Successfully Kickstarted back in November 2013, HuniePop is one part puzzle role-playing game, one part dating sim with a dash of hentai on the side. Is it strange that the element I'm most excited by is the puzzles?
First things first, HuniePop is an adult game in which the objective is for your male or female character to date and eventually bed up to 10 (not counting hidden characters — I'll find you, Momo) female anime-style women. Some people will take issue with that style of game. They should probably avoid it.
Me? I'm a huge fan of visual novels and an even bigger fan of puzzle RPGs. This one just happens to have some dirty pictures in it. The censored Steam version of the game gets rid of most of the NSFW (not all), so if this is the sort of game you'd like to try without feeling too guilty about it, that's the one you'll want. I bought my copy from MangaGamer, and it's definitely not censored.
Here's the gist: You're an awkward young man or woman with social skills so terrible that a fairy from a magical land of love decides to take you under her wing. She introduces you to a diverse assortment of local women — the Japanese schoolteacher, the party girl, the spiritual yoga instructor, the studious cheerleader, the ageing porn star, the ambitious stewardess, the exercise-obsessed single mum and the introverted gamer. Armed with only your charm and a cheat sheet that tells you exactly what each woman likes, you must woo to completion.
In order to woo to completion (being subtle is fun!), the player has to take each woman on a series of dates, which looks something like this.
I've seen a lot of people comparing HuniePop to Candy Crush Saga. That's doing HuniePop's version of match three a grave disservice. Compared to this game's smart tactical puzzle gameplay, Candy Crush is just a bit of fluff. This is a game about planning ahead, building resources and using power-ups wisely. It's really quite challenging.
Each woman in the game has a favourite trait — sexuality, flirtation, talent or romance. The goal in each date puzzle is to combine enough of those four traits to fill the meter at the bottom of the screen within a set number of moves. Match broken hearts and the meter drops significantly. Match bells for extra moves. Match sentiment to use date gifts, items unlocked through the dating sim portion of the game that act as special skills during the puzzle portions. Finally, matching pink hearts raises the passion level, which acts as a multiplier for trait gathering.
Madly matching colours will get you nowhere fast. You start by noting the position of the bells on the board — extra moves are one of the keys to success. Then start matching hearts to raise the passion level. See the teddy bear in the gifts section? Using that transforms all broken hearts into passion hearts, so keep an eye out for large concentrations of both before using it, gaining a massive multiplier all at once. From there it's about gathering traits. Focus on her favourite, but don't be afraid to match lesser ones to set up a combo. Pieces can be moved anywhere on the horizontal or vertical axis, so you've got a lot of room to manoeuvre.
And now I've written two paragraphs on strategy for winning a match three game inside a dating sim. That's because that's not quite the dynamic with HuniePop. While the pretty pictures of anime women are lovely, it's the deep, challenging puzzle action that's the star of the show.
Once you fill the five hearts for any given character via your puzzle prowess she'll ask to come back to your apartment for a bonus round. Here the strategy is tossed out the window, replaced with a race to fill a rapidly depleting passion meter while the female in question makes awkward noises. You might want to turn the volume down before playing this video.
Once that's over with you're treated to a full-screen picture of your date in a compromising position. Let me find one that's not too racy.
Um, they're all pretty racy. Instead, here's a picture of Kyanna doing push-ups.
After each date (except for the final) the woman you entertained sends you a text message with a photo attached, with the photos becoming more risque the further into the dating cycle you venture. It's a neat feature initially, but it's also one of the sole indicators that the women feel any different about you than they did during date one.
Despite outward appearances, HuniePop is a very mechanical game. It's about gathering resources — feeding girls their favourite foods to raise their hunger meter, then speaking to them to earn Hunie, the currency used to upgrade skills. Outside of initial meetings, vocal intercourse with any of the game's women is series of questions. Some reveal facts about the woman — age, weight, height, profession and the like. In other cases she will quiz the player about the facts she's already revealed.
The only real change is later in the date cycle each woman will begin asking you more personal questioned suited to their attitudes. Frisky Aiko will ask you about sexual positions, while single mother Kyanna will ask for your stance on abortion. You know, just lighthearted chatting.
Once the "bonus round" is won and the relationship consummated, you wake up with the woman of your choosing in your bedroom. She makes a single comment about the night before, and then it's back to business-as-usual.
At this point in HuniePop my character has slept with all of the available women in the game. I've maxed every upgradeable stat — now my Hunie points are at 99,999 with nowhere to go. I can take woman on dates, possibly unlocking new outfits or hairstyles along the way. I can try to figure out how to unlock the hidden characters — hopefully that will increase the difficulty of the puzzles, which plateaued once I completed the cycle with woman number ten.
After six or so hours of intense puzzle action, I'm left with the fond memory of six or so hours of intense puzzle action. Despite their English voice actors and well-defined personalities, the proud women of HuniePop ultimately amount to little more than trading cards — collect the whole set.
Designer Ryan Koons and the HuniePop team's take on match three gameplay is strategically deep and challenging enough to kick a Candy Crush casual's arse. Despite lacking a strong finish (thus far) the game mechanics come together quite well. They have nailed the technique, but it's too much Tin Woodsman, not enough heart.
But, hey, it's special enough to get me to write about an adult dating sim, so that's something.