Review: HuniePop

Or, “Do You Remember Lust?”

Let me begin by saying that HuniePop is not a bad game.

To call HuniePop a bad game would be to do it a disservice. Perhaps more accurately, it would be doing what the game represents a disservice. For beneath the surface of this innocuous (heh.) sex-themed puzzle game lurks a snarling, angry beast of entitlement and puerility, a monument to the toxic masculinity that society is all too willing to glorify.

To simply write all that off as ‘bad’ would be willfully ignoring just how bad it is- but, well, that would be my personal bias and philosophy talking. Some might gloss over those problematic elements entirely, some would fail to see how these so-called ‘problematic elements’ are, in fact, problematic, or how these things tie into the quality of the work as a game.

In fact, other writers have done a decent enough job at talking about how the game might perhaps be considered offensive, with respect to sex, race, and gender. If that’s what you’re after, I implore you to seek those answers elsewhere. Instead I seek to ask and answer an easier question:

Is it a good game?

HuniePop (PC, Mac, Linux)

Developed by HuniePot

Release date: January 19, 2015

MSRP: $10 (Steam, Humble, MangaGamer)

For those of you that might be unaware, let me explain: HuniePop is a match-three puzzle game, much like Puzzle Quest, or Bejeweled, with some light RPG elements. The game’s main gimmick is that the puzzles are a contextualized as an abstraction for a date between you and your partner, who is one of twelve different date-able characters in-game, four of which are unlockable, with the ultimate objective to get closer to, and eventually sleep with, every one. (And collect their underwear in the process, but that’s after the fact.) (The underwear has no in-game use, as far as I’m aware.)

The game takes place over the course of several days, with each ingame day being divided into four segments- Morning, Afternoon, Evening, and Night. During each segment, you have the opportunity to interact with a different girl in different ways, with each character being available or otherwise depending on the time of day/week. Interactions can be made through one of three ways- through engaging in conversations, purchasing gifts, or going out on dates.

Through conversation, you either ask the girl a question about herself (and learn more about her in the process, all of which is recorded in your in-game cellphone), or she asks you a question- either about something she’s told you before (e.g., “what’s my cup size?”), or about you (e.g., “do you prefer girls who shave their nethers?”), both of which are actual questions that are asked multiple times throughout the game. Correct answers, or asking questions you haven’t yet asked, merit rewards in the form of Hunie (ingame experience), which is used to improve your character’s statistics. This would be neat if conversations actually led to any amount of characterization –which it doesn’t, with interaction boiling down to one question and one answer– but really, these bits of conversation are limited in their scope, being reduced to reciting trivia back at the game.

Now, actually having conversations, however, consumes a girl’s energy, which in turn limits the amount of Hunie you can earn per day, per girl. This necessitates buying each girl presents, whether they’re in the form of food items (which replenish energy), or gifts (which give some amount of Hunie). This does not consume any energy, but instead costs Munie (ingame currency), which you earn by going out on dates. As each girl has her own preferences as to which gifts she’ll accept, and with only one of each item being available each day, this would have required some form of strategic thinking –which could have been neat, allowing for some avenue to discover more about the characters– if the game didn’t already neatly mark everything down for you with stars and hearts. While this eliminates the need for trial-and-error, these visual indicators make what could have been an interesting mechanic into one that requires zero thought or effort whatsoever.

Dates, by far, comprise the largest chunk of the game; after all, this is where the puzzle sequences finally come into play. The purpose of going out on these dates, whether they end in success or failure, is twofold- while it’s the means by which you can ‘advance’ your relationship with a girl, bringing her closer to taking her out to eventually sleep with her, it’s also the only method of acquiring more Munie, with which you then use to purchase gifts, which in turn either grant you more Hunie, or additional items to use to make dates easier, which allows you to acquire even more Munie…

This cycle of date-gift-date-gift-date is effectively a Skinner box without any real incentive to push the metaphorical button again and again. I mean, sure, the incentive is to clear all five dates with each girl with as little effort as possible (and thus unlock some erotic art of the girl in question), but not everyone has that patience, especially with the way the dates get progressively harder.

“But are the puzzles themselves any good?”, you might ask. “Surely, repetition isn’t too bad if the core gameplay mechanic is fun.”

Well, friend, I have words for you.

The aim of each puzzle segment is to earn a set number of points (or “Affection”) within a set limit, much like other puzzle games of the same type. But whereas Bejeweled ended the game when you ran out of possible moves, HuniePop enforces a twenty-move limit, stressing efficiency over design. While this decision feels somewhat inorganic and arbitrary by comparison, this forces you into a different way of thinking and playing than most other games in its genre.

Again, as with other match-3 games, by matching three (or more) tokens together, you earn points. The game contextualizes this as you, the player, expressing some desirable trait (Flirtation, Talent, Romance, et al.) during the date, which in turn raises your partner’s Affection (or, score). Other tokens, rather than boost your score, might raise your score multiplier or give you extra moves. Some matches are worth more than others, depending on your partner’s preference, forcing you to consider if that one extra move is worth sacrificing that potential five-in-a-row.

I’ll admit, I think the twist HuniePop puts on the typical match-3 formula is rather clever. Instead of swapping two adjacent tokens, as with most other games of this type, the game allows you to move a token to any spot on the grid in the same column or row. Having this additional degree of freedom certainly does a lot to make you consider the optimal plays in each scenario.

Now, as the game progresses, the necessary Affection total exponentially increases with each successive date- raising the amount of matches you need to make without changing the number of moves you have available. You’ll find yourself focusing on increasing the combo multiplier, for example toward the beginning, or using items to increase the spawn rate for certain token types. Perhaps you’ll want to spend more Munie before the date to get that last bit of Hunie for that stat increase.

The way this ramps up in difficulty makes this somewhat engaging at first. It does a decent job of forcing you to consider the optimality and efficiency of your playstyle as you begin to realize you’re not earning Affection quickly enough. However, whatever veneer of challenge there might have been wears thin, and quickly.

Unlike Bejeweled, where the grid layouts become more complex, and failure is ultimately dictated by the grid layout itself running out of viable moves, HuniePop instead operates on a system that compensates for its inability to generate complexity with a rather crude escalation of scale. Dates will become more difficult to complete, even if they’re mechanically identical, giving the impression that this difficulty system is completely artificial.

Implementing the scaling difficulty system in this way feels counterintuitive given the game’s emphasis on its RPG elements. The game expects you to be increasing your stats to compensate for the increase in Affection cap, all of which contribute to earning additional Affection with each match, whether directly or indirectly. This would be fine, but at some point, the Affection meter will hit a limit (3300 on Easy, 5000 on Normal, 6650 on Hard). Assuming you’ve been taking care to maximize all your stats, bringing a carefully-curated assortment of items, this virtually eliminates any sense of escalating difficulty at that point, making the game’s sheer reliance on RNG to provide challenge all the more apparent.

In fact, because the amount of Munie earned is proportional to the number of moves remaining at the end of the date, you end up earning much more playing on Easy than on Hard. With that arbitrary shift in Affection cap with difficulty settings, there is no incentive to play on any harder difficulty settings at all. Sure, one might make the argument that the presence of difficulty options is “for the challenge”, but because the game rewards actively stalling for additional moves at higher levels, playing on harder difficulty settings devolves into a tiresome slog, rather than give you a sense of accomplishment for solving a puzzle with actual complexity.

Furthermore, the idea behind “additional challenge” breaks down when you analyze the other elements of the game outside of puzzles. Everything about interacting with the girls is streamlined, emphasizing ease above all else. Every fact you learn about them is recorded, every preference they have is available to check at the push of a button, every gift they’d like to receive is neatly marked with a heart or a star- this almost requires no thought or effort on the part of the player, with every facet of interaction (which is the game’s focus, as the ‘endgoal’ is sexual intercourse) being abstracted into picking one of three choices.

“But wait,” you might argue. “Surely, the only incentive anyone playing this game needs is the sex! In fact, is that not why your player character is even dating these girls? Who cares about challenge or fun?”

Assuming you’ve managed to steel yourself through five dates with one girl, crude difficulty escalation be damned, you take her back to your bedroom, to…

…do another puzzle segment. Of course.

I’m not even kidding. The sex scenes are contextualized as yet another puzzle segment, much in the same vein as the five dates that immediately precede them. Only this time, your heroine of choice will be making moans as you make matches.

Not to say that these puzzle segments are identical to the non-sex ones, of course; instead of being able to take your time to maximize your score in twenty moves, all modicum of strategy is thrown out the window in favor of a score rush mode. To adequately satisfy your partner, the aim for these segments is to fill the Affection bar once again, only this time, it rapidly depletes over time. Dallying for even a couple of seconds could empty the bar if you’re not making moves fast enough.

This emphasis on speed over efficiency is an interesting break from the playstyle the game tries to promote, and feels refreshing… until you realize that there’s no real way to fail the segment. One would think that there would be a timer of some sort, given its focus on swift matches, but that’s not the case- this segment can continue on, indefinitely, for as long as you haven’t filled up the Affection meter all the way through.

While the game does treat you to some saucy art of your partner upon success… what then? You’re left with this biting feeling of dissatisfaction, as the girl simply greets you with a post-sex one-liner and then sends you on your way. Sure, you could go on to eventually sleep with the other heroines, go on to unlock the hidden ones, and so on, but then what?

The game fails to at least allay that feeling of dissatisfaction with any real conclusion at all. The game simply continues, endlessly, without so much as a “congratulations” for unlocking (and sleeping with) all the characters. Sure, you could continue to purchase unique gifts to unlock different outfits and hairstyles, but even seeing all there is to see, clearing the game 100% provides no real incentive to actually do so.

Suffice it to say, while the game might be at least interesting at first, with perfectly serviceable art, impressive soundtrack, somewhat-engaging (but ultimately tiresome) puzzles, and a slick user interface, playing it over an extended period of time reveals that its extensive level of polish serves little purpose other than to disguise the fact that nearly every mechanic therein is poorly-executed and self-defeating.

Now, don’t get me wrong: all these semi-ambitious, half-assedly-executed ideas and mechanics are, by far, the least offensive parts of the game.

But I think the game speaks for itself in that regard.

Don’t play HuniePop.

2/10

(DISCLAIMER: This review was originally published on a now-defunct games website in 2015, written shortly after the game’s release, well before additional features such as achievements were added. As such, some of the information contained herein may be outdated.)
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