Happy Game review: "Don't worry, be happy?"
| Happy Game
Happiness is one of the simplest yet most difficult things to achieve in life. To be perfectly candid, I don't think Happy Game by Amanita Design will help you with that. This surreal horror game has elements of a point-and-click with puzzles and a focus on visual storytelling. By making your way through the numerous deceptively cheerful scenes, you'll experience what it's like to be a child trapped in a situation that no human, young or old, would ever want to be in. It's certainly a spectacle, to say the least, and is simple enough to play and process on mobile.
As the surprisingly detailed disclaimer states before you even get to the title screen, "Happy Game is not a happy game". And why is this? Well, let's start with the fact that it revolves around what may be the most innocent child character in a video game. The child is in bed when they start to experience troubling and truly disturbing nightmares. Caused by a smiling ethereal entity, the nightmares have managed to trap the child. However, there is hope: By finding several sources of happiness within the nightmares, the child can escape. You’ll need to use your tapping skills and brains to solve the twisted puzzles and reach your goal.
As far as horror games go, Happy Game does a great job of being disturbing. The visuals perfectly suit the dreamlike feel it wants to capture. There's never a single moment where you feel safe, and there's always the sense that something is watching you. Another feather in its horror cap is that it doesn't rely on jump-scares. All of the horrors are subtle and gradual in a way that creeps through your mind. Even during the somewhat cheerful segments, the visual style is there to remind you that something is off. This, combined with the effective sound design and music choices, makes this a haunting title to play through whether you're on your own, with people, in the dark, or in broad daylight surrounded by puppies.
The puzzles themselves stand out by emphasizing the dream and nightmare themes. The solutions can come to you from environmental clues. They also encourage you to investigate your surroundings as you would in other point-and-clicks. That is to say, you need to tap on a lot of things, but it never feels overwhelming. A majority of puzzles are contained and you can figure out what to do through context alone. To add to the horror, some of the puzzles force you to think in a dark manner to solve them.
The game does horror effectively, but it is overall lacking as a game. Yes, there are a fair number of puzzles but they rarely ever last a long time. They're all pretty easy to solve so you don't usually get enough time to appreciate them. While this can be seen as a strength for those who don't want to linger in a horror game, it works against it. You never feel pressure or in danger while solving the puzzles which causes the horror to drop significantly. It kind of feels more like a narrative journey broken up by short interactive segments. It might have been better if the developers leaned harder into the narrative.
Happy Game is a 2D narrative-puzzle horror game for mobiles about a child trying to escape from several nightmares. The visuals fit the theme well along with the sounds and puzzles with contextual support. It's a bit too easy with the puzzles feeling like calm interruptions which take away from the fear. That being said, there is some challenge to it which proves that it's not always easy to be… happy.