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NekoBuro: CatsBlock PS Vita Review: Gotta Match Them All

This bizarre, but super-cute puzzler has you matching square cats from outer space. Yes. You read that right.

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NekoBuro: CatsBlock had me at "square cats made from electrical waves," and kept me playing with its rather random match-three, objective-oriented gameplay. It's enjoyable and addictive, and delivers some interesting challenges that won't feel particularly innovative to anyone familiar with match-three gaming, but there's enough of a twist to the gameplay to make it fun nonetheless.

Yeah, this is one of those ass-backwards reviews that starts with what should essentially be the summing-up portion of the piece, but I'm doing this to save you time reading the next few hundred words explaining exactly why the game kept me occupied for a decent amount of hours. Unless you really want to know, in which case read on. Otherwise you can scroll straight to the score and then go read about some other game that’s perhaps a little more interesting to you.

So you're still reading? Good. In that case, let me tell you that NekoBuro is a strange little Japanese game that offers fairly familiar match-three gameplay… with that little twist that I mentioned previously. The story explains – and yes, there is a story to this exceptionally cute and well-presented PlayStation Vita game – that a spaceship full of sentient square kitties has accidentally crash-landed onto our beautiful blue-green planet. A kindly young girl takes one in, and immediately falls in love with him. Because of this, the space cat assumes she is his servant. And why not – she wants to look after him, so why would he not assume that he's some kind of Godly creature to be loved and worshipped? He's given a room to himself – essentially the game's hub that the player is able to customize slightly with winnable items – and his objective is to summon more of his brethren by completing levels of match-three gameplay. There are five levels all told, each featuring ten stages, making for a total of fifty individual challenges.

There's more to this story, but it's largely irrelevant and indeed not translated particularly well. This results in some smirksomely cute hybrid English-Japanese text that sometimes, but doesn't always quite make sense. It certainly adds to the game's charm, even if it doesn't offer much in the way of substance.

What's most important is the match-three gameplay, and it's here that the game mostly shines. It's basically a Columns-type game where three small, differently-colored square cats slowly drop down to the bottom of the screen, and you have to simply match them with other similarly-colored cats to make them disappear. It's classic gameplay that we've seen a zillion times before in other games. You can cycle the trio of kitties so that you can mix and match colors and create combos. Doing so fills a meter, which, each time it fills, gives you an increasingly useful item you can throw at an incoming kitty. If that cat matches with other felines, a certain effect is triggered – perhaps destroying a 3x3 block of the screen, or wiping out a complete vertical or horizontal line of cats and other blocks.

Learning what these items do, and using them strategically is a fundamental part of the gameplay, since each level has a specific objective. It might be to destroy a certain amount of colored cats, or something simpler, like surviving for a predetermined period of time. Hitting these objectives is sometimes tricky, as is the nature of random match-three puzzling. Sometimes you get just the right combination of kitties at just the right time to complete a level with ease, and sometimes you don't. I imagine this might be potentially frustrating for some, but it never really bothered me too much – I enjoyed the challenge of working with what the great Random Number Generator Gods threw my way, which to me is part and parcel of this kind of game.

NekoBuro's difficulty progression is generally smooth, with a few curveball levels thrown in for good measure that take a little more time to master than most. But for the most part, the game is fairly straightforward and easy to pick up and play. It can also be played in short bursts, making it an ideal game for PS Vita. The Story Mode takes perhaps six or so hours to get through, depending on how skillful you are at match-three gaming, and there's an endless Survival Mode for those who want a longer-term challenge.

What makes this game particularly appealing is its graphics – NekoBuro's stylized looks are super cute, and it's hard not to love the ridiculous story, even if it barely makes sense. It's just a fun game that doesn't take itself too seriously, and offers an enjoyable match-three challenge that you can return to time and time again to try to best your scores on individual levels.

A special mention has to go to the soundtrack, some of which should be classified as Schedule 1 Earworm material. Just listening to some of NekoBuro's ditties for a few seconds will get them stuck in your head for hours after playing – so be warned. Oh, and the sound effects are particularly annoying, in a cute, squeaky-Japanese-voice-and-cats-meowing kind of way. Make sure you wear headphones while playing it, because you're guaranteed to annoy all and sundry around you if you have it running through the Vita's speakers.

Despite its silliness, NekoBuro is a fun little puzzler that's not overly taxing, but offers sufficient entertainment for the price of entry. It certainly won't win any gameplay awards for innovation, but it's cute and appealing, and offers addictive action that'll keep you glued to your PS Vita for a good few hours.

Lasting AppealFans of match-three gaming will likely enjoy the action. It's not super-challenging, but it's entertaining nonetheless.

SoundThe soundtrack features some deadly earworms that'll get stuck in your head for hours.

VisualsNekoBuro's square cats are the stars of the show, and help make this one of the cutest Vita games around.

ConclusionAn exceptionally cute match-three puzzler whose completely off-the-wall (and comedically mis-translated) Story Mode packs a fun challenge that'll keep you entertained for a good few hours.

3.5 / 5.0

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