Most should know by now that I’m a sucker for anime games and dating sims, so when I first saw jacksepticeye playing HuniePop on Youtube, I was immediately intrigued. And then I heard Kyu speak–holy balls.
HuniePop is an indie game developed by the aptly-named developer, HuniePot. Originally funded by Kickstarter, it appeals to the niche markets of dating sim aficionados, puzzle game addicts, and the ecchi enthusiasts of H-games. I’m all three of these, more or less. To say this game is not for the faint of heart isn’t really fair. It’s more that’s it’s not for those that dislike stereotype satire, in addition to those that don’t find nudity and sexuality entertaining. If you don’t like nudity, sex, or over-the-top caricature, this game is not for you.
The premise is simple, really: a Love Fairy named Kyu decides you need to ramp up your game in the dating department. So she lightly nudges (see: forces) you to start dating some ladies. The first part is getting to know the women: learning about them, buying them gifts, keeping them fed (wait, are these women or ponies?), and generally responding to them in the way they want when they ask you more personal questions. Correct answers earn you more Hunie points, which you can spend on leveling up your skills for dates.
After this, we move on to the date itself. The dates are done via make-a-match puzzles, comprised of pieces called Tokens. Match three or more alike tokens and you earn Affection. Each date has a threshold of Affection you have to reach for the date to be a success. You have a set number of moves to do this in, or you will fail the date and have to do it again another day.
There are four main types of tokens, which correspond to a woman’s desired traits—Talent, Flirtation, Romance and Sexuality. Each partner has a most desired trait and a least desired trait. While the least desired trait will still get you points when matched, there’s a big difference in the amount of affection you will receive for other traits and the most desired trait. So there is some strategy involved in trying to make the most of your moves. Others tokens on the board are Joy (which earn you more moves), Passion (which acts as a multiply as you gain more levels), Sentiment (which gives you the ability to use gift items to turn the tides of war the date) and Broken Hearts (which give a massive drain in Affection when matched, so watch out for those!).
Winning a date rewards you with “munie” ($$$)–which makes me feel a little like a gigolo/escort when I think about it too much, but thankfully I don’t. You can then use that munie to buy gifts and food for the ladies. And thus, the cycle repeats. The day is split into four parts: morning, afternoon, evening and night. In total, you can speak and date up to four girls a day.
The real magic happens when you have had enough dates with the women. Each date earns you a heart—once you have four or more hearts with a paramour, winning a nighttime date will move things to the bedroom. I won’t spoil anymore for you at this point, but I’ll just say that the more skittish of you will be sputtering all over yourselves. For those of you that want spoiling, watch jacksepticeye squirm! (link is definitely NOT Safe for Work!)
In terms of the puzzle aspect, the gameplay is pretty solid. The puzzle game is intuitive and quickly becomes addictive. It’s actually amazing how worked up you can get by a victory snatched from the jaws of defeat, and how demoralising it can be when you JUST miss enough points to make the date a success—being berated for a bad date doesn’t help either. It was to the point that during sexier bits, I neglected to notice that clothing was going astray—I was just too concentrated on the quick-fire puzzle round and didn’t want to lose momentum. Yes, your boobs are lovely, but Momma needs a combo!
In addition to the mechanics, the girls are fully voice acted by English-speaking actresses. As much as these characters are overblown stereotypes, they are written and voiced well. No particular character has sounded flat or unprofessional to me. Some characters will come off as obnoxious or annoying to some, but this is going to be more from personal preference in character types, rather than any failing on the voice work itself.
As for the ladies themselves, the game has tried to apply as many archetype and stereotypes it could while making each one stand out from the others. As such, you have women spanning across ages and races (in some cases, species). Of the original eight girls, you have the following stereotypes:
There a few other details here and there that are nice. For instance, you can choose to play as a Male or Female main character. The dialogue doesn’t change much, but pronouns referring to yourself and the girls’ sexual orientation do shift accordingly. The girls are customisable, too. Giving them gifts will unlock new hairstyles, which you can set as default. The same goes for outfits, though those are unlocked by completing dates successfully. Like more than one? Assign either their hairstyles or outfits to Random and they’ll change each time. The game also features a Difficulty setting (Easy, Normal, Hard) and the ability to turn off the girls’ voices, if the silent type is your thing.
I’ve found it difficult to articulate just what it is that I love about this game. The puzzle aspect is addictive, which certainly helps. But that’s just not it. That’s not enough. My feminist senses told me I should hate this game, that I should be offended and find it objectifying. But Pervert-Otaku Lindsey beat Feminist-Lindsey with a comically-sized Japanese fan and insisted I had to give it a fair shake before making judgement—also, boobies. She likes those, you know.
What first appeared as a plethora of stereotypes quickly revealed itself to be a range of diversity. All of the girls have different body types—some are petite and svelte whereas others are voluptuous and curvy. They are of varying weights and heights, which is important (in the context of the game), because they will quiz you to see if you remember them. There are just as many people of colour as there are caucasian from the main set of girls. I’m not including the secret characters in this, for spoiler reasons.
Along with being well written and well voiced, the characters are fairly well-rounded, with distinct personalities. Even while playing, my own favourites were shifting constantly. I found things I liked in all of the characters, though there were a few that did annoy me more than others. There is no “best” girl. Everyone’s take will be different. When I spoke with two other players, we all had differing takes on the same characters. And I like that in a game. I like that everyone is free to have their favourites, that they’re not shoehorned into liking just Romantic Interest #1 or Romantic Interest #2 (I’m looking at you, Mass Effect (1)).
I’ll give an example of this: Nikki. A lot of gamers love Nikki. She’s introverted, wears over-sized sweaters and glasses, and works in customer service while her true passion lies in retro games. She appeals to many gamers because we can identify with her. So why don’t I like her?! I’m turning out to be the black sheep here! Let me clarify that I know why a lot of people like her. I completely get it. But her “Okay, yeah, I guess” wallflower shtick just isn’t something I like in a partner. And there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s not to say Nikki isn’t a bad character—she’s just not my type.
Another example is Audrey. Audrey is definitely going to be one of the love-her or hate-her characters, and damned it I don’t flip-flop between the two. There was never a moment where she was “alright” in my book. I either felt like screaming at her to shut her effing face, or I was laughing along with her critical bluntness. What’s worse? Audrey’s physical appearance is actually very appealing to me. We both share a love of dying our hair numerous and crazy colours. Out of her available hairstyles and outfits, I don’t dislike any of them—and I did find ones I disliked with the other girls. It’s an odd dynamic. For me, Audrey is that girl you date though you’re not really sure why, until you have an aggressive make-out session that leads to mind-blowing sex—a relationship cemented in physical chemistry.
I’m sure a lot of people liked Lola, our ebony-skinned business-minded elite. She was pretty, and her curly afro was doing it for me. I was disappointed to find all of her other hairstyles didn’t reflect her ethnicity at all. But as a character, she doesn’t didn’t feel consistent to me. For starters, her introduction is her nagging a barista (Nikki) to get her a cappuccino, even though the girl has finished her shift and is leaving. As someone who has worked in customer service before, this immediately turned me off to her. Her bio confused me as well. She has a 4-year degree in Business Admin, but she’s an air stewardess? And while I can understand her desired trait is Romance, why is her least Talent? Surely an educated, independent woman would want someone with some talented skillset? I just don’t get it. Maybe I’m missing something.
I hear you cry, “Tell us why else you like this game already!” amidst the question of, “But who is your waifu?!” My choice of waifu is linked directly to why I like this game so much. If I had to choose my kawaii desu ne waifu, it’d have to be (secret character spoiler!) Kyu. YES, KYU. The very same I “holy balls”ed to within the first paragraph of this entry! And here’s why:
- Kyu is funny and honest. She is the last person that should be spouting hip-hop slang, but she does. At first, you assume it should be offensive, so you just sort of shake your head at her. But the more she talks, the more “real” or fresh she sounds. It’s like two friends just having a chat, and maybe not being the most politically-correct while they’re at it, but not actually being malicious.
- She has a good sense of humour. While speaking with her and choices, she never really gets offended with anything you say, and has some comebacks.
- She is meta—as in, she is aware she is in a game. Her own quizzes are a mix of information about her, as well as aspects of the game she has covered for you.
- She is sex-positive. Her preferred gift is sex toys, which she enthusiastically accepts. She appreciates the sexual appeal of the other girls along with you during your dating journey.
I feel like the game is all of these things. It’s funny and honest with itself. It might not always be super PC about it, but then it never pretends to be such either. If you disagree with the girls’ views during the more personality-based questions, most of them will respond with a “That’s fair enough” and move on (besides some of the more vocal ones, like Audrey, whom tells you you’re stupid even if you get things right…). It’s also very aware of what it is as a game, openly making fun of itself and the dating sim genre as a whole.
Lastly, I view the game as sex-positive. While some will argue the game is based around lying to people in order to sleep with them (which is wrong, regardless of anyone’s gender), I will point one key thing out here—you actually do NOT have to lie to any of the girls to date or sleep with them. Most people don’t do this and prefer to tell the ladies what they want to hear, but you can in fact answer the girls’ more philosophical questions with your honest answers. Will they always like your answer? No, but that’s life. Will you be penalised? Not really—you just won’t get Hunie points to spend on trait upgrades. That does not make the game impossible though. A bit harder, but not impossible. Nothing is deducted for picking the less than optimal answer. You’ll just have to spend more time with the girls you do agree with to raise your stats. Or buy them lots of gifts…
Regardless, I never felt that any of the girls were being forced to sleep with me, outside of the game mechanic that dictates when such an event occurs. Some were shyer than others, and some asked for me to be gentle vs those that were more aggressive. But I never felt that any of them were being demeaned or coerced into shagging me. We were just two people having some intimate fun after a nice evening together. (I will admit, keeping their panties after the night together is kinda creepy, but it’s a common dating sim trope.)
HuniePop is not perfect. I don’t think anyone is purporting that it is. It’s a dating sim centred around wooing multiple women, many of them have skimpy outfit options, and while it makes fun of existing tropes of the genre it is still utilising them heavily, even the problematic ones. I do see it as a an overall positive game, though. It has a great sense of humour, whether just in general or specifically about itself. The characters are diverse and well-executed, both in writing and vocal work. And in a genre where many games that feature sexuality swim in the dark creepy end of the pool, HuniePop is refreshingly light and positive about the sex (implied, shown or heard) within it. These are all things I can appreciate in games, and the latter (you know, the positive-sex stuff) is something that desperately needs to be done more often.