It’s not any secret that I adore visual novels, especially dating sims. Yet, at times I do find myself disappointed at the self-imposed narrative limitations that creators tend to put on the genre; namely that they’re typically very straight and tend to rely on clichés and harmful tropes. Fortunately, I’ve come across a new dating sim that seems to blast past aspects that other authors may fear to tiptoe over, in addition to bringing their audience the plot and agency we’ve come to love in this genre.
While the video covered the basics of the plot, it seems there may be something more mysterious, or even sinister, happening behind the scenes. The protagonist Avery, a graduate from high school, is getting tired of just lazing around the house and decides to get a job at a cat cafe a few minutes away from their aunt’s apartment. While chumming around with their co-workers is great, it seems said co-workers are under some sort of curse where if they leave the cafe, they lose their human forms, perhaps for good. The cafe’s owner, Graves, seems to know more about this than he’s letting on, so it’s up to Avery to solve this mystery and maybe even break this curse (with a romance on the side).
Right off the bat, the thing that caught my eye most about Hustle Cat was how many people of color there were. Like, holy shit. Talk about your diverse casts (or “cats”, amirite). Company Date Nighto not only excelled at bringing their consumers a dating sim with a range of different characters from different backgrounds, but also seem to have avoided both personality tropes (ie: techy/nerdy Asian) in addition to visual tropes (ie: dark skin, light hair). The characters are well designed and reflect perfectly the type of character the player is going to be dealing with, while their cat selves are just freakin’ cute. (Although there aren’t really any big fluffy cats or people with a heavier body type you can date, so it’s not perfect.)
What kept my attention most of all, however, were the dating mechanics. You, as the player, are able to date anyone you want, spanning a wide berth of sexual orientations. Additionally, as the player character Avery, you are able to choose your own appearance (which seems to be facial expression and skin color) as well as your own pronouns. These pronouns aren’t limited to the typical “he” and “she”; Hustle Cat allows their player to experience the game through the eyes of a non-binary protagonist using “they”!
While this is Date Nighto’s first game developed through their company, they have several other accommodations to their name, not limited to webcomics and work on other games such as Guns of Icarus and Starfighter: Eclipse. This, and given that their earlier game (the aforementioned Starfighter: Eclipse) was already a successful Kickstarter campaign, interested parties can be assured that they’re getting the most bang for their donation buck. Hustle Cat has already reached its funding goals with two days to go, but more support never hurt anyone. If you’re interested in lending Date Nighto a monetary hand, or just interested in reading more info, make sure to drop by their Kickstarter page here. They have a couple of demos out for Hustle Cat as well, so if this is up your alley, make sure to give them a try!