HuniePop: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dating Sim
By Andrew Erickson
A while ago, Cody Baier decided to exploit my lust for Steam achievements and issued an open challenge to listeners of The Other Side to send me the worst games they could find. Nearly 40 games later I probably shouldn’t be surprised by anything that gets thrown my way, but HuniePop threw me for a loop.
“But Andrew, this game has nothing to do with anime, it wasn’t even made in Japan!”
To which I say: of course it’s anime! I’m talking about a harem dating sim/puzzle game with RPG elements. HuniePop is every bit as Japanese as fax machines and subway groping – maybe it wasn’t created there, but it’s Japanese in spirit. I mean, the first character who appears is a pink-haired fairy named Kyu, so there’s clearly some kind of cultural cross-pollination going on here. And hey, I might as well give the fans their money’s worth.
HuniePop’s viewpoint character is a nameless, faceless nonentity whose only character trait is that he’s so spectacularly bad at talking to women that a magical love fairy offers to show him how to become a player. This is accomplished by lining up gems in a self-replenishing grid to score points and stop me if any of this looks familiar.
Check out my original game. I put a girl in there so you don’t confuse it with something else.
I am being a little facetious here. At its core, the gameplay is basically a Bejeweled clone, but there are some differences. The most important is a turn limit that forces players to plan out moves instead of matching whatever they can. There are also matchups that build a score multiplier and give extra turns instead of adding points, adding some element of strategy to things. I already liked Bejeweled. “Bewjeweled with a little depth” is a winning formula in my opinion. Now, if that’s all there were to HuniePop, there wouldn’t be an article. Well, I got more than I reckoned for. In the end, the game part of the game comes with an unreasonable amount of dating sim attached to it like a malignant tumor (“unreasonable” being defined as “any”).
The framing device for our hero’s love quest is that the previously mentioned love fairy gives him a magic phone that keeps tabs on every woman he encounters, like a Pokedex for stalkers. His objective is to score with every eligible bachelorette in town. Fine, challenge accepted. Heading off to the mall, I was instantly greeted with two prospective love interests arguing about hair. The moment I heard the line “fuckin’ whore ass bitch needs to learn” every other character faded into irrelevance. I knew who my favorite was, and swiggity swooty, I was coming for that whore-ass booty. After convincing her that I’m a cool guy who smokes weed every day she agreed to go on a date, which ended in her handing me a wad of cash. It usually works the other way around, but fine. Clearly she was stricken. However, HuniePop restricts players to one date per girl per day, forcing me to meet someone else. Like Majora’s Mask, this game has a fairly detailed time system where each day is divided into several periods, during which different characters can be met at different locations. This didn’t occur to me for a while because, as it turns out, going to the mall on the morning of the first day stops the flow of time until the player decides to return home. I was able to go everywhere and meet everyone – and, more importantly, date everyone – before so much as one hour had passed. Maybe I was secretly playing as Dio Brando’s loser cousin, I don’t know. By the end of the morning I’d collected several thousand dollars and had everyone’s info on my phone, thus ensuring I wouldn’t have to do any grinding to get to the grinding.
The second day went by without me encountering any temporal warps. So, I’ll take this opportunity to introduce each character to the best of my fickle memory’s ability. The lion’s share of the dating sim parts consists of asking various things about the girl you’re talking to and being quizzed on them. It’s great fun for any wiki editors out there who have a burning need to memorize a dozen cup measurements (hint: all but maybe two of them are DD). Fortunately, they all shared the highly desirable trait of having seemingly unlimited amounts of money to throw at me for the privilege of my company.
The first girl I finished every date with was Aiko Yumi, who pulls double duty as the game’s hot teacher stereotype and obligatory Asian. I won her heart by approaching her in the park and frantically shoving rice balls in her face. A positive feedback loop of date, collect money, spend money on gifts, and repeat ensued. Before I knew it, I was treated to HuniePop’s representation of sex. Seeing as this game is on Steam, a platform that still has some shreds of a pretense of not selling porn, the developer had to get creative. Another gem grid appeared, but this time there was no time limit and my score was constantly and rapidly falling. I lined up gems with such speed and precision that her bra flew off as if seized by an angry poltergeist, after which the screen faded to black and I was rewarded with a CG shot of her looking way too pleased with whatever just transpired. The following morning, Kyu announced that she was in the running. How could I resist?
If you’ve ever wanted to blast Tinkerbell with your cum, this game is the next best thing to Oculus Rift.
One down. After that was Tiffany, the generically nice college cheerleader. Things got dangerously close to being interesting when her troubled relationship with her mother came up, but that ended up going nowhere. Next was Tiffany’s mother, who happened to be a porn star. Regrettably, this is where the developer missed a golden opportunity to include a minigame where players have to clear a puzzle grid by matching the correct viral strains. Maybe in HuniePop 2, I don’t know. Then there was Beli, an Indian yoga instructor whose hobby is listed as “meditation.” And this is where the dating sim aspect actually gets entertaining. Not with Beli specifically, her character is essentially that of a wishy-washy “spiritual but not religious” type. However, something I realized with increasing interest is that HuniePop is racist as all hell. It’s gleefully, unapologetically racist. When dating the Latina love interest, Kyanna, I had the option of giving her maracas, a poncho, a sombrero, and, eventually, a luchador mask. Never before did I know how much I wanted dating sims to allow players to deck out love interests in mariachi costumes. This sort of thing happens with every minority character, to varying extents, and it is hilarious.
They can’t all be winners, though. There’s Nikki, the antisocial blue-haired gamer girl/college student/liberal caricature. She can be found in the nightclub, complaining about the nightclub; in the coffee bar, complaining about the coffee bar; and at college, complaining about college. She isn’t even a real gamer, since she got unreasonably excited when I gave her a Power Glove. The only good thing I can say about the way she was written is that it perfectly captures how excruciating it is being around that kind of person. And then there’s Momo, the squeaky-voiced one-year-old catgirl who calls the player master. She also dresses up as a maid and gets put on a leash at one point, making her less a character than a convenient fetish repository for the character designer. There are some more characters who don’t matter; they were stepping stones on my way to unlocking secret 100% completion character Palutena.
Oh, you thought I was joking? Too bad. I’m always serious.
Finally, there’s the mall bitch. She’s the best character because all she wants to do is smoke, drink, steal, fuck, and call everyone else whores. She had a presence, which is more than I can say for most characters in this sort of thing, whose lives just orbit the faceless male protagonist’s like he’s the sun. She also didn’t know what a gas station is, at least judging by the gobsmacked way she asked “where did you get these” when I gave her a pack of cigarettes. A woman who gives me loads of money and thinks I’m amazing for doing the simplest chores? That’s marriage material right there, folks. Sure, “loudmouthed, trash-talking poser” isn’t really an endearing set of character traits, but it’s at least colorful, which is more than I expected out of anyone at the onset. As it turned out, aside from the racism the interactions with her were the most entertaining part of the dating sim portion of HuniePop. I do realize this is like saying the horseshoe-shaped pieces are the best part of Lucky Charms aside from the marshmallows – which is to say everything is terrible in comparison to the marshmallows. If I had a choice, I’d only eat the marshmallows. I’d eat them until they made me sick and rainbow-colored bile started crawling up my throat. However, seeing as I had to bull my way through a lot of cardboard-flavored filler to get to the marshmallow bits of HuniePop, I maintain the right to say, “hey, this particular bit of cardboard isn’t all that bad. I’d eat more of the stuff if it were all like this.” Maybe the analogy has gotten away from me.
The takeaway from all this is that I enjoyed HuniePop. I was sure I’d hate it, if for no other reason than it was given to me by the same person who sent me Sakura Spirit and Sakura Angel. And going into HuniePop expecting that caliber of writing, I was faintly impressed by how amusing parts of it were. That could just be the magic of low expectations, but either way the gameplay is genuinely fun. Ultimately, going through the story is only required once, after which it’s almost all gameplay. Which means I’m willing to forgive more than I probably should. Take that, fans – you accidentally sent me a game I like! I win this round, for a given value of “win.” Peace.