Years ago, I visited Houtong Cat Village, a former coal mining town in Taiwan that has since been taken over by cats. The place is a cornucopia of feline residents: black cats loafing on parapets, white ones lazing on motorbike seats, and even an exhausted calico lounging on top of the town’s weathered mascot statue. Cat-themed cafes and kitty kitsch are plentiful, and you cannot walk a few meters without crouching to greet a sleepy tabby. Time seems to slow down significantly there. Yet before you know it, the sun has set, the cats have retreated to the snuggest of nooks, and it’s time to leave.
Mineko’s Night Market is very much reminiscent of that coziness. For one thing, the game is set in a similar village, one centered around a cat creature of some sort: a towering, rotund feline called Nikko sporting a wooden mask. Scenes from Mineko’s Night Market harken back to old Sunday cartoons, the hand-painted textures of the wooden houses and shops seemingly produced by layering paper cutouts atop one another. The residents are polite but reserved, with the exception of one blustering kid who introduces himself as Bobo. As Mineko, a girl enamored with the folklore of the village, you become fast friends with Bobo, mesh into the tightest of duos, and he pulls you into his numerous exploits.
There’s also a myriad of small, relaxing tasks you can complete at your leisure, such as creating handicrafts, gathering resources, and petting as many cats as humanly possible. Mineko’s Night Market is a slow, leisurely experience that lets you roll along at your own pace — one in which you can while away many hours without realizing how long you’ve lingered.
A mythical tale nudges this pastoral affair along. Bobo quickly embroils you in a grand conspiracy around Nikko, which he believes has something to do with the presence of sharply dressed, shady-looking thugs who have trapped the island’s cats in tiny cages. Bobo sees himself as a strategist, but like most sidekicks, he’s a planner, not a doer. This means it’s up to you, as Mineko, to travel to various parts of the island to free these kittens via a series of stealth minigames, where you’ll need to sidestep the thugs’ vision cones to avoid detection. Then there’s the village itself; once a bustling tourist attraction before your arrival, it has deteriorated to a somewhat dilapidated state, its eponymous night market largely vacant and lifeless. Eager to inject more activity (and profits) back into the scene, its organizer asks you to set up a booth to sell your handmade crafts and other odds and ends.
While much of Mineko’s Night Market is cozy and languid, early chunks of it border on laborious — it begins at a slow, heavy gait. Most of the island is locked away, and you can only visit certain areas when you have enough funds to purchase specific tools. And with only a scant few resources to gather at the village, your only means of earning cash is by frantically plucking as many flowers as you can to make bouquets to sell at the night market, which only takes place on Saturdays. Moreover, the cat-rescue stealth minigames can get stale quickly, given that they aren’t particularly challenging.
But once you get over the initial lull and gain access to more of the island’s corners, Mineko’s Night Market ramps up significantly, with a nearly dizzying amount of activities to pursue. More areas yield more resources to harvest, with which you can craft more items. Neighbors will ask you for favors, and in exchange, they’ll grant you new crafting recipes. You can invite new, friendly merchants to set up shop at the village. You can go fishing as the seasons change and new flora and fish appear. As the town gets livelier, once-abandoned museums reopen, encouraging you to display an assortment of food, flowers, and gems.
For all of its ancillary pastimes, Mineko’s Night Market truly springs to life on in-game Saturdays, the culmination of all your hard work over the week. At the titular bazaar, you can sell your goods to haggling customers, visit other booths, impulsively purchase delightful snacks and plush toys, and participate in the event’s festivities, from cat racing to live performances. When the event concludes, I trudge back home in the quiet of the night, eager to dive back into the zen-like routines of chores and pastoral work in subsequent days.
Admittedly, there are days where it feels like friendship in this quaint little town is conditional, an odd feeling that everyone wants something from you: 10 pieces of paper for fixing a flimsy wall, two matcha lattes for a thirsty neighbor, a sports drink for an aspiring athlete. At one point, a vendor even jokingly requests 120 blocks of wood to build their store — a joke to be had at your expense. But if you can shelve these uncomfortable thoughts, Mineko’s Night Market can be a place to linger for a few hours. Be it chipping away at your laundry list of mundane but comforting chores or selling some handmade kitty kitsch at the night market, this cozy sim is an invitation to slow down and smell the roses. Or rather, pet the cats, as they flop over in contentment, their purrs resonating from deep within their bellies.
Mineko’s Night Market was released on Sept. 26 on Mac, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, and Windows PC. The game was reviewed on PC using a pre-release download code provided by Humble Bundle. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.