Gaming is not something I do a lot of these days, I have to admit. I’m much more up to date with music and tend to just keep gaming to the games I know that I like. Thus it is that my gaming collection pretty much looks like it worships Relic Entertainment (which, I’m not gonna lie, is actually kind of true: I LOVE the Dawn of War series of games!), has a large selection of games from the Sega Mega Drive’s gaming collection (I actually HAD a Mega Drive growing up, believe it or not!) and worships the old school style of gaming when platformers were king of the gaming hill.
But then you look closer and spot a few newer trends popping up into my gaming collection. My love of the TimeSplitters games isn’t exactly common knowledge, but I do regard the whole series as one of the few gaming series which should be considered as modern (well, relatively speaking) classics of the gaming scene, I do find the Assassin’s Creed series that I’ve played thus far to be fairly enjoyable (even the much scorned Assassin’s Creed III gets a bit of a free pass from me because it has some absolutely beautiful scenery to it and tried to create a main character that actually had a justified reason for knowing some of the assassin skills he did prior to becoming an assassin…even if Ubisoft didn’t do the best of jobs at making the main character someone we wanted to care about and arguably mishandled the British side of the whole conflict that drove the game), I will profess my love of Brutal Legend from the heavens if I have to just because it is a game that I find criminally underrated and I regard Oni as a game that only isn’t highly regarded now because it was lacking in several of the promised features it was meant to have (which sounds very familiar, for some reason…), as it is still a decent, if VERY challenging, game as it is now.
Yet none of the games in my gaming collection are as bizarre to find there as HuniePop. For this, I have to thank (or blame, depending on how you want to look at it) Lucahjin and TotalBiscuit for their videos on the game: I was curious about the game when I saw a video that TB did on it, but was unable to pick it up at the time due to my laptop being unable to run it (in fairness, I was using a Mac at the time!), so I forgot about it up until I started watching Lucahjin’s videos, as she started doing videos on it a little bit after I started following her channel. A few videos later, I was hooked on the game and so, when I got a new laptop and found the game on sale for £3.49 on Steam, I thought to myself “You know what? I should actually play this game myself!” and picked it up (well, I technically picked it up, the art book related to it and the soundtrack…).
So, that’s how I got hooked on this game. But, for the benefit of those who aren’t gamers reading this, I should really take the time to answer one question: what exactly IS HuniePop?
Well, it’s the first game released by the company HuniePot (which is, admittedly, a pretty clever name for the company), which was primarily thought up by developer and programmer Ryan Koons (who used to work for Insomniac Games, which are best known for the Spyro the Dragon and Ratchet & Clank series of games), funded on Kickstarter between the 2nd of October and 1st of November 2013 and was released in late January 2015. It’s probably best to describe the game as being what you get if you combine a dating sim with Bejeweled, which is a very weird combination on paper, but which actually works surprisingly well in practice, resulting in a dating sim that actually requires some degree of skill to complete properly (not that all dating sims are just following text boxes and on screen instructions until you get to the end of them!). The voice acting in the game includes a member of Team Four Star (who should be familiar to people for producing Dragonball Z Abridged, among a few other projects) and the default price of the standard game (so, without the soundtrack and art book) is £6.99 on Steam.
So, now we’re all hopefully on the same page, let’s start looking at the game in detail.
One of the first things I have to give credit for is that the voice acting is pretty good! You probably saw that one coming a mile away if you are familiar with Team Four Star’s history at all (they haven’t been associated with anything bad thus far), but I genuinely liked the voice acting of the game, as it gave the characters a sense of life which many dating sims can’t manage due to the lack of proper voice acting (and yes, I have played one or two other dating sims in the past, although I think calling them “dating sims” would be inaccurate, as it didn’t even bother with the dating side of it and just went straight for the sex part of it!) and, beyond some dialogue that seemed to push the boundaries of what you’d expect for an actual person to say (I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say “Fuck these birds, am I right?” or casually ask a woman the size of her breasts in general conversation in my life…I’m not making that up, those are actual dialogue option in the game you can select!) and Kyu’s dialogue around Aiko being a bit racially insensitive (I doubt it was intended maliciously, as Kyu clearly has the hots for Asian women in general from the same bit of dialogue, but Kyu mentioning having the worst yellow fever ever when you meet Aiko? Kind of uncomfortable for most people, as it brings to mind a lot of outdated stereotypes involving Asian people!), the dialogue is mostly OK.
I also have to give credit for the art style. It has a very anime influenced art style that still has some basis in reality (well, as real as you can get with the game where the first character you meet is a love fairy and where your final prospective date is the goddess of love…again, I’m not making that up!), as the human characters generally look fairly realistic (although I think there’s been a tiny bit of exaggeration in terms of the breast size of the women in the game, as most of them claim to require bras for C cups, which seems a bit too small for what you’d guess from their character pictures…well, from what I’ve heard, at least!) and, beyond some occasionally…interesting choices of outfits (I don’t think Disney would be amused by one of Beli’s alternative outfits, to put it politely, and this is without mentioning one of the outfits of one of the secret girls!), the characters do tend to dress somewhat believably.
I also think the characters, while maybe a bit stereotypical on a few levels, are actually not too bad. I think the women could do with a bit more depth to them, but, considering dating sims don’t usually prioritize stuff like this and are usually not long enough to make character development a natural inclusion, I have to say that what HuniePop provides is actually more than I’d expect from a game of this sort.
Finally, one last bit of definite praise: the soundtrack of the game is actually pretty good! It fits nicely with what you’d expect from the locations present in the game and doesn’t steal your attention from the game, but, when you do focus on it, it is actually fairly enjoyable in its own right. Huge props to Jonathan Wandag, you did an excellent job!
Let’s move to the part of the game everyone is probably waiting for me to comment on at the moment: the gameplay. Let’s be honest, combining a dating sim with Bejeweled, on paper, is a flat out awful idea, because they have no real overlap in terms of audience. Most people who play dating sims (with no disrespect intended to the audience of dating sims) tend to be shy people who are single and don’t have a lot of dating experience, but want to picture themselves being super sexy people capable of dating anyone (…OK, I’ll admit, everything up until the last one is pretty much me in a nutshell!), but most people who play Bejeweled tend to be people who like to game on the go. While there ARE people who play both games, both markets are hardly ones you’d expect to cross over much.
So, how does HuniePop manage to make such a combination work? Quite easily, actually: when you’re playing most of the game (so, the talking part of a dating sim), it’s a fairly typical dating sim: you ask the girls questions, you answer questions they give you, you give them gifts, food and alcohol and you ask them on dates. Once you get into the actual date, however, you basically determine how the date goes with Bejeweled. If you get the required number of points, the date ends well and you get one step closer to being able to sleep with them, if you don’t, the date ends poorly. While this isn’t a flawless system (I remember failing a date by 9 points and getting treated like I’d screwed up the date horrifically, which felt a bit harsh!), it is actually a surprisingly addictive way of doing things, adds some skill to a genre which usually relies on you knowing that you need enough points in a certain skill to do something and provides some degree of variety to two game genres which can suffer from problems with repetition (although it doesn’t COMPLETELY negate it: if you’re playing the game a lot over a short period of time, chances are good that you’ll eventually get tired of the repetition!). Even the actual sex parts of the game involve playing Bejeweled (although a different variant of it), which does slightly miss the point of a sex scene (maybe it’s just me, but. if someone told me to play a video game while a sex scene was going on at the same time, I’d probably tell them to either take the sex scene elsewhere or let me watch the scene…that probably wasn’t the best choice of words, was it?), but it does work, even if you are likely to be too busy focusing on the board to notice what else is happening.
So, with that out of the way, let’s move to some of the issues I have with the game. The big one is that the game, even after an update to make things a bit easier once the game ends, doesn’t really have anything for you to do once you’ve had sex with the goddess of love (that’s a sentence that you don’t read a lot…). You basically can just aim to finish getting all of the gifts for the women and all of their outfits and hairstyles and that’s about it. There is a sort of add on mode which makes the dates continuously get harder, but it doesn’t really rectify the fact that, once you beat the game, you’ve not really got anything else to do in it.
I also think that there was a HUGE missed opportunity with regards to Jessie and Tiffany’s relationship. Without going to spoiler territory about the nature of their relationship, I will say that there was a lot of potential to expand that out into a whole story of its own which, sadly, was not taken advantage of. Now, to be fair, most people don’t tend to play dating games for their engaging stories, so I think this is a minor complaint in that regard, but there was a story there that really deserved some time to either expand upon or made part of the game as a non-dating related quest idea.
Speaking on a personal level, I also think that the characterization of Audrey is a bit TOO focused on making her be a super bitchy woman. I’m not an expert when it comes to relationships, I’ll admit, but I think most people would get very tired of dating someone very quickly if all of their dates with them resulted in an earful of abuse, an air of not wanting to be there at all and any praise sounding more like “Eh, you weren’t too awful” than anything else. I get that HuniePot are trying to go for a consistent character with Audrey (which they certainly succeeded with!) and it isn’t out of character for her to be like that, but I think they should have really given her a nicer side that showed closer to the end of her dating path, as I found myself avoiding Audrey while I was playing through the game because I found her absence of a good side off putting. That said, I do have to admit that, minor complaint about her characterization being a bit too strict aside, she was actually a fairly well handled character, with some good lines (if maybe a bit overly profanity laden for my personal taste) and some great voice acting, so I can see why some people would like the character.
Overall, I think HuniePop is a fairly decent game, with some surprisingly unique gameplay for the video game genre it is in. While I think it lacks the replayability necessary to make it an essential purchase, it’s certainly a decent time sink if you are OK with dating sims. Just don’t play this game around younger relatives…or family members in general, now I think on it!