In which I cease judging a game by its hunies
I've been following HuniePop for a very long time.
HuniePop is a dating sim/puzzle game created by HuniePot, an independent studio. It's available now for purchase via Steam and other distributors in both censored and uncensored versions. It's colorful and raunchy, and I've spent a lot of time with it over the past day or so after purchasing a copy for myself.
After completing a couple of girls' dating paths, I've come to the conclusion that I rather enjoy it. So, with the dearth of concrete information out there on the game and articles quick to judge due to some objectionable content, I've decided to bring you this piece, which seeks to explain and narrate my time with the game.
Why is this important? I've been in a tumultuous relationship with this title ever since I was passed a link to its Kickstarter page via IM from a good friend of mine. It seemed much more like a parody of dating sims rather than one to actually be consumed and enjoyed.
We laughed about its unfortunate character designs (Kyanna has one arm tucked beneath her breasts permanently like some sort of disfigurement), dialogue, and the creator as well, because it all seemed like a legitimate joke. And yet, given my interest in visual novels, eroge, and adult games, I still wanted to see what it was all about.
The many times I ventured to the game's Kickstarter (where it earned over $53,000 in funding) only served to effectively flatline my interest, however. I watched the bizarre exploits of developer Ryan Koons, whose HuniePop "Field Research" video called forth visions of a person I could only see as a character: King Douche of Fedoraville, someone who walked up to strangers and asked for hugs, kisses, dates, numbers, and what-have-you in the name of "research" for his game.
While the strategy worked for him much of the time in the video, and some of the women involved definitely had a good time with it, I'm sure I would have decked him had he come up to me asking for a hug or a kiss, never politely acquiescing for physical affection I don't owe anyone.
But I don't speak for every woman, and it could be super cool to do those things in the dating world right now. It's just not something I ended up finding entertaining. And given the fact that you never know what kind of randoms you're dealing with on the street these days, it's probably not the safest way to chat up women.
That, and with every new trailer HuniePop seemed a lot less interested in being a light, fun adult game and more of a shocker for the sake of getting attention, i.e. the prickly character Audrey calling another girl a "whore ass bitch" (written by Koons himself.) It was like Baby's First Swearing Contest, and went against HuniePop's supposedly more "realistic" dialogue.
But the more I thought about it, the more I had to see the game for myself. With a background in explicit hentai games and a penchant for dirty storytelling, I figured I'd find something to like. So I took the plunge.
I chose to play as a woman, though you can play as male or female characters. Unfortunately, no matter which you choose, the default personality trope for your character is a hapless, dateless loser who comes off as an overeager and socially awkward idiot.
I was surprised to see that the second set of dialogue options after a few introductory exclamations were so terribly, stereotypical "I don't know how to talk to women" quips. Even though my character was, presumably, a lesbian (I don't know how she identifies), it's a little bizarre to think that she wouldn't know how to talk to another human being who's only said hello.
As a side note, the order of the day was to just go with it, though, because HuniePop appeared to be self-aware to the point where it relied on memes, snarky statements, and overtly awful dialogue choices to get its message across. It did this (I hoped, anyway) so that the women I was courting could respond to my advances in a realistic manner, which they did several times over, but not as often as I would have hoped.
I noted the sentiment in HuniePop developer blogs and statements that these snippets of dialogue were never meant to tell a story but to add "fun" segments to the game and signify its very stark difference in tone from other, similar titles, and also to distance it from the visual novel genre, which Koons has been very adamant about ensuring people get right. It's not a visual novel.
Back to the game, though. It turned out the very first woman I saw was actually Kyu, a fairy who came to my bedroom in the middle of the night because my character was garbage at finding a girlfriend. Kyu insisted that I go on a date right that minute, so we ended up at the mall at night.
It was then I met up with Audrey, the same girl from the infamous HuniePop trailer I had seen so many times over, where Kyanna cuts her "nasty ass hair" the same way she always does and Audrey inexplicably hates it. Audrey was just as frustrating in-game as I thought she'd be, and after the exchange with Kyanna I was expected to want to flirt with her. I had to, with Kyu's prodding, though I really wanted to go talk to Kyanna instead.
Even in the most benign dating sims you don't act like an idiot who's not even interested in making small introductory talk, but HuniePop only gave me three dialogue choices, each more awful than the next. I decided on full-throttle flirt, which meant I told her I wasn't done checking her out yet, and she called me lame. I said I needed to pick out some lube for our date tonight and she called me cute and asked if I wanted to get high. That's Audrey in a nutshell.
After this bizarre exchange, I went to talk to Kyanna, because Audrey was the worst kind of tsundere. Luckily I had a way to follow the women I met with -- the HunieBee device tracked girls like a Scouter for Dragon Balls -- but when I left Audrey seemed pretty miffed that I just dipped on her. That's how I knew she'd end up being someone I'd pursue anyway just because I could tell she was channeling Asuka Langley Sohryu something fierce.
I talked to Kyanna and basically told her I didn't need to get on an exercise machine because she looked like she needed it more than me, which she responded to positively. That surprised me because it sounded like a dig at her, like I was calling her fat or out of shape or something.
I don't think if I were actively trying to date any of these women that I'd use any of these options, especially if I wanted to maintain a conversation that wouldn't get me a ton of weird stares. I liked Kyanna though, and I told her that I'd "never lifted a weight in my fat life." She seemed pretty creeped out by that.
By then she was getting hungry, so I bought her some tomatoes and handed them to her. She hungrily devoured them. I should probably explain that food items add stamina to the girls, so you can keep talking to them. The more you talk to and learn about them, the more points you receive to spend on upgrading your traits. It quickly becomes a cycle that you want to effectively and methodically implement by ensuring you purchase the right food for each girl.
If you do it right, you can maximize "Hunie" production to get the most out of every conversation. It was one aspect of the game I found exceedingly entertaining. It was the first thing I really vibed with in the game. So I followed the tomatoes up with cabbage and sought out the other girl at the university. Kyanna wasn't right for me because I don't really dig the athletic type, so I left to seek out the girl she had been speaking to previously.
Tiffany was chatting with her professor Ms. Yumi, an extremely unprofessional teacher who blew off everything Tiffany was saying. Tiffany herself seemed boring, and when I was given the dialogue options I was surprised that one of them was a straight "ask on a date" question.
I chose the "student union" option because it made me seem like less of a weirdo, having followed her all the way to her school just to ask her out. Our conversation went alright, but when she asked me if I was new at the school, I could have told her I work there and went under the name "Professor Sexy."
Instead I played it straight because I felt as though I was basically assaulting her privacy otherwise. The conversation was kept casual, and I was surprised to see low-key options permeated the menu when I went that route instead of being forced to act like a total girl-crazy beast. I decided to find Ms. Yumi instead, because she was way too scatterbrained and totally not into grading her students' assignments for me to not see what her deal was.
It turns out Aiko Yumi, aside from being voiced by a woman who sounds as though it's a chore to speak deeply enough for the character, liked to wear crop tops and nearly-transparent Daisy Dukes to work. She really rocked 'em, but I wasn't sure it was exactly professional attire. I also found out that the fairy Kyu had "a case of yellow fever."
Kyu also told me to say basically the dumbest thing I possibly could to her to start off with, and the dialogue options didn't disappoint. I really wish there had been an option to continually play things straight rather than being given a racist choice, the "edgy" option, or something completely off the wall. I went with the "Fuck these birds, am I right?" option because it wasn't totally offensive and just odd enough to garner a humorous response. After seeing Aiko blow off her job duties, I wasn't particularly interested in her, so I decided to see what her friend Beli was up to.
I realized it immediately, but just in case you haven't, every single time you go off using the HunieBee tool to "track" a girl, the one you're chasing after is always talking to someone else, at least in the beginning. Not that the rest of the game is realistic in any way, but it's like a neverending chain of new women to choose from, like a smorgasbord of ladies parading around to show off your options. I wasn't impressed with anyone so far, so it was off to speak to someone new nearly every time.
Beli was hanging out with a blonde who was trying to make her wear a bikini. It had some sort of hideous pot leaf on it, which I guess gave it some #edgedgeneddy, but it really got me wondering who was in charge of the costume design here; there were some real stinkers thus far. Beli was nice and inoffensive enough, but I wanted to see what was going on with Blondie, so I left to go track her down.
When I arrived at the next location, Blondie was already flirting with Lola, so I actually felt a little like I was imposing. Turns out Blondie (Jessie, I learned) was a bit of a "cougar," according to Kyu. She was a little on the extroverted side, which made sense according to her character profile, which listed that she's an adult film star and the mother of none other than Tiffany. And yet the dialogue options were all presumptuous, horrific openers that I'd never think to say to anyone, male or female: "How much?" "Ten outta ten" for her "supremely nice tits?" I couldn't avoid sounding like an asshole.
Each follow-up dialogue option beyond the openers was poised to get me in bed with Jessie, which felt bizarre given the pace with the other girls. I assume the context stemmed from her being a sex worker who's always ready to go, and even if that's the case, I wanted to actually chat with Jessie before getting into all that. In the end, she still wasn't my type either, so I went ahead and moved on to Lola, the flight attendant.
I got to the Nutmeg Cafe, and after a brief exchange with a rude barista who was leaving, refusing to make Lola a cappuccino, Kyu gave me some solid advice, in that she "loves her some chocolate." I figured Lola needed some time to think about the horrible display of customer service (and I was pretty embarrassed by Kyu's statement) so before we continued talking about how gorgeous Lola was, I took my Telling Women They're Beautiful and I Want to Bang Them parade on to Lusties Nightclub, where that girl with the glasses who didn't want to do her job had gone to.
It turned out that this was Nikki, the blue-haired shut-in who never leaves her room and probably asks people if the coast is clear while living with someone else and not paying rent...at least, that's the vibe I got from her when she was telling Lola to go on somewhere. She was arguing with Audrey about how boring it is at the nightclub (because presumably she dislikes people), but what was interesting about this scene was the fact that Audrey had friends.
I recalled Nikki as the same character I read from promotional materials who was into games, so I decided to pursue her, despite not really enjoying her personality very much. I was treated to a really intelligent dialogue option, given her blue hair: "Is that your natural color?" Only someone with half a functioning brain would actually ask that.
I was happy to see when I chose that option, Nikki spoke to me like I was a complete and utter idiot, because I had just asked a totally asinine question about "natural" blue hair. We continued to chat and it looked like Nikki was starting to open up to me. I guessed how tall she was correctly and I even answered the several questions she had for me in a manner that she found acceptable. Everything seemed to be going great...until she started complaining about how hungry she was. I bought her some cake, which she chowed down on, but she was soon starving again. All I could afford was some soda, which she refused.
Disheartened, I headed off to chat up some other girls to make some cash. Disingenuous of me? Maybe. But I needed to get enough money to pay for my darling Nikki. I decided to say hi to Tiffany and see what she was up to over at Nutmeg Cafe. Thankfully, I already had the soda to give her. She declined as well. I tried to chat her up, but in the end she just ended up getting hungry as well. I wasn't aware I had entered into a "buy women food simulator," but there I was.
I headed out to talk to Audrey at the mall. We chatted about her occupation (student, of course) and what my biggest turnoffs are. I wanted to tell her how much I dislike smoking, but I had a chuckle at the option that called women "broads" and the typo within that proclaimed I dislike women who don't know how to have fun.
But I still wasn't making any money, so I decided to ask Audrey on a date against my better judgment. We went to an ice rink, and I hated every single second of it, but it was all for Nikki.
The gem-matching elements are simple enough, yet frustrating when you realize that sometimes all you've got to work with are negative modifiers. For example, I painted myself into a corner so that I was left only with broken hearts to match with, which rob you of any affection points you've earned in the date thus far. Luckily, power-ups and items you can earn along the way remove these problems, as do strategic move planning and leveling up your traits. It's a very deep sort of puzzler that would have done exponentially well as a mobile title, and one that I didn't mind spending hours on.
But I wasn't so great at it to start off. I eventually failed to earn enough points to pass my first date since you've only got a limited number of moves a la games like Candy Crush Saga, though I did come away with more "munie" to spend on the other girls. I ended up buying Nikki a bagel, which was all I could afford then. She hated it. Still, I was able to ask her out on a date.
Time to not completely blow it.
Our date at the casino ended with me having exhausted all of the available moves with only 10 points left to completely woo Nikki over. We retreated to the cafe, where I was able to speak with her with a fresh amount of munie in hand. I was smart enough this time to check out Nikki's profile, which I should have been smart enough to look at before. She liked desserts and candy, so I showered her in cupcakes and ice cream. I needed more munie to woo her though, so I decided to go on a few more dates.
Next up was Kyanna. I failed this date as well, but that was all my fault for not looking into how to play the game more efficiently. I spent some time cycling through the girls and going on dates to earn money to buy gifts and other items to make each match easier, which took quite a bit of time.
It was then I realized that, while it doesn't look or feel like it at first, there's a lot going on here strategy-wise that ends up making the game a time sink if you're not careful. I ended up winning my first date, with Lola no less, but only after upgrading some of my traits. They're absolutely imperative for progression, but not in a way that's obnoxious or frustrating.
With that in mind, the game became a lot simpler to play, though never so easy that I felt insulted. Feeling insulted did happen though, several times, especially when the girls clearly choreographed their likes and dislikes according to their backgrounds or personalities. For example, Beli was religious and spiritual, and Tiffany is a teacher's pet. Of course, Jessie was overtly sexual and Nikki loved the paranormal. I could see those things coming a mile away, and while I applaud the attempt at making these women more than two-dimensional cardboard cutouts, they're still extremely predictable and samey.
A particular pet peeve of mine after spending an extended amount of time with each girl was the lack of variety between questions when you're getting to know them. Asking favorite colors, seasons, hobbies, height, cup size, weight, and other extraneous and non-important information is boring. And the girls get mad if you ask the same questions again and again, so the lack of ability to change them up is frustrating. After a lot of messing about with other girls, it was finally time to go out on another date with Nikki. This time we headed out to the carnival to "go win some stupid shit." A girl after my own heart.
After going on several dates with Nikki and further refining my puzzle technique, I was finally able to reach a level where I had gone out on additional dates with each girl, particularly Audrey and Nikki. Audrey continued to pop off with crass one-liners and Nikki grew on me with her love of retro gaming accessories. In the end, however, I was ready to go the mile with only one girl, and that was Nikki. I prepared myself, played my cards right, and took her on a date at "night" by the game's time. When she finally invited me back to her room, I played a quick puzzle minigame that was essentially to seduce her as she stood in my bedroom in her underwear.
The move limit was removed and I simply had to make puzzle matches to fill a gauge at the bottom of the screen that continually emptied if I wasn't fast enough, all the while Nikki moaned as Affection points from my matches hit her body. I was rewarded with an image of Nikki in a sexually suggestive pose (though still clothed, as I didn't have the patch to unlock adult content). Her breasts and nipples were visible, but nothing else. With that, the screen faded to black. And just like that, she was back to being hungry.
With that, I concluded a six-hour HuniePop extravaganza, though I'll be going back to finish up all of the girls' paths and unlock the additional characters. In the end, I realize this is a game that, while riddled with issues, I liked a lot. A whole lot. In fact, with better writing and some more care given to the characters to flesh them out, it could be so much more.
As is, it's a completely serviceable and silly puzzler that peppers in content you might find objectionable, but a sequel that takes some of these things to heart could blend the best of the adult world and games, and that's no easy task. I look forward to poppin' with more hunies, but I'm going to need them to grow up a little in the meantime.