Friday, January 23, 2015

Huniepop - A token little puzzler

Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the types of things that I wanted to review on this site. I usually look at Fate or TYPE-MOON related media, but the truth is that I play a little of everything. I play RPGs, Puzzle games, Fighting games and of course, visual novels. If I wrote a review for every game I’ve played recently, there would be a lot of reviews – what a brilliant idea! Besides, my Eroge game guy (what, everybody doesn't have one of those?) recommended this one to me, so why not?

~ BB 

And now I present to you – Huniepop. The brainchild of Ryan Koons (Ratchet and Clank, Cryamore), Huniepop gained traction through an extremely successful Kickstarter campaign, earning over twice its original goal. Released on January 21, 2015 for PC, Mac and Linux, Huniepop takes a Puzzle game and mixes in some Dating Sim with some RPG garnish. At first glance, you'd think that it's just a western Visual Novel with puzzle elements. Well, that was the first of many mistakes I was to make in prematurely judging this game.

You are an extremely hopeless guy (or girl, surprisingly) when it comes to women. One night, after meeting a beautiful woman named Kyu at a bar, you’re woken up by a magical love fairy. Turns out that the woman at the bar and the fairy are one and the same, and she’s here to help you with the ladies! There are 8 to pursue from the start, with more to unlock: Tiffany, the kind and fun university cheerleader; Aiko the, apathetic yet humorous university professor; Kyanna, the image-obsessed fit hairdresser and single mom; Audrey, the reckless Tsundere(?) party girl; Lola, the flight attendant that aspires to be a Tennis player; Nikki, the cold and cynical Otaku; Jessie, the shameless and carefree Pornstar; and Beli, the insecure and shy Yoga instructor.

The main cast from left to right: Beli, Jessie, Aiko, Tiffany, Kyu. Nikki, Lola, Audrey and Kyanna.

The goal of Huniepop is simple, get the girl (or girls). Accomplishing that goal, not so simple. For starters, the Dating Sim part is hit or miss. The writing, while more original than the many Newgrounds Dating Sims out there, had a lot of these awkward and/or questionable moments - like one where Jessie would praise you for remembering that she’s a High School dropout, or when Beli asks if I look into someones eyes while having sex – after having sex with her. That's one issue I've found with this game, after having sex with a girl, there's no reason to talk to her anymore - there's no change in dialogue, and you get no real reward for playing the frantic sex puzzle section again. There’s a lot of colorful language as well, but some of it seemed kind of forced. Don’t get me wrong, there were some genuinely good moments, like Aiko asking you about sex and porn, Audrey being…Audrey, or Kyu being a total “bro”. Those moments literally made smile. I didn't know how to feel when giving Aiko, an Asian, a Samurai Helmet as a gift. But after she herself joked about how racist it was, I could help but laugh out loud. Bravo, Huniepop. 

Oh, silly Aiko. I love the way you think.
But to win the heart (or the panties) of a girl, you have to get to know them better. This is accomplished by  Once you’re ready, you go on a date, which takes place in the Puzzle mode.

The Puzzle aspect, which is the meat of Huniepop, is deep and challenging. The one thing that stood out to me from the beginning was its different mechanics, which is a far cry from what I’m used to (Tetris, Puyo Puyo, etc.). Like Bejeweled or Candy Crush Saga, the objective is to swap one token with another to form a horizontal or vertical chain of three or more tokens of the same color. What’s different here is that the tokens correspond with the four traits that the girls identify with – Red for Sexuality, Green for Flirtation, Orange for Romance, and Blue for Talent. So depending on the girl you’re dating, the value of the tokens is altered. There are also other tokens - Pink hearts for Passion, which boost the value of the other tokens, the Golden bells for Joy, which increase the number of moves you can make, and the Blue teardrops (at least I think they’re teardrops) for Sentiment, allowing you to activate Fairy Gifts. Some of these have powerful effects, such as consuming all the Romance tokens on the board. Then there is the bane of my existence, the purple broken heart tokens. Matching these will lower your score. Avoid them like the plague. After having a successful date, you earn Munie (Huniepop's currency), become closer with her, and unlock a new outfit for them. Become close enough with a girl and you get to spend a steamy night of – Puzzle solving! To my surprise, the sex scenes take place in the form of a puzzle, complete with moans and heavy breathing. The gameplay changes up at this point, where the goal is to make as many matches as fast as possible. I have to say, this surprised me at first, but it was the best part of the game. The puzzle, not the moaning. 

There's also a small bit of RPG elements thrown in here. After the tutorial level, you’re given the "HunieBee", a magical PDA that allows you to keep track of all the girls. It also allows you to manage your items and stats, and buy food, drinks and gifts. As Kyu says “The HunieBee is an essential lifeline for any player on the go.” You can gain Hunie (Huniepop's experience) by talking with girls and giving them gifts.When you have enough Hunie, you can increase certain stats to help you in the Puzzle mode, such as increasing the point value of Sexuality tokens or decreasing how much those demonic purple hearts anger you when you match them by mistake...Ahem. While the RPG side of things is pretty light, don't forget about it, or you'll regret it. Or not.

Gotta max out those stats before I start unlocking characters.
The graphical choices are pretty damn good. Kopianget and Ninamo-chan are excellent artists, capturing that anime-esque style perfectly while adding their own distinct flair. A nice touch that they added to the game was that the girls would send you text messages with pictures attached to them. These pictures would get more racy the closer you get to them. The only issue I have is the amount of CGs. The art was so good, I wanted more! I have a feeling that I won't be hearing the last of these guys. The effects and animations during the Puzzle section are smooth, and shouldn't have a problem running on any PC.

That's one sexy banana.
The voice acting in Huniepop isn’t bad. In fact, it's amazing – not that I expected anything less from talent such as Kira Buckland (Skullgirls, Rinne no Lagrange) and Brittany Lauda (Queen’s Blade: Rebellion, Heroes of Newerth). The effort that the voice actors put into it definitely shows. Characters like Aiko (voiced by Marie Rhys), took some getting used to but after a while, It just felt….right. It made the dialogue, not matter how bad it got, a lot more tolerable. The music is pretty good, albeit generic, though one track - the one that plays in the Casino - is one that won’t escape my head to this day. If they ever make the OST availible, I'm gonna need that track.

By the end of it all, I was left wanting to know more about these characters besides how to get them into bed. I wish that Huniepop had more of story where each you learn more about each of the character’s lives. I wanted to meet Kyanna’s son Phillip, rekindle Jessie’s relationship with her daughter, or understand why Audrey is the drug-using party girl. Instead you’re just friends with benefits. I get it, that’s not what Huniepop is going for, but I couldn't help but feel that fleshing out the character's story more would have made it all the more satisfying. I also feel like it's pointless to have multiple save files. There no game over in the game, or any penalty at all for your choices. You have the option to change the game’s difficulty and the player’s gender in-game, and the game automatically saves. It's a puzzle game, so there's plenty of replay value, even more since you can unlock other characters. I'm sure that once I get 100% in the game, there won't be any reason to use those other slots.

All in all, Huniepop is an great game that gives a players a fresh look into the world of Dating Sims, one that I hope will make them more mainstream. From the second I started playing, I was hooked. The puzzle mechanics kept me on my toes, the characters were interesting, and the writing even had its moments. But where Huniepop excelled was in the art and voice department. I just wish there was more of it - can't stress that enough. If they ever make a Visual Novel version of Huniepop, they might as well take my money now. Of course it has its flaws, but it never stopped me from enjoying the game as much as I did. If you’re a Puzzle and Dating Sim addict like myself and don’t mind hit or miss dialogue, get this game now. For 10 bucks, I'd say it's worth it. If you hate Bejeweled or are expecting a story-driven Visual Novel though, you'll definitely want to give this one a pass.

Note that there are two versions of this game - a Steam version, and a "Steamy" version. The Steam version is of course censored, but buying Huniepop from the site (or MangaGamer as I did) gives you an uncensored version.

More Information: Huniepop Main Site

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