Love cats? Love Cafes? Love fantasy? Love cute characters? Then Hustle Cat is the game for you! Set in a quiet part of the city, Hustle Cat tells the story of Avery Grey, a scruffy 19-year-old youngster and owner of a persian cat named Mochi, who’s looking for a job while taking care of their Aunt’s apartment. After giving up the internet search, Avery seeks for a change of pace so they go out for a walk. In the middle of the stroll, they come upon a cafe called “A Cat’s Paw” which is currently hiring new employees. After passing a very strange interview, Avery celebrates their new situation. However, they soon realize that the odd Cafe they’re now working for is afflicted with a curse that turns their coworkers into cats! Can Avery break the curse? And who’s the one behind it?
Note: This review contains spoilers so read at your own risk. If you want to avoid them, though, just jump to “conclusive thoughts”. I’ll also refer to Avery as a she, since I chose to use that pronoun.
Boy, was I excited to play this story. I was one of the backers in kickstarter and supporting this game was definitely rewarding. I love cats, I love cafe-oriented stories, I love fantasy and I certainly love interesting characters. Also, have you heard the opening? It’s so good that I can’t stop listening to it. Yesterday, it was the only song I listened to while I was shopping at the grocery store. And I’m still not tired of it, I wish I knew the lyrics (EDIT: Now I do, yay). You can also choose Avery’s pronouns, sprite and even skin tone! It’s a really nice feature to have and increases the audience.
Much like other visual novels, Hustle Cat follows a simple gameplay style where you need to choose different options in order to get the ending you want, with the person you want. There’s also a secret character, Graves, who you can only unlock after you go through the other five routes.
The story follows more or less the same structure on every path: you start working at the cafe, you find out about the cat curse, you find a magic book in the basement, you learn magic, you help a certain coworker with their troubles, you also help this coworker break their curse, you fall in love, you defeat the bad guy (or, actually, let your sweetheart do it), you get the happy ending.
Now, let’s talk about the actual character routes, shall we? 😀
Finley – This peppy and cheerful girl is the one in charge of the cafe social media. But, unlike one would expect, it doesn’t concern just having a blog to advertise the cafe…or actually, it does, in a new kind of way. Taking advantage of her cat situation, Finley uploads videos of “Jelly Donut” (her cat pen name) balancing donuts over her head. These performance are extremely popular and help with the publicity of the cafe, as well as increasing the chances of more people adopting the cats Graves takes care of. Finley is also a gamer and a lover of really, really spicy food 😆 (trust me, she’d probably eat a whole bell pepper with no difficulties). But fame never comes without trouble because the poor gal suffers from cyber bullying, and Avery only comes to know of this when she invites her over. Unfortunately, it only gets worse since one of Finley’s harrassers eventually appears at their workplace, threatening her and creating a commotion. This also makes Avery and Finley get into a fight; while Avery is worried about her and wants her to quit uploading videos, Finley is torn apart because she doesn’t want to stop doing what she loves, it’s her true passion and the only thing she thinks she’s actually good at. Fortunately, Avery and Finley make up and start dating ( ˘ ³˘)♥. After some time of practicing witching witchery and spending loveable time together, calico girl finds out her magic inspiration; which she shows off before her harrasser: #blocking. Being a social media devotee, it’s only natural that her talent would come from there; Finley can use words to #block or #report bullies. However, when they meet the main antagonist of the game, Nacht, Avery helps her realize that, for it to work, the words have to be relevant to the person it’s used on. The ending has Avery and Finley becoming heroes of justice by helping harassed people with Finley’s power. You go girls!
Landry – Mama bird Landry is another one of Avery’s coworkers, usually waiting tables and, especially, making cat structures; he’s the carpenter of the cafe, so to speak. Unlike the other characters, though, Landry isn’t very keen on learning magic. This is because before he was even turned into a cat, he suffered from a different curse: one where he wouldn’t be allowed to get angry, or his heart would explode. This certainly explains why Landry is so seemingly easy-going, at first. However, we don’t learn of his past right away, since the guy is so damn stubborn to bear the pain alone that it takes some fights with Avery to get him to spill the beans. That’s right, Avery is super stubborn too, so of course she gets him to talk AND be her boyfriend ( ˘ ³˘)♥. Eventually, they find the perpetrator of Landry’s misery, Kaz, to see if they can calmly talk things out and convince him to break the curse. But things aren’t simple at all, because not only is Kaz a jerk about the whole situation, worse still, he reveals how he had only put a heatburn hex on Landry, a hex that would fade after an hour or so. Welp, if Landry couldn’t be angry before, he totally could now, since this divulgement makes him go berserk, so much so that he breaks the cat curse on his own, revealing his new found lightning magic. Fortunately, Avery stops him in the nick of time and Kaz is spared. By the end of the route, when Nacht makes his usual appearance, Landry beats him up and saves the day. The ending has Avery and Landry quitting their jobs at the cafe and returning to her hometown, with him thinking about starting a business to make cat furniture.
Mason – The serious and quiet girl of the cat group is none other than Mason, the chef. Although Avery does find her a bit intimidating at first, she is miss persistent, after all, so she makes an effort to make conversation. Eventually, Mason warms up to her and Avery decides to invite her over (this ‘inviting over scene’ happens in every route with the character you have the most affection with, excluding Graves) to show her the magic book and how it works. It’s a very tender scene, since Mason teaches Avery how to cook. Nevertheless, when Avery can’t seem to find the orange cat the next morning, she decides to buy some donuts from the grocery store; a grocery store with a rather familiar old man that possesses the same rough exterior as Mason, who, by the way, visits him every morning and evening in her cat form. Well, turns out this man is her grandpa, but they aren’t exactly on the best terms. Unluckily for Avery, who wishes to learn more about them, an angry Mason-cat scratches her hard. Once in the cafe, Avery can only see red and gives ‘her scratcher’ a piece of her mind before storming out. In the end, though, Mason tells her the situation with her grandpa, how they would cook together and spend lovely time together during her childhood, but how all that stopped when she became a teenager. One thing led to another and Mason started getting into fights with random people, making her relationship with her grandpa go from bad to worse. But nosy, nosy Avery can’t accept the fact that they’ll never reconcile, so she comes up with a plan for the grumpy relatives to make peace. And it works (I even teared up a little, it was so moving). So much so that the girls even start dating ( ˘ ³˘)♥. Then, after some time, Mason discovers her magic: fire. Even cooler, blue fire. With her magic, Mason is also able to beat Nacht when Avery and company encounter him. The ending has them working together in the kitchen, with Mason having taught her several stuff and Avery considering the possibility of being a patissier. Oh, and Mason’s grandpa becomes a regular customer during lunch-time. Gosh, I love this ending, it’s so heartwarming!
Hayes – The adorable and shy barista of A Cat’s Paw is one of my favorite characters in the game. Hayes is someone who suffers from severe anxiety issues and has chosen a job that deals with people exactly because he wants to overcome his problem (by getting used to them). He also doesn’t mind being a cat since it helps him with stress. Avery and Hayes start getting closer primarily because of her. She’s a real sweetheart to him and this makes Hayes lower his guard around her. He is a real sweetheart too, of course (when he’s spooning with Junta the cat, for instance, oh goooddd). So when you put two sweethearts together, what do you get? SUGAR! No, seriously, this route is so fluffy and adorable you just can’t get enough. Anyway, Avery invites him over to study magic and after some chatting she learns he likes writing (poetry, for the most part) and bird watching (the cute is unstoppable aaah). The next day, poor Hayes gets stuck in a nearby tree because he was trying to be too nice (make Avery breakfast at the cafe). Luckily, she helps him out and hugs him to calm his nerves. When they arrive at A Cat’s Paw, Avery notices shy boy is not being himself, it’s a if he was avoiding her. And (brace yourselves for the cute) to know what’s wrong, Avery writes him a little poem. Consequently, they start exchanging little poetry notes between them. Then, when evening comes and they’re all alone, Hayes recites some magic-filled verses in an attempt to confess to Avery. Regrettably, his magic isn’t quite developed yet so it doesn’t turn out as expected and, in fact, it turns out horribly wrong. Hayes panics when he sees his arms covered in static, but AVERY TO THE RESCUE happens and, with a bit of her help, he calms down. And, naturally, the dating begins ( ˘ ³˘)♥. It turns out that Hayes magic is verbal and specifically related to poetry. Indeed, finding out his true inspiration breaks his cat curse, making him and Avery get closer than ever. When it’s time for the rust witch Nacht to come forth, Hayes defeats him with his enchanted poetic vocables. The ending shows Avery and Hayes on a vacation where they go bird-watching in her hometown.
Reese – THIS GUY. OH. MY GOD. My absolute favorite in the whole game. Reese is the sassy cafe assistant manager, the second in command after Graves. Unlike the others, he’s been a witch even before Avery gets to talk to him about the grimoire, so most of his route involves magic; in fact, he’s Graves’s apprentice. Reese’s dream is to be a fashion designer someday, following his Dad’s footsteps, but aspiring to be better than him in the long run, at both design AND magic (yup, his Dad’s a witch too). He’s also a HUGE romantic fiction nerd 😆 and, unlike his outer appearance may suggest, quite the bashful and sentimental lad. I love this route due to many reasons but one of the things I like the most is the chemistry between Avery and Reese (Avery’s teasing is awesome and I can’t get enough of Reese’s blushing aaahh). I don’t know how to put it into words, it just feels right, natural, interesting. The guy is super sassy, but tease him a little, compliment him a little, and his blushing self appears. Though he already knows magic, Reese agrees staying over at Avery’s to watch what she has learned so far and maybe give her some advice. When they go to work the next day, Reese finally shows her his magic: drawing based magic. However, he’s still not very good at it and actually feels frustrated for not being able to break the curse on his own, unlike Avery. His self-esteem gets an even harder blow when another witch comes looking for a battle. Reese doesn’t agree to a witch territorial fight (in which the loser has to give their place to the winner; in this case, the cafe), since the cafe’s not his property, but accepts the magical challenge. Here’s where we find out he’s actually not very good at magic and the poor guy feels so humiliated that he hides himself in a cat structure from Graves’s apartment. Avery encourages him, presuming maybe that’s not his real magic and there’s something else he’s much better at. He is. The answer is sewing. And, of course, they also start dating in the most adorable way ( ˘ ³˘)♥, “I’ll kiss your stupid face shut” is a great way to confess 😆 Anyway, towards the end, Nacht comes by to be a pain yet again. Much like the previous dude, the rust witch also comes for territorial reasons; though his matters are more personal in relation to Graves, who he always manages to turn to rust, something that breaks Reese’s heart everytime. Not only that, before Graves is attacked, he always gives the cafe’s ownership to Avery, which makes Reese terribly jealous. It’s extremely heartbreaking because he loves Avery with all his heart, but I also feel he sees Graves as a second father figure, he admires and adores him a whole lot. Fortunately, his jealousy and envy never surpass the boundaries of his love and he even ends up defeating Nacht with his true magic: SEWING (he can now open portals with a seam ripper). The ending has Avery and Reese on a vacation where they travel to different boutiques so as to get him inspired to make new designs. They also have plans to meet his parents.
Graves – The gothic vampire aficionado with fancy vocabulary, Graves, is Avery’s boss and the last route in the game, since his path unlocks only after you’ve gone through the other five. After Avery discovers the magic book in the basement, it’s none other than Graves (or his cat form, more precisely) who gives her a cipher for her to be able to read it (he does this in every route). He even makes insinuating comments about how she’s such a ‘fast learner’, obviously referring to her magic, the girl’s sharp. Trying to find ways to break her coworkers’s curse, Avery heads to Graves’s aparment (and not towards the basement, like in the other routes) to snoop, only to find him there shortly after. Still, she comes to know a bit more about him and meets his ‘sweet old lady’ cat, Dracula. Unlike the other routes, where Avery invites someone over to her house, this time it’s Graves who ‘invites her over’, so to say. The reason is Nacht has found out where she lives and Graves feels it’s safer if she stays at his apartment (not before cleaning hers, while she showers and packs her stuff, including Mochi 😆 ), especially being aware of Nacht leaving rusty hints to start a territorial witch fight with him. Avery is conflicted with the situation because she doesn’t trust her boss 100%, suspecting he may be the cause of the cat curse in the first place, but she’s gradually falling in love with him. Graves is certainly not the man she was expecting. She didn’t expect Graves to have a past where he had trouble speaking with other people, so much so that he needed teraphy cats he could practice chatting to; Midnight was his first cat, while he got Dracula during his high school years. Graves is also cursed, but not like the others. Rather, he is enchanted with a strange hex where he can’t say certain words (like ‘magic’, or ‘Nacht’, his assailant) and, since he knows Nacht and other witches have an eye on the cafe, he felt it necessary to protect his employees with the cat curse. But not only that, the REAL curse, so to speak, is that he has had a part of his magic stolen. Not his cat magic, but his ‘metal’ magic (similar to Avery’s one), which he skillfully used to make different sculptures (some of them decorating his apartment). Nacht now uses it to corrose metal, thus gaining the name of the ‘rust witch’. Poor Graves’s got his hands full with a triple curse. No, worse still, because after a certain confrontation with the ‘witch of the west’, he starts becoming rusted, literally. Because of this, Avery makes a plan to ambush Nacht with her former cat-pals (since Graves dissolves his curse), teaching them magic at the speed of light. However, the attack doesn’t go keikaku doori. Luckily, though, Graves intervenes and turns west witchy into a cat! PROBLEM SOLVED, mondai nashi. I kinda wish we could have known more about Graves and Nacht’s past but I can’t complain because the scene where Graves turns him into a cat is brilliant. Their conversation, it leaves an air of mystery that makes you curious. Cat curious. The ending? A kiss between Avery and Graves, of cooooourse ( ˘ ³˘)♥. Pity there’s not epilogue for them, but at least it was a romantic ending.
That’s all for the routes! Now, even though I loved this game a lot, I wanted to mention some issues that are present before I move on to my conclusion:
- System: First of all, there aren’t many save files available, which I supposse has to do with the fact that the game isn’t very long; but it’s not short either, so it could certainly use an extra page or two for saving. Secondly, the skip button is not done well enough. It skips, alright, but it doesn’t have an option to skip only the read parts; it skips everything. There’s not scrolling back option either. I mean, there is a log but being able to rewind the scene a little, in case the player clicked too fast, is a welcoming feature. Still, the biggest problem with the game’s system is that it contains some bugs. There were times where it’d just freeze (especially when I was using the skip button), other times the screen would turn black, and there were parts where the sprites moved oddly. I’m missing two CGs too, but not sure if that’s because of a bug.
- Some minor writing matters: Even though the writing is what I liked best about the game, there were some story disjointments. For instance, in Graves’s route, there’s a point in time where Avery muses about it being time to inform someone of the magic book and the curse when, not long before, Graves invites her over after work precisely to talk about that. So, it doesn’t really fit.
- Art: While I think the character designs and sprites are absolutely lovely (except for the pissed of-Landry one, his proportions look a bit funny), and some of the CGs were very well done, plenty of them seem a bit unfinished. Some of the CGs aren’t even shaded and it makes them look inconsistent with the ones that are, same goes for the lineart used (the cat CGs had smooth lines while the others didn’t). Like Kori Michele states in her review, I also believe that CGs are the ‘rewards of the dating sim experience’, so it’d have been nice if they had been more polished.
I’m so glad I bought this game, I really am. Every single character has their own charm, especially Avery, who shines in all of the routes. The writing is particularly good, the dialogues felt very natural and many of the conversations made me laugh like a hyena. There were some extremely moving scenes as well, making me tear up a little (ok, cry a little); the endings could have been longer, though. The music is amazing and fitted very well with the mood of the story. What else? I loved the sprites! There were some good expressions there, yes yes, especially Reese’s expressions. No kidding, the character design is really good, but it’s some of the CGs that need a bit of polishing. Now, let’s see, I’d say my favorite routes go in this order: Reese > Hayes > Graves = Mason > Finley > Landry (sorry, man, you just weren’t my type of guy 😆 ). I wonder if Date Nighto would let me marry Reese cause’ this dude gave me so many butterflies I don’t know where to put them.
So, to sum up, I totally recommend this otome. It has its pro and cons but the story and the characters make the play totally worth it. I wouldn’t mind a sequel, personally, since the main conflict is kind of a mystery. Hustle Cat? More like Nosy Cat cause’ I wanna know more about Graves’s (and Reese’s) past. Yup, curiosity didn’t kill the cat but rather brought the cat, ha!
Hope you enjoyed the ride! See you next post! (≧∇≦*)/
PS: Holy cannoli, do I keep putting Code:Realize off or what? I hope I don’t forget about the routes when I write its review *sweats*.