Last week I told you how the new puzzle game Huniepop was the world’s first pick-up-artist-inspired dating sim. In this game, you play as a luckless dude who’s taught how to meet and seduce girls by a “love fairy”, whose advice often mirrors what you’d find at places like our sister site, Return Of Kings. But this is a gaming site, and we’re not going to push a crap game on you just because of that. (If you want to hear how bad games are good, or good games are bad, simply because the author likes their politics, you can go to Polygon. They’ll tell you how awful the great game Bayonetta 2 is because the heroine wears high-heels, or how great the awful game Gone Home is because it’s got a pro-homosexuality message.)
No, a video game is a GAME, first and foremost, and everything else comes second to that. And Huniepop could very easily have been a terrible game.
Huniepop is divided up into two segments: a dating sim and a puzzle game. In the dating sim part, you’ll meet and attempt to seduce one of eight girls (plus several hidden characters). You’ll find them in places like a coffee shop, university quad, or nightclub, and get to know them by picking conversation options from a dialog tree. Play your cards right, and you’ll be able to talk to them, give them gifts, and ask them out on dates. These “dates” take the form of what’s called a “Match-3” puzzle game, where you must line up at least three different tokens of the same color in a row to earn points. Earn enough points, and the date is a success.
After each successful date, the girl will send you a picture, and these pictures get progressively risque as you get to know her better. Four successful dates, and you can take her back home to sleep with her.
Match-3 puzzles have been a staple of the genre since the 1990s, and dialog-tree based dating sims have been around for at least as long. Most games of either type are terrible, and it would’ve been very easy for Huniepop’s developers to slap some cheesy dialog and a few nude pictures on top of a generic match-3 clone then throw it up on Steam for horny gamers to buy. Instead, though, they opted to create one of the most interesting and intricate games I’ve seen in years.
A typical game in the Match-3 genre involves lining up as many tokens of the same color as possible. You’ll move any one token horizontally or vertically across a grid, and try to get at least three tokens of its color in a row. Line up three tokens and you’ll get some points. Line up four tokens and you’ll get more points. Line up five? You’ll get a whole bunch.
When tokens with the same color are lined up, they’ll disappear, and the ones above them will fall down to take their place. This can create combos, which will increase your score even further. There might be a token type that gets you extra turns, or a token that multiplies your score, but that’s usually the extent of the game. It’s a simple formula seen in games like Bejeweled, Candy Crush Saga, and Puzzles & Dragons, which are some of the most popular games in the world.
Not Just An Ordinary Puzzle Game
If you try to play Huniepop like you play Candy Crush Saga or Bejeweled, you will get wrecked. When I first installed my copy, I decided to ignore the tutorial and jump right in. I’d played more hours of Puzzles & Dragons than any man really should, and I knew all about this type of game, right?
Not so much, actually. I barely managed to beat the tutorial level, and failed twice on my first attempt at a date. I haven’t lost that hard on the first level since I tried to play Demon’s Souls.
But it’s not a hard game. It’s just a very different one. This became obvious when I went back and watched the tutorial again. There are several types of tokens, and each one represents a different attribute. Red tokens are sexuality, orange are romance, green are flirtation, etc. But there are also special types of tokens, gold joy tokens that give you extra moves, pink passion tokens that multiply the score bonus you get for any matches you make during the rest of the date, blue sentiment tokens that allow you to give the girl “gifts” that have various effects, and black “broken heart tokens” that will drastically decrease your score. These black tokens in particular are extremely dangerous: a single unlucky match can ruin your chances of winning the level.
It’s these special tokens that make the game so interesting. You start with only 20 moves, and if you simply try to match the colors, you’ll never get a sufficient score. You need to match pink passion tokens to increase your score multiplier. And you need to match gold joy tokens to give you more moves. But most critically, you need to match the blue sentiment tokens that allow you to use your gifts.
There are well over a dozen gifts in Huniepop, and each has a different effect. Some of them will simply consume all the tokens of a given type on the board. Others will increase the rate at which certain colors of tokens fall. But most of them depend on the number of black broken heart tokens (The ones that will kill your score), either giving you say, one extra move for every two black tokens on the board, or turning all black tokens into pink or gold ones. There’s also an item that increases the rate at which black tokens fall, allowing you to pursue a high-risk, high-reward strategy.
You’re only allowed to take six gifts on a date, and you’ll want to take different gifts for each girl. The quiet Yoga instructor wants to be swept off her feat by a dashing stranger, and is too naive to pick up on your attempts at flirtation, so on dates with her, orange romance tokens get a bonus and green flirtation tokens get a penalty. The MILF cougar character just wants to get laid, and years of being pumped and dumped have left her far too jaded for romance. With her, sexuality tokens get a bonus and romance tokens get a penalty. You’ll have to know your girl and what she wants, and adjust your strategy to win.
You Have To Work To Get the Bang
In addition to the gifts, there’s also a RPG-like leveling system. Leveling up in flirtation, for instance, will mean that you get double or triple score for any green token matches. Leveling up in passion will increase the speed at which your combo multiplier grows. With each date, the score you need to win goes up, and so you’ll need to think carefully about how you want to grow your character.
All this makes Huniepop sound like a difficult game, and it certainly can be, but they’ve taken steps to make it accessible for casual players. There’s an easy difficulty mode, which gives you the same content and rewards as the harder modes while lowering the score you need to win a level, and more importantly, there’s no penalty for failure. If you fail a date, you’ll win some money (which is used to buy gifts that can be exchanged for XP) and simply be sent back to try again. You can lose a stage, rethink your strategy, increase some levels, and give it another try with no penalty whatsoever.
The characters in Huniepop are great. Each one is unique, and has a different personality that transcends the one-dimensional stereotypes you often see in dating sims. The Japanese girl with the giant breasts is a university professor, but she’s also a lazy slacker who shirks her job whenever she can. The Mexican girl has a kid and loves working out at the gym. There’s even a stoner girl named Audrey who’ll ask you if you’ve ever stolen anything (say yes, and she’ll give you bonus points).
The game is fully voiced, and the voice-actresses are excellent. Most English games have terrible voice-acting, but these girls manage to sound like real people. I can’t think of an English-language game where the voice acting is better.
The art is another high point. Each time you beat a date, the girl will send a picture to your cellphone. These pictures start out as tame selfies and work their way up to full on X-rated stuff by the time you’ve finished dating her (provided you’re using the uncensored version). This provides an interesting incentive to keep playing the game, and one that I think is unique to the genre. Your reward for beating a level of Candy Crush is being allowed to play the next level of candy crush. But there’s an extrinsic reward for beating a level of Huniepop: you get to see the next picture. This gives you a powerful motivation to keep playing just one more level.
So here’s the final score breakdown for Huniepop:
Gameplay: 43/45. The strategy involved in the puzzle dates makes the game a joy to play. Instead of simply matching tokens, you’ll have to carefully consider every move you make. Should you match those four flirtation tokens now, or save them for later when your multiplier is higher? Do you want to use this item that turns all black tokens into bonus points, or the one that gives you extra moves? This depth makes the game unique and gives it incredible replay value.
Control: 25/25. I’m at a loss as to what control means to a puzzle game. Early versions had a bug where clicks would register as being a few pixels away from the mouse pointer, but that’s long since been fixed.
Graphics: 11/15. The art is colorful and the reward pictures are well done. There’s no 3D, and no animation, but the static images are very well-drawn.
Sound: 10/10. Each area in the game has its own unique music. The bar’s theme is calm and relaxing. The nightclub plays pounding techno music. Matched tokens make a satisfying “pop” when they disappear, and when you take a girl back to your bedroom, she’ll moan like she’s having the time of her life.
Story: 4/5 The background plot is hilarious, and the characters are engaging enough that you’ll want to talk to them even if you don’t need the bonus points.
Final Score: 93
Masculinity Score: We covered this last week, but this is the world’s first PUA-inspired puzzle game. I never thought I’d run an indirect opener on a girl in a video game. For that alone it deserves the maximum score here.
Score: Ten out of ten pet shops.
Note: The developer of Huniepop very graciously provided Reaxxion a review copy upon my request. He also stated that he was well-aware of our site, and was a fan of site owner Roosh, which was nice of him. In the interests of objectivity, I let two of my friends, a white guy in his 30s and a Japanese college girl, play my copy. Both got their own copies and very quickly got far further in the game than I did.