Review: Whimsical Kakatte Koi Yo! Is an Unconventional Fighting Game

Screenshot: Kakatte Koi Yo (Check out our interview with Chicago Developer BackSlash Games, published late last year.) "Kakatte Koi" is a Japanese phrase that is an answer to a challenge—basically “bring it on” with “yo!” being the emphatic punctuation. And while that’s certainly the attitude I would expect from a fighting game, the first thing that comes to mind isn’t cats slapping each other with magical fish. But that’s exactly what you do in Kakatte Koi Yo!, a game where cats use fish to slap, stick, stab and blow up their competition in a fighting game quite unlike any I’ve ever seen before. Kakatte Koi Yo! Is a Japanese-inspired 2D fighting game where you and up to three other players control cats in an effort to outscore their opponents. There are multiple ways to do this, but all of them involve fish somehow. After you gather your fish from the pond, you can either choose to upgrade it into a power-up, use it to slap your opponent, score a goal with it, or even eat it to receive some of your health back. The team or the player with the highest score wins. Wins are achieved by getting the fish into the opposing goal, knocking out an opponent, or you can instantly win by managing to push the bomb into your opponent’s shrine, when the map allows for such a thing. Screenshot: Kakatte Koi Yo There are three different ways you can play: Free-for-all, Team, and training. Free-for-all is exactly what it sounds like: each player has to face the others, and the first to score 5 points wins. There aren’t any score baskets across the six levels of this mode, except for the stage "Icemmetry" where the scoring basket randomly appears throughout the level. Team mode is a 1v1 or a 2v2 mode where players collect fish and fight or try to score on their opponent. While Team mode is technically a single mode, it actually encompasses a few gameplay variations. For instance, out of the ten maps, there were a few that changed the core gameplay in a pretty a significant way—like having to toss swordfish at your opponents like darts, or volleying an explosive puffer fish back and forth in cramped spaces. Of course, upgrading your fish and using them against your opponents is one of the main modes of combat in Kakatte Koi Yo!. As just a fishless cat, all you can hope to do is snatch your opponent’s fish. While you can certainly slap them around with the koi from the pond, upgrading your fish at the shrine gives you a chance at something more powerful, like a fish that bestows Ninja powers and endless shurikens that can be thrown, or a type of shellfish that becomes a damage shield. Screenshot: Kakatte Koi Yo Training doubles as a sort of single player challenge mode, as well as a way to hone your cat fighting skills. As a training mode, it teaches some valuable techniques you can later use against your friends when you meet them in fish+feline combat, or you can chase the ever elusive Golden Koi, bestowed upon those fast or skilled enough to earn it. As a fighting game, it’s important that Kakatte Koi Yo! has tight, precise controls. There is a tiny bit of a floaty feeling, but seeing as you’re a nimble cat, it ends up feeling thematically appropriate. Everything about actually playing Kakatte Koi Yo! is super fun. There is a little bit of a learning curve, which can be the death of a party game, but there are lots of ways that the game not only continuously teaches players the controls, it also makes sure they have a grasp when a new match has started by making players prove their competency in a short tutorial. This can be annoying when a group of friends have been playing for several hours and want to get to the action, but Kakatte Koi Yo!’s short player competency check only takes a moment to go through. Everything gameplay-wise in Kakatte Koi Yo! works really well. If I had a genuine complaint, it would be for the menus. Screenshot: Kakatte Koi Yo There are a few quality of life changes I wish Kakatte Ko Yo! would have attained before hitting “1.0”—specifically with the UI, and the ability to customize matches. Kakatte Koi Yo!’s menus are hard to navigate, and feel broken. The user interface is pretty standard, but it’s hard to actually see what option is selected. There are also a few annoying quirks. For instance, I don’t know if it’s possible to go back once you’ve gotten to the map select screen, even though the option appears to exist. I also wish there was a quit to map selection option. As it is right now, all “quit” buttons seem to lead back to the main menu. Worse than that, matches can’t be customized. What I really hoped for was options for the matches. The ability to set match time limits, or set how many points are needed to win would make a huge difference in terms of quality of life. Kakatte Koi Yo! is an undoubtedly whimsical game, with appropriate animations and visuals to back it up. It’s actually quite a pretty game, with delightful animations. Who doesn’t love a cat, eager to pounce, wiggling its little butt in the air? Kakatte Koi Yo! captures the essence of cats perfectly, even as they battle against one another. The music is also great, and feels lifted from a retro era, which feels like the perfect fit for a 2D games about cats fighting with fish. Screenshot: Kakatte Koi Yo I don’t think I’ve ever played a fighting game quite like Kakatte Koi Yo! before.  It’s hard to classify it as “just” a fighting game, but it’s not quite a “party” game either—though it definitely was a hit to every group I showed it to. It does have a slight learning curve as you learn to gather fish and use them against your friends, but there are ever-present reminders on how to play, with little tutorial sections that ensure that anyone who picks up a controller can at least perform the basics. There isn’t baked-in multiplayer, but if you want to play it with friends, Remote Play Together is enabled to have those remote cat fights that have become more common in these COVID times. Kakatte Koi Yo! is definitely a product of some clever game design, and I definitely recommend it to those who might want a little less convention in their fighting games. Bring it on! Kakatte Koi Yo! is available now on Steam.   If you like the video game, tabletop, or other technology content that Third Coast Review has to offer, consider donating to our Patreon. We are the only publication in Chicago that regularly reviews video games, and we cover lots of local Chicago-based events and more. 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Antal Bokor

Antal is video game advocate, retro game collector, and video game historian. He is also a small streamer, occasional podcast guest, and writer.