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.
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. . . )