Unfamiliar (Steam) Review

Unfamiliar: A relaxing game for magical cat people

A delightfully whimsical Australian-produced game about a magical cat that’s great to simply relax with.

Plenty of games are all about that pew-pew action, blowing apart as many opponents into meaty chunks as you can manage.

That’s totally not what Unfamiliar is about.

If anything, it’s about that purr-purr action instead.

Yew the witch-cat travels through worlds with branching paths, although much of the action is effectively on rails.
Yew the witch-cat travels through worlds with branching paths, although much of the action is effectively on rails.

I first came across Unfamiliar at PAX AUS (you can read my writeup here), and I was kicking myself at the time for not picking up a copy.

So of course, life intervened and (I’ll be honest here) I completely forgot about it, until it came up in a Twitter conversation recently, and I grabbed a copy to give the retail version a run-through. Or in this case, a gently-padded paw through…

Which Witch hat should you -- playing as Yew -- choose?
Which Witch hat should you — playing as Yew — choose?

Unfamiliar casts you in the role of Yew, a magical cat — technically a witch-cat according to the game’s brief blurb — exploring magical worlds to collect magical ingredients in order to craft new items, costumes and access additional levels as you go.

The key thing to know about Unfamiliar is that it’s a game that deliberately leaves the meaning and challenge up to you. There are no fail states, no health bar, no combat and only the very lightest of puzzling, usually centred around finding and interacting with onscreen elements along the guided paths that make up the game’s storybook worlds.

Pouncing. Pouncing is important, even if it's at nothing.
Pouncing. Pouncing is important, even if it’s at nothing.

I can totally see some folks not getting that particular motif — and that’s fine, you do you — but what that leaves you with is a game that’s just beautifully relaxing, especially if you’re a cat person.

The ability to adorn Yew with all manner of costumes, collars, backpacks and even different fur designs gives the game much of its charm, but it’s also just fun to watch Yew meander, run, jump and purr around the game’s levels.

Is this outfit too much? I feel the batwings offset the skull mask nicely, but of course, the choice is up to you. Or in this case, Yew.
Is this outfit too much? I feel the batwings offset the skull mask nicely, but of course, the choice is up to you. Or in this case, Yew.

While I’m a noted sucker for cat games generally, I also appreciate that Yew isn’t your standard kawaii-style videogame cat, with more of a focus on a realistic look that gives Yew a lot of personality and charm. The game’s worlds are rather more starkly designed, but that feels like more of a deliberate choice both to accentuate your focus on Yew and make it clear that you’re living in a fantasy world to begin with.

Aww. Just look at Yew's cute widdle eye patch! LOOK AT IT!
Aww. Just look at Yew’s cute widdle eye patch! LOOK AT IT!

It’s a relatively short experience (unless there’s some very esoteric puzzles here to unlock further content I’ve not yet uncovered) but then I’ve long held that I’d rather have a good short experience than one that’s just padded to meet some arbitrary play time constraint.

There are some areas that could use a little tightening — the lack of explanation of areas and controls can leave you a little befuddled at first, and it’s a game that definitely benefits from using a gamepad — and it’s certainly not going to appeal to gamers looking for a strict “challenge” type game. There’s also a certain amount of backtracking needed for some ingredients that only seem to crop up on given levels. Also, I don’t think I’ve collected this many fluffy balls in a game since the last time I played Bubsy.

But as a relaxing experience, and certainly at the quite affordable price point developers Mana Tea games have put on it, it’s excellent.

Unfamiliar is available for PC via Steam now.

Author: Alex

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

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