HuniePop from Ryan Koons’ studio HuniePot was partly developed as a sort of “protest” game: an attempt to fight back against the growing trend of political correctness that was starting to take root in the games industry.
There was clearly demand for such a game, even back in late 2013; a successful Kickstarter campaign allowed those who were similarly frustrated with the situation to put their money where their mouth was and show their support for the kind of thing they wanted to see more of: something lewd, crude and rude — and unashamed of being any of those things.
The remarkable thing about HuniePop was that it ended up being a damn good game as well as a resounding middle finger to the “everything is problematic” crowd. Not only that, it also demonstrated that independent Western developers were more than capable of putting interesting new twists on Japanese-style aesthetics by combining anime-style artwork with a hilariously abrasive and distinctively modern, American script.
The original plan for HuniePop was to create a visual novel-style dating sim that incorporated puzzle game elements rather than being purely stat- or story-based. Over time, the focus gradually changed to de-emphasise the narrative aspects in favour of shorter, snappier interactions with the characters and a stronger focus on the core gameplay.
It was a controversial decision at the time, since it was a fairly radical change of direction from what was originally proposed, but it ultimately turned out for the best. The final product still featured strong characterisation for its incredibly diverse and memorable cast, but at no point did it get bogged down in excessive exposition, instead allowing the game to showcase its incredibly strong mechanics and use its concept, setting and characters to add a distinctive atmosphere to the experience.
HuniePop casts you in the role of “yourself”, a hopeless (male or female) loser who has had absolutely no luck with relationships. You’re visited by a fairy named Kyu, whose adorable appearance is immediately subverted the moment she opens her mouth and reveals herself to be both street-smart and foul-mouthed. She reckons she can help you out with your dry spell, and pushes you in the direction of a wide selection of pretty girls who inhabit the town where you live. From there, your task is simple: bone your way through the core cast, bang Kyu, then as a grand finale screw Kyu’s boss, the goddess of love herself. (You can optionally then pursue two secret characters, too, if you haven’t had quite enough action by this point.) Shallow? Yes. Fun? Hell yes.
HuniePop’s gameplay is split into two main components. Each in-game day, you have the opportunity to travel to various locations, purchase items and interact with the girls. Occasionally you’ll see short event scenes as the girls interact with one another, giving them a feeling of existing as characters independently of your presence, and you also have the opportunity to talk to them and find out more about them. Responding appropriately to their questions earns you a special currency that can be used to upgrade your stats, and you can also offer them gifts, keep them fed or ply them with alcohol for various benefits — though each of the girls has different tastes in this regard.
The puzzle gameplay comes in when you decide to invite a girl out on a date rather than just making casual small talk with her. You’re then presented with a match-3 puzzle grid in which you need to score enough points to fill a meter in a limited number of moves. Each of the girls prefers a particular colour of token, scoring a great deal more points for matching it, and significant bonuses are awarded for the usual fancy moves such as combos and chains as well as increasing your “Passion” level by matching heart-shaped tokens.
Many of the items you purchase can also be used in the puzzle game to your advantage by manipulating the board in various ways, and your scoring potential for the various colours of token also increases drastically according to the relevant stats you’ve built up in the rest of the game. That said, the score targets also increase pretty rapidly, too, so you better stay on top of your own personal development!
Each successful date with a girl rewards you with an increasingly risqué picture of her to enjoy, and the fourth date provides a sexy twist on the puzzle formula, demanding that you reach a score target as quickly as possible, without worrying about move limits, but trying desperately not to get distracted while your partner moans rather provocatively in pleasure. Completing this final challenge rewards you with the most explicit picture of your partner, though for maximum filth you’ll need to either install an 18+ patch or purchase the uncensored version from a storefront other than Steam. (It’s worth noting the Steam version is still emphatically not for children, there just aren’t as many… fluids involved.)
The nice thing about HuniePop’s puzzle gameplay is that it isn’t just a straight knockoff of Bejeweled, as is unfortunately still so often the case with many modern puzzle games, particularly in the free-to-play and mobile markets. Instead, grabbing a piece allows you to move it anywhere in either the row or column it is in; it’s not quite as much freedom of movement as Frontwing’s Purino Party offers in its mechanics, but it’s still a lot less luck-based than simple tile-swapping match-3 games and allows for a strong degree of strategy while keeping things interesting, especially when combined with the use of items.
The “dating” mechanics complement the puzzle game aspects nicely, giving the whole thing a coherent, consistent feel, and the icing on the cake is the wide variety of characters you can get to know and have some fun with over the course of your “adventure”. The cast eschews both anime tropes and Western stereotypes, with their personalities running the gamut from the relatively demure, sensual Beli to the exceedingly abrasive, foul-mouthed, aggressive but somehow still rather likeable Audrey. The game is fully voiced — even in the “sex puzzle” scenes — and the voice artists deliver their lines with aplomb, enthusiasm and a great deal of personality, helping to give both the characters and the game as a whole a strong sense of identity.
HuniePop has a clear idea of what it wants to be, and it doesn’t give a damn who it offends along the way. This isn’t to say it’s mindlessly offensive at all — quite the opposite, in fact, since it’s clear that the characters have all been designed with care and attention to their personalities and backgrounds, even if they don’t really have substantial in-game “stories” to follow in the same way as a more visual novel-esque dating sim.
Rather, it doesn’t feel the need to censor itself or attempt to appease the sort of person who probably wouldn’t have bought a copy in the first place. It’s unabashedly, unashamedly a game for adults — adults who aren’t afraid to admit that sex is an important part of modern life — but, more importantly, it’s a damn good game, too.
I backed HuniePop on Kickstarter. Don’t worry, though, I’d have told you if it was shit.
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