Review by MaeWasp
Decent Pairing But Really Lacking Something
Crowd funded sensation HuniePop has been getting lots of love and lots of hate from around the web. You may have heard many things, but let's take a second to ignore some prejudices and look at the game as critically as I think possible. For those completely unfamiliar with the title however let me go over the basic premise:
HuniePop is a dating sim/classic match-3 puzzler with some minor RPG elements. You play as a socially inept guy or girl who is chosen by love fairy Kyu to become a babe-magnet. Using your sexy puzzle solving skills you attempt to bed every female you encounter. Along the way you'll meet a dozen characters all carefully written and voiced to be as comically stereo-typical as possible. Progression in the game is made mainly by going out on dates with the various girls and successful dates rewards the player with increasingly risque CG pictures of the characters. The reward scheme of HuniePop is not necessarily original, especially to fans of dating sims, and so if that concept alone is amazingly offensive to you then you can stop right now. However, even if you're not big on anime girl ero-art, the match-3 puzzle element might still be of great interest to you. This is a game after all so let's talk gameplay!
When you take a girl out on a date you are presented with a classic match-3 table to work your magic on. The goal is to fill up the affection meter in a certain number of turns. To do this you match one of the main four elements, or colors, in the game. Each girl you date has one element she likes most and another that she likes least adding additional strategy of which matches you should prioritize. There are also four additional elements that you can match. Hearts to increase your passion, or multiplier, level. Broken hearts that reduce the affection meter. Tears that give you sentiment points, these are points that can be spent on special items. Lastly there are bells that give more of those all important turns. HuniePop's main spin on the match-3 formula is the ability to move any piece any number of spaces up, down, left, or right as long as a match is formed. With some foresight this can be used to make some pretty impossible matches happen which is arguable the most fun aspect of the puzzle solving. With greater freedom of movement there comes the need to be even more strategic on the hardest difficulty settings. Finding a match is always easy, but getting the affection meter full in 20 turns will be impossible without careful planning. Overall, the basic mechanics are pretty satisfying in their own right.
For some added depth there are the date gifts. You get date gifts somewhat randomly by giving gifts to the ladies. Gifts for gifts, I know. These items are pretty much what you'd expect and generally fall under four basic categories: Make more of a certain type of token appear; instantly break all of a certain type of token; instantly break all tokens in a given area; or turn all your bad tokens into good tokens. A few choice items will give good passive abilities like getting sentiment or turns for completing match fours. Each item requires you to spend a certain amount of sentiment points to use. You can only take 6 items into a date and they can't be swapped out mid-puzzle so there is a bit of pre-planning you can do to optimize your loadout, so to speak, to have the best chance with any given lady. One gripe for collectors out there would be that your inventory is not large enough to hold every date gift. Also, the inventory is shared with non-date gifts and items so near the end game it gets near pretty unmanageable.
Next, we'll go over the RPG elements. "Hunie" is the equivalent of EXP in this game allowing you to upgrade your various traits. Traits are a bit of a contrived system I'd argue. The passive abilities to earn more affection points with each of the four main elements is basically required to max out. Unlock higher passion levels and decrease the effect of the broken hearts, boring. The only possibly interesting trait is Luck, this increases the probability that special tokens will form when match fives, fours, and at high levels even match threes are made. These special tokens, when matched again, are worth more based on a multiplier that is increased by another obligatory trait. In early game one might prioritize certain traits but mid to late game it's just a matter of course maxing every trait out. The difficulty incrementally goes up with each date needing more and more affection, but this goes hand in hand with trait progression effectively canceling both out. To be fair though, the game ends up being harder overall as you progress while leveling up traits simply is delaying this inevitable difficulty.
"Hunie" is gained by either giving gifts to girls or talking to them. The amount of Hunie can also be increased if you get the women liquored up, which will also give you bonus sentiment points on a date. Girls only accept gifts that they'll like, each girl liking only three normal categories of gift and each having a distinct special category. Giving specialty gifts reward you with an passive Hunie bonus for that particular lady. For the completionist out there, all gifts are kept track of so you can tell once you have given a lady all the gifts possible for her. Talking to girls falls under three categories: Asking them a specific aspect about themselves such as their birthday; being quizzed on learned aspects; or answering a hypothetical question e.g. are you close to your parents. A set amount of Hunie is given for just initiating a conversation while a larger bonus amount is given when a question is answered correctly. All the hypothetical questions asked have a "correct" answer that the girl wants to hear which you can usual guess based on just the stereo-types but really you just have to trust your one out of three odds. There's no punishment for getting an answer wrong, this is all carrot and no stick gameplay. That goes for pretty much anything. Even failing a date has no long term consequences, you simply try again the next day. An analogue for life? Maybe.
A little bit more on the general game mechanics is in order. The game progresses in daily increments with each day being split up into four parts: morning, afternoon, evening, and night. Every time you move from one girl to the next you go to the next time period. You can also only go on one date with one girl per day, meaning at max you can do four dates a day. The store that gifts are bought from is randomly restocked every day so it might not have the best gifts for one girl but will have plenty for another. The game uses a hunger mechanic to limit how much interacting (talking, gifting, etc.) you can do with a girl per day. So what's all this mean? That the game is balanced to force you into bouncing from one girl to the next because of the limited interaction you can have per day. Plus, making you strategize on whether to use the limited items to maximize the amount of Hunie that can be received in one encounter. So it's not really about finding a favorite and going steady, so if that's what you're looking for in your dating-sim then you'll have to go else where.
HuniePop is a oddity in that it has good writing and yet has criminally shallow story and characters. I gave a synopsis of the story in the intro and there really isn't anything to add. Unashamedly, this is a game about banging chicks. I'd hope that most people would like more and will subsequently leave disappointed. But just because the story is non-existent doesn't mean it can't be populated with wonderful characters, and it almost is.
Characters in HuniePop all exist to fill some certain stereo-type. The nerd, the cheerleader, the slut, the single mom, the Indian yoga instructor who doesn't know she's beautiful, they're all here. All are written quite perfectly to fill their role and there is an advantage of using these very stereo-typical characters. You don't need to give them these elaborate back stories because they simply remind you of people we all know, or know about. Most people don't personally know a porn star but we all probably have an idea of what one must be like, so as long as your writing of a porn star doesn't shatter people's imagination the end result is a believable character. Sure, main character Kyu curses like nobody that you know. But this contrasts nicely against the girl-next-door cheerleader who never curses, like you would expect her not too. The believability in characters is HuniePop's greatest strength in this regard. Where the game falls flat and goes out of it's way to disappoint is in how shallow all your relationships are.
The majority, like 80% or something, of your dialogue with the ladies is finding out random facts like their age, favorite color, occupation, cup size, etc. which does very little to flesh out the characters. The opening of the game is so interesting though. You and your fairy sidekick (ohmigosh, this is a zelda clone) head to one of the games locations and will encounter two women chatting, you then talk to one lady and then chase after the other for another encounter. The game then pulls a cool seven degrees of separation thing where all of the main characters kind of know each other and you go full circle. After the opening semantics however the girls never are shown to interact again. Talk about a good premise being completely wasted. Another failed opportunity to show depth is when one of the ladies asks a hypothetical question and you have to guess the answer you think she'll like. When you get it right sometimes the responses leave you thinking. Let me give an example: the cheerleader character asks about how close you are with your parents. Then, a correct answer by you triggers a response about how she hates her parents. I would have guessed everything was great in this girl's life but now I learn that there might be some trouble in paradise so to speak. I would love to know some more now about this multi-layered character but no, next time you talk to her she'll probably just ask if you remember her height... *sigh* 5'4. I do care.
This game lives to be shallow. The choice to be a man or a woman barely even effects the dialogue. For a puzzle game I guess it's alright, but for a dating-sim it is just a shame. I'm only so hard on the game though because I feel like the talent to right interesting characters was there and then they just didn't follow through. Once you finish the game's story by going on all the possible dates with all the possible girls the ending basically tells you to just enjoy the puzzle element of the game and personally I just stopped talking to the ladies altogether after I maxed out on Hunie points.
HuniePop has a decent enough soundtrack of 23 tracks that you can also buy separately. I didn't think any tracks were all that impressive, but they did their job nicely. The voice acting was competently delivered and recorded. The casting is good, all the voices match nicely to their respective avatars.
On the technically side of things this is basically what you'd come to expect from a Unity Engine game. (I'm pretty sure that's what it's using, admittedly I'm not too informed when it comes to this type of thing.) I had an issue originally where my mouse didn't seem to align with what I was clicking, but that got fixed with the first patch. Gems burst with sparkly particle effects that float over to the character; which is nice but nothing too special. Ran good on my eight year old laptop so it'll probably run on anything without much problem.
The CG art looks good enough, for some reason though the title screen looks awful. Each lady has four unique pictures, five hair styles, and five outfits including swimwear. If you came for the art and don't feel like that is worth the money then you might consider buying the digital art collection off the developers website for a fraction of the game's price. I'm not a big critic of this kind of thing, but I get the impression that this art style is fairly generic.
One last thing I haven't mentioned about HuniePop is its little old-school streak. It's got some secret characters and items that you unlock by doing some obscure things that are only hinted at in some item descriptions and what not. I just love stuff like that and I definitely gave an extra point because of it.
In the end though, HuniePop is basically meant to be a game that you get a few laughs out of before just diving into an endless match-3 experience. A lot of people will laugh at absolutely nothing this game has to offer and will be disgusted by the ero-art. I love those kinds of people, they're cool too. I wouldn't say that the game is racist, sexist, etc. though because those are all motivated by hate. There's no hate here in HuniePop, just a bit of sardonic flair.
Product Release: HuniePop (US, 01/19/15)
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