If there’s one thing visual novels with a bunch of romance options and dating sims have taught me, it’s that fictional people are better than real people, and I have A Type. Unfortunately, if there’s one other thing these games have taught me, it’s that at least one person in my fictional dating pool is bound to be a total jerk.
Then there’s Hustle Cat.
Hustle Cat is a visual novel about a cat cafe. You play as Avery Grey, the newest employee of A Cat’s Paw, a place where the coffee’s good and the staff are friendly (not to mention cute!). Sure, your coworkers disappear and reappear at odd times during the day and there’s a strange book in the basement that you can’t read, but it’s probably nothing, right?
This is one of the cutest visual novels I’ve ever played.
This isn’t an exaggeration. The characters are genuinely sweet and the closest thing to a jerkass route is the “delinquent” taciturn cook who fell in with the wrong crowd in the past and the assistant manager, who is a little full of himself but is easily (and adorably) flustered by your awkward attempts to flirt with him. There’s none of that “he’s a jerk to me it’s so romantic!” thing like in certain other games *coughAmnesiacough* and I know I’ve been saying this a lot lately, but it’s a refreshing change from games like Sweet Fuse, which, despite being pretty sweet at times, still had jerkasses, angstbuckets, and a male yandere character.
There isn’t really any gameplay so to speak apart from the typical visual novel mechanic of reading text and picking choices. There’s not a ton of choices, either. Unlike many visual novels with separate routes, there are no bad ends with individual characters (although there are a couple that you can get by picking certain choices). Once you’re on a route, all you have to do is read until the final encounter. Regarding length, it took me nine hours to finish all the routes and get all the achievements. Hayes and Mason are probably my favoutite routes, and unlike some games, you can’t unlock the route that explains much of the story until you complete the others, so don’t worry about accidentally spoiling yourself.
I can’t really think of any criticisms. Sure, it would have been nice to have some choices once you were on a certain route, but “bad ends” don’t really fit the tone of this game (although there are a couple you can get). The requirements for the secret ending are kind of weird, but on the other hand it wouldn’t really be a secret ending without being, well, secret. Although having a non-binary option for Avery was great, I would have liked to see at least one non-binary love interest. It’s great to have that option for a main character but I find it hard to see the game as “non-binary friendly” if the only character who is actually non-binary is the one character where you can specify your pronouns. The writing is generally decent apart from some awkward sentences (also, it’s “vampires” not “Draculas”).
In terms of diversity, Mason, Reese, and Landry are all dark-skinned love interests. Any of the main cast can be romanced regardless of gender. It’s implied that Hayes has some form of anxiety, though it’s only stated that he gets “anxious” and nervous around people. The only obvious trigger I found was that one of the routes (Finley’s) deals with misogynist online harassment.
In sum, Hustle Cat is easily one of the cutest visual novels I’ve ever played with love interests who aren’t massive jerks. It’s a little on the short side, but is definitely worth the money if you like fluffy romance, especially fluffy romance involving cats and witchery.