Because Valet Hustle is one of the first games with gay playable characters to hit the iPhone / iTouch, this review will not only review the game itself, but will also discuss what this game means to the gay / lesbian gamer and to gaming as a whole. If you want a quick, straight to the point review without politics and long winded discussion, skip to the bottom for our U-Haul review.
So what is Valet Hustle?
Valet Hustle is an anime-styled, 3D, puzzle / time management game by San Francisco based developer Factory Games. The premise is simple enough: “Park cars, pickup customers and solve puzzles against a backdrop of increasingly impatient, but wealthy car owners outside high-end nightclubs and restaurants. What sets it apart from others games, however, is the choice of characters that are in the game.”
On starting Valet Hustle you get the choice to play Ren or Akira, these are your female or male characters. Where Valet Hustle differs from other games is that both Ren and Akira are gay and out. For the sake of this game review we will be looking at the character of Ren, although we assume regardless of which character you choose, the game and story are the same (with differing love interests obviously).
So who is Ren?
Ren is the ‘heroine’ in Valet Hustle. She’s been expelled from yet another school, this time for kissing a girl. So what is Ren going to do now? She’s going to run the valet service at her dads restaurant. You start off at Tanaka’s, a restaurant with a fairly small parking lot and you’ll be the one parking cars for the night. Gameplay involves you tapping the cars that pull up and tapping an empty parking space to park them… simple. You also have to take note of any cars parked that need to be brought back to their owner. It works as a first-come first-serve situation and this is marked out by numbers that appear over the parked cars you need to get back to the pickup and drop off zone (there is also a handy radar in the top corner to highlight any you might miss). It’s all fairly simple and although your night becomes busier, you’ll get additional valets to help you as the night progresses. These valets allow you to simply double-tap a car and they automatically park it in the next available space.
Graphically speaking Valet Hustle is actually pretty cool. It features an angled top-down view of a 3D in-game world. As iPhone titles go, the graphics are finely detailed and the cut-scenes are well done also with a distinct anime style. Obviously we’re not going to go into the story overly, because we don’t want to spoil it, but it’s good and you’ll be parking cars to see what the next cutscene brings. In-game you can use pinch to make the playing area smaller or larger and one finger to scroll around the environment. Lesbian Gamers tip: making the screen graphics smaller, shows more of the parking lot and we found that helped make gameplay easier. Sound wise it’s really dependent on your taste, music is good, but can be a tad repetitive. The voice acting is actually pretty good. All in all, nothing to complain about here given the platform and price point.
As we mentioned, as well as your dads place in Tokyo you’ll head to other venues including “one of the best gay clubs in Tokyo” and you’ll also get to park cars at “one of New York’s leading lesbian bars”, now who doesn’t love that?
The way Valet Hustle is put together is clever, there’s plenty of time-management gameplay, but the snippets of story garnered as you progress also keeps you captivated, because you want to know what’s going to happen next. The downside of this is that there’s no easy progression. The game difficulty ramps up as each new parking lot is revealed and if you can’t cut it, you’ll never know what happens with Ren or Akira.
So what’s wrong with it? Well, cars can become so backed up in a short space of time, that a game you were doing great at suddenly turns into ‘can’t fix this hellish mess’. A few wrong taps and you’ll need to move cars so that others can move onto where you’ve told them to go and if other cars are blocking you, you’ll need to move them too. This can be a tad frustrating as you also have other vehicles arriving at the same time and when you screw it up, it’s all the way back to the start for you. This is made all the more annoying because at times you think you’re going okay and things are running smoothly and bam, game over, because apparently even though things appear to be running smoothly, the customers satisfaction meter slips and it’s back to the start of the level. That brings me to the levels, they’re long, probably too long for this sort of gameplay, in which levels usually only last a few minutes. Valet Hustle seems to go on and on and on and at times I found myself thinking hurry up and finish already! Hopefully this will be addressed in any future titles.
On the bright side though – to some extent – the game mechanic compensates for some of the frustration regarding vehicles backing up by at least making cars you’ve returned to owners non-collision detected (so the cars you’re moving – for the most part – pass through them). This would be hellish if this were not the case, particularly given the length of each level, so this is a clever move by the developers.
So what’s the score?
Should you purchase Valet Hustle because it features gay content… no. Should you purchase it because it’s a good game that is actually inclusive of the gay community… definitely. Add to this the game is a mere .99 USD ($1.29AUD) and there’s no reason not to support this title. Bravo to the Factory Games team for being ballsy and going against the game developing confines, that seems to restrict so many others with regards to playable character social norms.
Factory Games has taken a risk with Valet Hustle, because there is no choice in the sexuality of the player character. It is set and he or she is gay. This is bound to upset a certain sector of the game playing community who love nothing more than yet another stagnated white male meathead, front and center. Strangely I think this could actually work in favor of the developers, rather than against them. It’s certainly going to get the game a lot more coverage than the average iPhone Application. As the old saying goes, any publicity is good publicity.
An example App review already received for the game states:
Good graphics, good gameplay, bad politics (five stars)
Surprisingly good game considering it was made by the gays. I would recommend it.
As you can see, a lot of that coverage is going to border on the abusive / silly “considering it was made by the gays” or feature bylines laced with some sort of misplaced paranoia that it’s “promoting homosexuality”. Sadly, this is probably expected as it’s new territory and shock horror, a game with gay lead characters. Even without the gay content however, Valet Hustle is still a good time-management / puzzle title. As we are ‘lesbian gamers’ however, we have to applaud Factory Games for putting out a game that finally includes the gay community. Add to this the fact Factory Games is donating a portion of the proceeds from the sale of Valet Hustle to the Human Rights Campaign and this is a must buy title for the gay gamer, if we don’t support it, we’re essentially shooting ourselves in the foot with regards to future gay content in games.
U-Haul Review Status
Gay and lesbian gamers need to support this title, if not for the ballsy nature of the developers finally giving us gay in-game characters, then for the fun and addictive gameplay. Valet Hustle is a good little time management game that’s fun to pick up and play. Parking cars for various places by tapping the car, then the parking space might not sound exciting, but it’s addictive as hell and the only real downside is the overly long and sometimes unforgiving levels. If you like games like Harbor Master you’re probably going to enjoy Valet Hustle. If you’re an LGBT gamer you should also appreciate Factory Games for pushing forth the idea of inclusivity with regards to gay gamership and playable characters. Go spend your dollar and support these guys and gals. Hire that U-Haul and move it on in.
Valet Hustle gets the Helena Peabody L Word game rating here at lesbian gamers. She breezed in out of nowhere in season two and no one knew quite what to think. She was totally hot, but sure to upset more than a few people. She could be a tad annoying at times, but she added to The L Word and opened doors to some great storylines. Hopefully Valet Hustle will do the same. Oh and unlike Helena Peabody, Valet Hustle is cheap.