[dropcap size=big]I[/dropcap]’ll admit, the first time I saw the HuniePop campaign on Kickstarter it was hard to stifle a laugh. Its style seemed very brash and out there, but with an obvious inclusion of fanservice. As time went on the campaign became more and more successful and by the end developer Ryan Koons raised more than 200% of his goal! Folks just really appeared to want their hands on a “naughty” sort of game, the likes of which most had probably never seen before. Of course, the game is a puzzle experience first and foremost, but it managed to sell itself quite well for reasons other than solid match-3 gameplay.
So let’s dig into what HuniePop offers players. First, we’ve got to go over the basic premise. You (the protagonist) are a total “Forever Alone” gal or guy who would really love to fall in love – or at least get some action. Luckily for you, the love fairy has heard your wishes and decides to take you on a crash course for snagging dates with women. Despite being a fairy she’s incredibly crude (and weirdly racist?) but luckily our lead character feels much less aggressive in tone. Mostly, it feels like he’s playing a role – just like we, the player, are doing as well. In any case, you meet your first prospective date and chat a bit. The game quickly opens up to show its mechanics.
Basically, you’ll spend your time going from location to location to talk to different ladies. Each character has her own personality, likes, and overall style which you must keep track of. This is because you’ll gain points primarily by speaking to these women in ways that jive most with them. Say the complete wrong thing and they’ll give you a horrible look and not enjoy your company at all. At times you’ll want to feed them as well, because, I guess they wanted to shoehorn another system into the game. Personally I dislike this aspect, but it’s not a huge deal breaker. Besides, we haven’t even gotten to talk about the puzzle aspect yet!
Match-3 puzzles are all over the gaming sphere because they aren’t typically too hard to create. Most simply provide a sterile (or lightly themed) puzzler and nothing else. HuniePop’s dating sim-style framing is a big bonus for playing puzzles. Each character has specific bubble colors which yield the best point bonuses, so you’ll need to keep that in mind. Dragging certain other shapes together grants you the ability to do other things, such as present a gift, for example. The strategic component is further enhanced by a move limit and character upgrades. If you start to fail puzzles, definitely start stocking up on Hunie to boost your stats. Without it even the best puzzle gamers won’t be able to proceed.
This is where HuniePop entered a sluggish period for me, although in many ways this felt self-inflicted. After failing on a very first date (having yet to master the puzzle rules) I decided to stock up on Hunie by talking to every girl until she got hungry, then swapping to another girl, and so on until enough points were available to upgrade the first few times on each aspect. It led to seeing much of the game’s amusing dialogue repeated, which was less than ideal. At least I was able to fill out and memorize each woman’s profile. It just became more of a chore than fun, but again that was due to my own decision.
In any case, the actual match-3 mechanics are completely solid and require both skill and a little luck to do well with. Each character is unique and worth talking to for their own reasons. The voice acting, too, is surprisingly solid considering the typical VO quality in indie releases. I can’t say I love everything about the game, as my fun slowed to a crawl before finally finding my groove again after a handful of upgrades. HuniePop is a better game than anyone, even the backers, likely expected it would be. If you enjoy matching puzzle games as well as dating sim-esque concepts then this game fills that niche! Just be aware that this is one heck of a sexual game, even on Steam, although the digital copies via MangaGamer actually include 18+ content.