- Genre: Romance, adventure, supernatural
- Length: Short (2 – 10 hours)
- Developer: Date Nighto
Maybe Raistlin will know what I’m talking about, but when I was a kid, I read a book in which a character said:
“I’m small because I was meant to do small things. If you look at all the big things in the world closely, you’ll see that they’re really made up of small things all joined together.’ That big dragon down there comes to nothing but tiny drops of blood, maybe. It’s the small things that make the difference.”
I’m quite little myself so I’ve held that quote close to my heart, like a motto and a shield. The little things do matter, they make all the difference in the world. Hustle Cat is a game that gets all the little things right!
I bought Hustle Cat almost as soon as it came out 2 years ago. I had been following Date Nighto’s crowdfunding efforts and was delighted when the project was finally completed.
The premise is fairly simple. You play as Avery Grey, a recent graduate trying to figure out how to get this life thingie started. To that end, you decided to go crash at your aunt’s house in the big city while she’s out of town and even manage to get yourself off the sofa long enough to look for a job. Go You! You are getting things Done! Well kinda. You pretty much gave up when you stumbled across a seriously adorable cat café that happens to be hiring!
Ok so it’s minimum wage and the owner is a little odd, but he’s really nice and you get to spend the day surrounded by cute cats and even cuter coworkers. What more could you want? If the answer is mystery, magic and adventure – you’re in luck!
As far as dating sims go, this is a fine little outline. Nothing that out of the ordinary but sweet enough. It’s recognizable to us otome fans and blends eastern and western sensibilities quite well. But the big picture isn’t where it’s at. The real magic of Hustle Cat is in the details.
First off, let’s talk main character. Avery is fantastic. A supremely relatable character, a little lazy, a little scattered, with a good heart, and, very rare for an otome, a great head. You will relate to Avery, I’m sure of it but you will also be proud to be Avery. Not once in the whole game was I screaming at the screen or wondering why Avery was acting that way. Not once was I faced with choice options that forced me to pick the lesser bad. Avery is a good person who I would honestly like as a friend. Simple taking the time to develop a bit the MC and make the act rational, was brilliant and heighten the play experience considerably. It may not seem that important…
I managed to write an entire paragraph on Avery without giving too much away but let’s delve a bit deeper. You actually get the chance to personalize a bit Avery’s appearance. This is still very rare in Visual Novels so the feature is a huge plus already, but the personalization is done in the smartest possible way. Although the cosmetic choices you have are very limited they cover all your bases. Essentially you can choose short cropped hair or a longer shaggier do, and you have the option between 3 skin tones. That’s it. However, limited those options may seem they actually allow for more diversity and representation than I have ever seen in such a game. What’s more, your chosen appearance is carried over to every single CG. Such a simple touch was incremental in allowing me to form a strong bond with Avery as associate with them on a deeper level. CGs didn’t take me out of the fiction since they were all in line with the world I had created in my mind.
And representation was also included in the narrative. You cannot change Avery’s name and personally I’m just fine with that. Not only am I horrible at naming things, I really love the name Avery Grey. You can however choose your preferred pronouns, as in: He/Him; She/Her and They/Them. As such, your chosen gender is reflected in all the dialogue and narrative. It really doesn’t limit your romance options or affect the routes in any substantial way but this small detail made Avery feel like a true representation of me. A little sloppy, a little confused but trying their best.
What I just spent way too many words trying to say is that Hustle Cat has a great MC. An MC I was proud and just happy to embody. But what’s a dating sim without some juicy dating options? Boy does Hustle Cat have you covered.
Once again, You get a pretty diverse range to choose from in both appearance and personality. They ae in fact all great characters. I’ll give you a taste but a summary doesn’t do them justice, just like your profile doesn’t do you justice I’m sure!
The mysterious and slightly chuuni owner of the Cat’s Paw. He seems a bit loopy but is very kind. His somewhat dorky affectations have the very pleasant side effect of making him very old school gentlemanly and polite with everyone. He remains fairly absent and mysterious in most routes, leaving you aching to know more.
He comes off as overconfident and slightly arrogant but soon reveals himself to be friendly and surprisingly dependable. Quick with a snarky retort and adorable when at a loss for words he somehow manages to be the most responsible and most immature character at the same time.
Let’s face it, I can’t give you an objective idea of Mason because I think Mason is just ridicahawt. One of my all time favorite otome waifus. She’s the strong silent archetype. Rarely have I ever been so moved by seeing an imaginary character let down her guard. There might have been some tears…Some might have been mine…
Shy, quiet, timid little cutey pie. Hayes is the little birdie you coax out of his shell. You know those birds with shells… Possibly the most divisive character, he seems to be meant as the cute one, but everyone’s pretty cute, so it’s hard to tell. If you have no patience for shy, scaredy cat (ha!), characters, he may be a bit difficult to take but I found him precious.
Aww, my bestie Finley. Finley is the tongue in cheek, reference dropping, hashtag spouting, popular girl. She’s also hardworking and patient. In all honesty, if I met someone exactly like Finely in real life, I would immediately want to be their friend. I love it when the story actually makes me understand why a character is popular rather than just telling me they are. Her route was also absolutely ridiculous, making me laugh out loud regularly.
I guess you could say Landry is the most generic of the bunch (unless you do his route). The nice big brother type, always ready with a smile and a diplomatic solution. He’s the first person you meet and a bit of a mentor character. His route revealed a much more balanced and complex person, with a satisfying conflict to resolve.
The game is careful to be gentle with the characterizations. Even supremely eccentric Graves gets a fairly rational treatment. No big overblown personalities here that turn people into caricatures. Everyone is very real feeling. They have concerns and problems which may be mundane compared to the usual otome fair but are recognizable and real. They have strengths, not super powers. Flaws that are manageable but can add up. They are made up of dozens of little quirks, foibles, idiosyncrasies and characteristics that add up to actual fully formed personalities. It may not be extravagant but it’s certainly gratifying.
This said, as much as I appreciate all the characters, and there are some equally well-developed side characters and antagonists, what I was the most impressed by is the impressive balance in the routes.
No matter who you chose to pursue, you will end up with a relationship built on mutual respect and understanding. You are there to help each other not save or be saved. Every single one of these guys are better than you at something and worse at other things. There isn’t a hint of abuse or non-consent to be seen and the obvious age gap in the Graves route is addressed seriously and with careful consideration, rather than brushed under the rug.
I don’t want to go too much into the story as there are a few surprises and twists which are fun to discover for yourself. Suffice it to say the narrative is light and peppered with humor. As a fairly short Visual Novel (VNDB says 2 to 10 hours but I really don’t see how you can finish this in 2 – I think 5-15 is much more reasonable even if you’re skipping over most of it) you can easily complete all routes without feeling like you’ve been rereading the same thing for weeks on end.
One quick note, the universe here isn’t expansive. You are essentially confined to your aunt’s small apartment, a few alleyways and the Cat’s Paw café. You live in a small bubble with most of your traveling being done virtually through the internet (like most of us). However, the actual design of the Cat’s Paw is fantastic! If ever the graphic artists at Date Nighto get tired of their gig, they should go into interior design. Along with the breathtaking Time of Eve, this is one of my favorite virtual coffee shops ever!
Hustle Cat isn’t grand. It’s a small adventure full of people just like you and me. It doesn’t take itself too seriously but it’s earnest and well-intentioned. It’s gentle and careful and pays attention to the little things. Because the little things matter.
If you’ve played it, let me know what you think. If you haven’t you can get it on Steam. I’m not getting paid for these guys, I just really liked it and I want these guys to make another game.