Review by Kwing
Fun, Sexy, and a Little Tedious
HuniePop is a puzzle dating-sim that's based heavily on Bejeweled and Candy Crush, but has the added element of sexy women. Lots of them. Yes, I can already see your expectations dropping, but consider that very few critics have been able to bash this game.
At its core, HuniePop can be broken down into several core bits of gameplay. Talk to women, give them gifts, then play puzzles on dates. Talking and gift-giving requires you to memorize information in order to help stat grind. Giving gifts or answering questions incorrectly does not penalize you but does waste a bit of your time: During this process, most actions you take consume a bit of the girl's energy. Once it reaches nothing, she won't do anything else with you until you give her something to eat. This can be circumvented by going to another girl and coming back, however. Each day you can go on a date with a girl in order to earn a heart with her. At five, you can take her home if the date is initiated at night.
Dating is fairly similar to Bejeweled, except that a tile can be moved any distance so long as it's in a cardinal direction. This gives the player a lot more freedom, but the additional rules of HuniePop make it your responsibility to use this freedom wisely. Just matching any set of three is almost guaranteed to end in failure. Thankfully, failure still rewards you with a bit of money that will facilitate the gift-giving process and ultimately push you back on track.
The success of a date depends mostly on how prepared you are going in. Each color of tile represents something (sexuality, romance, flirtation, etc.) that girls will hold preferences toward or against. These preferences reflect how many points you earn by matching them, and matching incorrectly can jeopardize your date due to the limited number of moves you have. Gift-giving earns you points that can be spent on enhancing how many points you get from a certain kind of tile, which helps a little for all of the girls but will be massively helpful toward the girl(s) that prefer the type you upgraded. Additional points can be earned from any type of tile by matching four or more, which has the added bonus of (usually) spawning a power tile of that type, worth additional points if you match it.
With that covered, a few tile types are not a matter of preference but impact the game in some other way. For instance, broken hearts penalize you, sentiment tiles build sentiment (which is consumed when using date gifts), passion tiles raise your passion level, and joy tiles give you more moves for the date. The date gifts are perhaps the most interesting of all of these. You can equip up to six going into a date, and each will have different effects, such as consuming a row or column of tiles or converting broken hearts to other types. The strongest date gifts increase the drop rate of a specific tile or consume all of a certain type all at once. Toward the endgame, your best strategy is to use a drop rate gift to build up a reserve of the tile the girl likes, then consume them all at once at the end with another gift to give you a gigantic score boost.
To summarize this information, HuniePop has a significant amount of depth. It's not a mindless game, and the date gifts add a decent level of strategy. This strategy is less prominent as the player learns how to play and begins to exploit certain stats and items, but it's refreshing to play a version of a classic game that still requires you to play actively. Ultimately its replay value comes more from the same base ingredients as Bejeweled and Candy Crush than it does for the added gimmicks, but these gimmicks do add a lot more substance to the front end of a playthrough.
The basic premise is that you, the main character, are a general loser (your inventory initially contains a dirty magazine and a box of tissues) and a love fairy is going to help you score some chicks. The game itself is pretty self-conscious of how ridiculous dating sims are and is nice enough not to take itself too seriously. That said, once the initial tutorial stuff is out of the way, it's worth noting that there is considerably less humor in the rest of the game.
There are introductory cutscenes that introduce each girl, typically a mutual friend of a girl you already know. After those scenes pretty much all you have to worry about are the in-game conversations. As might be expected, the questions and answers ("Do you remember how old I am?") are pretty inorganic. This is a dating sim after all, not a visual novel. Unsurprisingly, this means that each of the girls falls into a general archetype (eg. nerdy, sporty, MILF, teacher, etc.) Though predictable, the variety is also balanced. Funnily enough, the game seems to have a conscious bias against stereotypes. For instance, both of the Asian girls are large-chested and are unusually tall.
For a game like this, aesthetics are everything. Thankfully HuniePop is not lacking in the auditory or visual departments. I can't complain about the different locations and the puzzle element is decorated with particle effects and colorful tiles, but the women are of course the main concern. Each is lovingly constructed and comes with a variety of outfits, artwork, and h-scene stills to charm you. More importantly, the voices (usually) strike a healthy balance between sexy and realistic, something that is almost always a problem with these kinds of games. Some may find it disappointing that characters discuss different sexual acts that are never present in the h-scenes. Moreover, you cannot unlock more images by sleeping with the same girl twice, which is disappointing to say the least.
HuniePop is worth playing intensively (like an action or RPG title) for several hours, but a lot of the charm ebbs away after scoring on a girl or two. I think the cool thing about this game is that even after partially completing the game, the puzzle element is accessible enough to continue playing for weeks afterward in smaller doses. I'm not sure how long it would take to complete everything in the game, but it's decently long, and more importantly I think there's less filler than a lot of games of this ilk. I also think the pacing of the secret characters is well done; after having one girl over, you can immediately unlock a couple characters, but completionists are also rewarded with a final girl after doing everything else.
The characters can get slightly tacky and the game can get slightly redundant, but HuniePop is most certainly not trash, nor is it clickbait. If you already like these kinds of puzzle games or dating sims, this game more than deserves a chance. If you're interested in both, this could be a must-have title. But even if you aren't strongly interested in either, it's entertaining and a little sexier than I want to admit. If you're already looking at this title, you'll more or less get what you're expecting, albeit with a little more stat grinding than you might anticipate. Overall, though, I can rate my experience with this game as positive, and I expect I will spend the next few weeks slowly chipping away at the rest of the characters.
Product Release: HuniePop (US, 01/19/15)
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