One of the ironies of dating sims is that they rarely simulate the complexities of courtship. Routinely, players study the specifics of a potential partner’s personality, before they make decisions based on an anticipated outcome. As such, the depiction of romance is reduced to a series of predictable menu choices which largely fail to capture the complexities of the real world. While these kinds of games are enjoyable to play through once or twice, any thrill largely vanishes on subsequent play sessions.
While the recent PC release of HuniePop is drawing attention for bringing American-made hentai to PC owners, few are examining the game’s fascinating interpretation of relationships. Sure, the title’s take on romance can be reductionist, often based on the player’s aptitude in reading palpable clues or remembering pieces of information. But, far more fascinating is HuniePop’s puzzle component, which offers a model of dating that’s overflowing with both metaphor and thorny play mechanics. Whereas the match-three game was reinvigorated with Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords’ inclusion of role-playing elements, HuniePop uses the tile-swapping pastime to advance the dating game genre.
Both dates and carnal connections are represented by a playfield of iconic shapes. Initially, players might try to rely on their gem-shifting experience with Bejeweled, but they’ll likely become stymied when trying to earn the required number of points to successfully complete a date. Instead, gamers have to carefully use each of their limited number of turns to make matches of icons that correspond to each woman’s preference.
Captivatingly, there’s a number of factors that complicate this process. Removing a succession of pink hearts has the ability to raise the player’s passion multiplier. The trick is determining how often to do this. Go into the date strong and you’ll surely raise your potential to earn points, but there’s also the possibility of squandering turns on increasing a multiplier instead of actually scoring points. As such, it’s akin to the small, but significant romantic gestures that can make or break a real-life romantic outing.
Another interesting risk/reward mechanic comes in the form of gifts. Cultivate enough sentiment by eliminating a string of blue teardrops and you’ll be able to use one of these items, which have the salvage a date that’s taking a turn for the disastrous. Give a teddy bear, and all the potentially punishing broken hearts turn into passion icons. There’s also bells that can add extra turns as well as power tokens that can provide point-boosting opportunities capable of pushing players past the mandatory threshold.
Early on, HuniePop is no pushover, and players will likely be rejected at the end of their rendezvous. Fortunately, there’s also little punishment. HuniePoints earned during conversation selections can be used to purchase traits, which in turn boost your stats in the dating component. As such, wooing the ladies can be a bit of a grind (albeit an enjoyable one), but there’s never a point where players hit a figurative impasse. Eventually, once players complete enough successful socializations, they’ll earn the ability to invite their partner over for an amorous interlude. Here, HuniePop’s puzzle component shirks its leisurely pace for a rapid-fire endeavor where players must earn points against an incessantly dwindling meter. It’s a completely NSFW sequence punctuated by a steady succession of moans, expletives, and if the player can climax their point totals- a libidinous photo celebrating the moment.
Pleasingly, this isn’t the only reward HuniePop’s bestows; positive outings often result in women sending over a racy image which appears in the mobile phone-like interface. The HunieBee is more than an index of anime-style Snapchat pics however, with the device also keeps track of the location of each lady, biographical data, as well as works at the game’s storefront, offering food, drink, gifts, and other amenities.
Character conception is another area where HuniePop excels. Although the ladies don’t exhibit much of an arc during the game, their personalities are quite interesting. While there’s a prototypical cast of sweeties, skanks, and tsunderes, each character is more than just a collection of biographical data. Not only are some women captivatingly contradictory (the prudish, teetotaling Beli is friends with Jessie, the resident porn-star MILF) but their conversational styles do an excellent job are exposing their personality. Surprise comes both in unearthing each women’s backstory and connection to one another, but also in the unlockable characters which serve as the supreme goal.
Woefully, dialog in HuniePop can come up short. Interchanges via multiple choice menu options generally work well, with the women either offering comical banter or occasionally testing the player’s level of attention. But before long, repetition rears its ominous head, and players will find dialog menus filled with rehashed options for small talk. Frustratingly, the women habitually remember your inquiries, resulting in a penalty for asking the same question twice. Ideally, HuniePop’s cast would have a bit more to say. Although the game’s protagonist can choose to be either a socially introverted male or female, it would have been nice to see more dialog take gender selection into account.
Save for a small problem where the HunieBee remains visible on the far left periphery of the screen, the game is a consumate performer, running on the feeble netbooks and older rigs without trouble. Aesthetically, the title offers some nicely rendered characters, who flaunt a variety of facial expressions, as well as unlockable clothing options, and facial expressions. The only downside is that not all of the assets are of a unified quality, exposing varying amounts of detail in elements like backdrops. Sonically, HuniePop’s soundtrack offering a variety of musical selections which complement the game’s interactions. Most amusing, is the sax-heavy track which plays during the romantic encounters.
HuniePop comes in two distinct packages. Purchase the title from Mangagamer and you’re able to play the uncensored version, which also comes with a Steam key. Valve’s version effectively plays the same, with the exception of the ladies wearing underwear in their post-coital pics. Whatever iteration you download, there’s something quite distinctive about the title. From the pool boy/pizza guy plotlines of porn to the clichéd setups used by romance novels, lascivious-minded media all too rarely combines sexy and fun as seamlessly at HuniePop.
HuniePop was played on the PC with review code provided by the publisher.