Few things surprised me more than the relative mainstream success of the pornographic game, HuniePop. Porn and video games have gone together since at least the age of the Atari VCS, but where porn games like Custer’s Revenge were hallmarks of just how mainstream Atari and video games were becoming in the broader culture, HuniePop is more indicative of how the stigma against porn has slowly eroded. More specifically, it’s speaks to how hentai has become one of the mainstays of everyday porn.
The goal of HuniePop is to sleep with all of the girls in the game. To accomplish this, the player must go through some pretty straightforward dating sim mechanics. You have to learn things about each potential partner by talking with them. You can give gifts to them, as well as take them on dates. The dating part of the game consists of a Bejeweled style puzzle, where points are earned by matching three or more of the same token piece in a row. After a successful date, the Heart meter fills up, and after the fourth date, it is possible to have sex.
For such a straightforward goal, there’s actually quite a bit to unpack. What’s most impressive about this game is that each component of it is interconnected, meaning that all of the features in the game are pretty much required in order to play through it successfully. Some mechanics which might seem superfluous actually become quite integral to success, especially if you hit a brick wall in the difficulty curve. The major mechanics are talking with the girls, giving gifts, and going on dates. Talking with girls earns you Hunie Points, which can be used to level up your stats, absolutely crucial as each date you go on becomes increasingly difficult. Giving gifts to girls unlocks other gifts which you can give to girls on dates which can make the date easier on you by altering the properties of the game (such as clearing all tokens of a certain type from the board, or giving the player more moves). Going on dates, of course, requires the player to earn a certain number of points within a certain number of moves in a token matching game.
The three main mechanics have a straightforward relationship with one another, which isn’t so spectacular in itself. It’s really the more tertiary stuff that I find interesting. For instance, completing a date successfully not only earns you a higher rating with the girl you went on the date with (and thus getting you one step closer to bone zoning), but you also earn money with which to buy items that help you in the rest of the game. Gifts, of course, cost money, but so does food. Food allows you to spend more time talking with a girl, as each time you do talk with them, their hunger meter depletes.
Along the same lines, although significantly less wholesome, is that meeting a girl at night allows you to buy drinks for her. Giving her drinks has two effects: the first is that it gives you significantly more Hunie Points when you talk with them. Second, it provides you with Sentiment, which is what allows you to use the gifts you have specifically for dates. While I do like that you can make the game a bit easier by doing this, I can’t say I like it thematically. It’s certainly appropriate, but a little gross. I guess that’s a strange complaint to make in a game where the goal is to have sex with animated ladies, but it still feels like it crosses a line that wasn’t completely necessary.
Now, all of the integrated mechanics are great, but all of those mechanics would go to waste if the core of the experience wasn’t compelling. Fortunately, the puzzle game component is extremely satisfying. It has a basic in practically every matching game ever made (though it is probably most similar to Bejeweled), but it adds some really interesting elements that make it far more complex and interesting. My favorite part is how the tokens that you match correspond to the girls themselves. Each one has an inherent trait meaning: Sexuality, Flirtation, Romance, and Talent. Different girls prefer different traits in a hierarchy of effectiveness. This gives players the incentive to try to match certain token types rather than others, which can add a lot of variety to the strategies employed on each date.
I also found the gifts that you can give your dates offer a lot of versatility to the game. You can only hold six at a time, so managing which gifts you want to take with you gives the game a bit of an RPG feel to it. Generally, I would use gifts that would either help increase the number of turns I could take, or reduce the number of Broken Heart tokens on the board, since matching those tokens drastically reduces your score. Those can get you through the majority of the game, but you can choose to use more specific gifts which tailor to the traits that your particular date prefers.
When it comes to incentives, HuniePop is quite direct, and falls in line with so many other hentai games. If you complete a date successfully, your date will send you a sexy pic of themselves the next day. They start out mild, of course, and increase in titillation with each subsequent date. Of course, once you get to the sex, the game returns to the puzzle game, but with a twist. Gone are the move limits, the Broken Heart Tokens, and the gifts. Instead, all you have to do is keep matching up tokens until your meter maxes out. It will decrease over time, but you can’t lose, so while it might feel a bit stressful up front to keep the combo chains going, it’s much better to just relax and enjoy yourself...which is surprisingly apt. After you complete that, you get the most explicit picture of that character available, and they are pretty great.
Porn games have quite the uphill battle to climb when it comes to finding an audience. Adult entertainment is pretty ubiquitous, of course, but the audience for any particular product is probably going to be quite small. As of this writing, the Steam sales numbers for HuniePop were around a half million sales. That’s pretty incredible. That success has a few factors responsible. The first is simply that it is a slick production. The art, voice acting, and overall presentation are far above what can often be expected out of either dating simulators or puzzle games. It has a healthy level of juice to it that makes a game very appealing. The second factor is the incredible word of mouth, partially at the hands of it being played by a lot of popular YouTubers. That’s how I found out about it, after all. For people who make their living off of playing video games to use HuniePop in that endeavor is quite an endorsement, even if it was mostly for the surprise, shock, or novelty factor. The third factor, is simply that it’s a really good game. The puzzle element is fun, challenging, and satisfying. The characters are fun and interesting. It’s a game that manages to become more than the sum of its parts. And you get to look at boobies, too.