never fully comfortable in the new home, however, and seems to be keen on leaving which makes you feel bad for Olive, but there’s also something that keeps you curious as to why previous pets have fled or disappeared. Unfortunately, this isn’t explored in the short demo: it ends just as everything starts to turn from a sweet story of adapting to a new home into something a bit darker. It's all set up to potentially be a very heartwrenching tale.
While I already feel overly emotional when thinking about the story of Copycat, I can only expect the full release of the game to reemphasize the emotional journey of what it means to find your place in the world. If I had a cat, there’s absolutely no way it would be leaving my sights after playing through this demo; instead, I’ll have to live vicariously through my friends who do. Otherwise, I can see myself rapidly becoming akin to Olive.
Our list of the best indie games is bound to shed light on some alternative games for you to sink your teeth into. For something a little more relaxing, though, our list of the best cozy Switch games may also be of interest.