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Coming Out on Top: The Review

Mark Matthews, the protagonist of Coming Out on Top, is a senior about to start his final semester at Orlin University. But he’s been hiding a secret from his best friends (and roommates), Ian and Penny. He’s gay and it is well past time to tell them. From that initially nerve wracking yet happy moment, the next few months are a whirlwind of study, tutoring, drama, the search for a boyfriend, sex, and maybe love. Coming Out on Top is a fun, crazy game that I cannot help but be addicted to. I love this game.

I play the game in the manner I promised. I pursue all of the guys at once. However, the game does not allow for going after multiple guys past a certain point. To date, I have completed Brad, Ian, and Jed’s stories. I’ve gotten some way into Alex’s and have yet to get to a third date with Phil.

Brad’s path is endearing and cute. Ian’s route is hot as hell (the final scenes are reason enough to buy this game). Jed’s story is sexy and ultimately sweet (and not what I expected). Alex’s path is, so far, revealing of a vulnerable man hidden behind a hyper competitive facade. Phil’s route, though I’ve read he lightens up, is still hampered by Phil’s initial bad attitude.

I really enjoyed the three stories I completed. But I cannot say I’m terribly fond of Alex’s story so far. And I am still not fond of Phil, even after a second date.

The writing draws the player in and doesn’t let go until he or she finishes the particular path. For a first foray into video games and video game writing, Obscura does a rather remarkable job. The various plots are interesting and well researched. The characterization is good and subtle, though the secondary characters lack depth.

I do have problems with the narrative. The explanation for why Mark waited so long to come out to his friends is still problematic for me, given that he has known Penny and Ian for years. Another problematic poor explanation is Mark not knowing that Penny’s extended family is biracial with all of its attendant baggage (not that this is the only moment where Mark comes across as being racist).

The dialogue is problematic at times. Conversations between characters are often well written. But there are moments where the dialogue bogs down in trying to be so hip that it plunges into artificiality. The worst offender, so far, is Jed’s story line where the argument for independence and authenticity comes across as cliche (I would not be surprised, however, if Phil’s story doesn’t come out as the worst offender. The second date is a pain in the ass to read through).

The biggest problem I have with the writing is the amount of text. Yes, this is a visual novel, but the amount of text, especially descriptive text, and the usage of the second person takes away from the enjoyment of the game. Especially when the reading experience is more akin to telling than showing. Again, more cut scenes would have been preferable.

Turning to the art, I’m actually torn by the cutscenes (by Doubleleaf). The scenes I have seen have all been hot and well done. But I don’t know if the anime style is really the best. Alex, Ian, Jed, and Brad are all very well done (barring Ian’s beard in some scenes). But I cannot stand how Alex looks in the cut scenes. He looks too young.

The game rocks, but it can use a more interconnected story. If you play for all the guys, you will get Alex. If you decide that you would rather swim or run the treadmill at the second gym scene, Alex’s route is cut off and you will move on to Brad. I assume if you refuse to tutor Brad after the first tutoring session, Phil’s path will open up for further advancement. If you refuse to go on the second date, Ian’s route becomes available. Finally, if you don’t go to the frat party with Ian, Jed’s story becomes available. The order of the romantic options is determined by events following the second gym scene (and if you attend the second date/ tutoring session). The fact that the various romantic options do not interact is, honestly, a disappointment. A minor disappointment.

I still love the game. I am proud I bought it. I am about to play it again after I post this. Hopefully, this game is a success and we can look forward to many sequels or follow ups to Coming Out on Top from Obscura.

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Isn’t There a Video Game Review I Should Be Doing?

I should be reviewing Coming Out on Top right now. Or, if not that, playing the hell out of the game. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to wait a few more days before I can purchase the game. Which sucks. I want the game now.

While I wait, I’ve been reconsidering my game play plan. I originally wanted to play the game by selecting the options/ answers that I would give first before breaking the game down into specific love interests. (From the comments I’ve read so far, it does not appear that any other player has taken this route. They have, is seems, played the game targeting a single love option to “good endings” before moving on to the next love option.) I’m also looking forward to checking out the Brofinder (if that is an option for the just released version of the game and not an extension).

Next week cannot come soon enough. Look for the review to come about a week after that.

 

A Little More Than a Month: Coming Out on Top

I can’t wait! Coming Out on Top will be released in a month and a few days! Damn it, I want the game now! But a month isn’t so bad.

I plan on reviewing the game shortly after I download it and play it. I will play the game to completion at least once. So it may take me a little while to get the review up.

I’m sure I will love the game. But I will criticize the game as needed.

However, I will try to avoid the constructive criticism that is, honestly, too late to impart except as it relates to advice for future games in this genre. An example would be my second Coming Out on Top post. Or, if you don’t want to go and look for that, here is an example: I have an issue with the introduction of Phil in the demo. The intention is humorous (Mark is not expecting a crazier white male Penny not a hot, African American marine). The joke fails with some unsettling implications. A better solution would have been to make Penny herself African American. The joke now works and the lack of people of color is addressed.

Again, I cannot wait for this game. I must hold out until then.

Coming Out on Top, A Further Take

This post is not safe for work. You have been warned.

I’m still obsessed with Coming Out on Top. I want it now, damn it. But I’ll wait, knowing that a better game will be the result. 

I can’t help but feel that my review of the second demo is incomplete. Namely, I didn’t go into the art and visuals like I should have. Nor did I point out some specific examples of scenes that need improving. I’ll also end with what I’d like to see in a third demo, before release. 

The art work for Coming Out on Top is very well done. It certainly has evolved from the earlier demo. I see nothing wrong with it. The character design is great. And the landscaping/ interiors are all pretty good. 

The problem is that there are clearly two artists at work. One does most of the game (who I think is Obscura herself) while the other does the sex scenes (who I think is Doubleleaf). 

In the second demo, there are only three sex scenes with several accompanying explicit images. They are all very nice, especially the Jed/ Mark and Alex/ Mark scenes. But the first sex scene, Mark jacking off, is problematic. In those images, Mark’s head looks a little small compared to the rest of his body and his chest is somewhat too big. It doesn’t look quite right. 

One part of the character design that I should have commented on is the player choice in facial and body hair. The player character and his love interests can all be modified by giving them beards and body hair. Some of the beards look very nice, Ian and Brad’s, while others don’t look quite that good, Mark’s. Jed is, honestly, a bit problematic. His beard looks better in the sex scene than in the game itself (there are points where the beard looks weird when he talks). I have stronger feelings about the chest hair, to be honest. Jed, Ian, and Brad’s chest hair look amazing. But Mark’s chest hair looks weird. And Alex’s chest hair is atrocious. 

The problem here is that the facial/ body hair worn by the characters are too standard. While Jed has a sparser, scruffier beard, all the beards are full. There are no goatees or van dykes or mustaches. The same is true of the body hair. Again, Jed has a sparser cover, but all the guys have basically the same full coverage. 

(All that said, adding beards and body hair is entirely optional. If a player likes it, go for it. And if not, don’t use it.)

Moving on to the sex scenes, there are a few more things I want to say about them.

Why does the dildo scene not have any explicit images? Will the scene be illustrated in the full game or is it just a humorous, and disappointing, throwaway? In any case, I hope this scene gets an explicit expnasion. 

Another scene in need of expansion is the bukkake between Mark and Jed. When Mark strips in front of Jed, the narrative box tells the player what is going on. Why is this scene not shown? Wouldn’t showing Mark and Jed standing and staring at each other naked with lustful eyes not be hot? Why skimp on the MVP’s cumming? Or Jed rubbing his dick on Mark’s chest/ sucking Mark’s dick after Mark cums? And why not show the kiss between the two at the end?

I emphaically want more to the bukkake scene. And hopefully the other sex scenes will be similarly expanded. (The dream sequence between Mark and Alex is slightly longer than the bukkake scene.)

This plays into my earlier complaint in my review of the demo that Jed, Phil, and Brad get short changed. There are three Alex scenes and only one scene to introduce Jed, Phil, and Brad each. This leads to the conclusion that the second demo feels rushed at the end, though not tacked on (given that the first demo was all Alex). 

In a third and final demo (which should be released 1-3 months before the game’s release date), I would like to see more done with Jed, Phil, and Brad. Maybe expand the demo’s time frame by another week or so to give players more time with the new love interests. I think all three would benefit, but Phil and Brad honestly do not look very good personality wise in their introductions. And, for me at least, more Jed is a good thing. 

I also think that there needs to be another two sex scenes in a third demo. The dildo scene needs to be illustrated. And another Jed scene couldn’t hurt (in addition to expanding Jed’s initial appearance).

Did I mention I’m obsessed with this game? Yeah. . . 

I may return to Coming Out on Top if there is something I feel that I need to say. I’ll also be sure to review a third demo and the full game on each’s release. Just give me some time to play them. 

 

Coming Out on Top: The Second Demo Review

This post might not be safe for work. You have been warned.

I want to be reviewing the finished version of Coming Out on Top, the gay dating sim from Obscurasoft. I really want the game now. I’m super psyched for it. And the demo has only whetted my yearning for it.

So, what is Coming Out on Top? It is a gay dating sim that follows Mark Matthews, a newly out gay man beginning his final semester at Oberlin College. From coming out to his two roommates, Mark must navigate a dizzying and nerves inducing dating scene with five romantic possibilities. It is a dating sim, after all.

The game is played through scroll text and decision making. At various times during play, the player is given several options to chose from. Some of those choices lead to increased chances of dating the romantic possibilities and others lessen those chances.

Gameplay isn’t without its flaws. The narrative text is at times repetitive and slows down the action. And at times, the narration seems to have a decided preference for Mark to act in a certain way. This is best illustrated when players compare the narrative takes on interactions with Alex and Jed. The narrative indicates there is a strong infatuation towards Alex, the first possible romantic interest. (So he may have the benefit of time). But, Jed is the first (I suspect) romantic interest that Mark can have sex with. However, the narrative text doesn’t seem as touched or affected by that event as one should expect.

I don’t know if this is a narrative bias or the demo still being (slightly) geared towards Alex (as he is the sole romantic interest introduced in the first demo). Hopefully, the narrative text will show a greater range of adaptiveness as Mark’s character changes based on his romantic choices.

Another issue is the interrupted jacking off sessions. I know these scenes are intended for humor, but they are more troublesome unless they serve the plot (like the introduction of Jed).

A final concern, as pointed out by Gaymer, is the fact that Obscurasoft is a woman creating a game featuring a gay man as the protagonist. The concerns raised are valid. The five romantic possibilities do tend to conform to some stereotypes of gay men. And I’ve expressed some concerns about Mark’s characterization. Whether or not these stereotypes will evolve into fully functioning characters will have to wait until the game is finished and released. (Gaymer also raises the point that Obscurasoft, as a woman, might have added more women to the cast when a gay man creating the same game might not have. I’m not entirely sure I agree with that. But until we see a similar game created by a gay man, the question will remain unresolved.)

So, who are Mark’s romantic interests?

Alex is an attractive older man Mark meets at the only gay bar in town. They hit it off, but Alex is the professor of Mark’s anatomy class.

Jed is the hot upstairs neighbor. He’s a “bad boy” that forces Mark outside his comfort zone. (He’s also the easiest to have sex with, I think).

Phil is Penny’s (one of Mark’s rommates) cousin. He is in the military. Penny tries to set them up.

Brad is a football player who Mark is hired to tutor.

And finally Ian, Mark’s other roommate, who may not be so straight himself.

When I played the demo, I found Alex, Jed, and Ian the most likeable of the five. Phil and Brad don’t come off as exactly likeable in their first meetings with Mark, but it is entirely possible that they will grow on the player as the game progresses.

Outside of the five romantic possibilities and Penny, several other characters are introduced. What role they play in the game remains to be seen, but I have some guesses. Mr. Bluetooth, I suspect< is either investigating Alex or the football team. Zoe will be a roadblock to a possible Mark/ Ian relationship (she is Ian’s ex-girlfriend). And the football team will likely cause trouble for Mark and Brad (if his doucheness doesn’t scare Mark off first).

Despite my criticisms of the game, I’m passionate about it. I want the game now. And that is all that matters.

(These criticisms aren’t the negative kind. They’re the positive kind. They’re the kind of criticism that wants to see a project be the best it can be. And it is also the fuel that can light the fire for one’s own projects. Tempting. . . )