I've played my fair share of the dating sims when I was a teenager. They were all roughly the same, but hey - boobs! And to be fair, some of them had really decent writing or even more interesting settings than "you're a transfer student, now go and hump everything that moves". When I was browsing the most recent Steam sale list, I came across Hunie Pop. Was only around 3 Euro and to be honest, looked pretty lame. What caught my eye was the "Overwhelmingly Positive" in user reviews. Could it be that the genre that used to be a one-trick-pony has something new to offer? Could it be that jRPG and Iron Maiden are the only ones still stuck in the 80's and the visual dating novel has left them behind?
Yeah, I bought it and I was astonished how bad it was. I mean... The assumption that if I'm playing it I must be a loser that could never get a girl was both funny and embarrassing. The dialog choices were always between "my nose is bleeding" and "my tongue is stuck between my teeth". The occasional "Hey, I'm not a total moron" options were always greeted with a "yeah, right... get real" kind of reply. Of course, not 30 minutes later, I'm a regular playboy that can ask any girl out and aks every chick their cup size and - what's even weirder - age and get a reply. With no magic involved, but just because the game wanted it that way.
The writing is so terrible that it walks this fine line between so bad I want to quit and so bad it's funny. Luckily, the Voice Acting is even worse, which pushes the whole thing to the definitely funny zone. The uninspired one-liners of stereotypical teachers, schoolgirls and gym bunnies are met with performances so dull that Siri sounds like a sex line operator in comparison.
Yet... the game is actually the best dating sim I've ever played. Before you ask the girls on dates, you get to ask the girls questions and buy them presents. At first it feels like mindless collectible unlocking. Soon enough though, between some relationship questions where you need to simply tell the girl what she wants to hear, she will check whether you've been paying attention and ask you what her weight or favourite color is. But that's just child's play. Where it gets really good is the dates themselves.
It's the first dating sim I've seen that actually uses its mechanics as a metaphor of dating instead of making me read through pages of dialogue and descriptions to chose an option every 15 minutes. Instead, it's a logical match 3 type of game. A surprisingly deep one with a decent amount of strategy in it. Additionally, every color you're matching corresponds with an emotion or a conversational topic. Every girl prefers certain topics, so you have to navigate through the board to focus on sexuality or flirtation, but it's not always possible, when all that's on the table is talent and romance. Every now and then you accidentally trigger a bad topic and the whole carefully built up mood goes to shit. And sometimes, when you are out of your game and the colors just don't seem to match, the date ends without really moving the relationship forward, leaving you both in that "meh" zone.
That's a pretty damn accurate mechanic to mimic the intricacy of dating. But wait, it gets better! When you finally manage to get into a girl's pants, the rules of the match 3 change. The board is now filled with easy matches. You're both in the mood. All you need to do is not to fuck it up now. You need to fill the rapidly depleting mood bar. At first, used to thinking things through, you're searching for good, strategic matches. You get some points, then a combo comes crashing down. You're already doing great. The bra is gone, but you have to act quick before the mood drops. You start getting a bit nervous. You just match whatever you find first. You're getting sloppy. You know you could probably be doing so much better, yet you keep plowing through and even though sometimes you ruin the mood a bit with your tempo, you finally get there, feeling like you've actually accomplished something. However silly that sounds.
I don't know about you guys, but I'd take this kind of experience over an overly long sexual act description. And while it might all sound really silly and while Hunie Pop might have an awfully candyish, dumb, primitive, sometimes straightforward racist and stereotypical skin, its gameplay is solid and an incredible example of using just the right mechanics to let the player experience the complexity of the dating game. In that regard, Hunie Pop is a game that beats all entries of The Witcher, Mass Effect and Persona series all together.