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Happy Game review: Nightmare fuel

Amanita Design is exploring a new world, but it isn't the cheerful, wondrous atmosphere that some might be expecting from this studio, as we look at the ironically-titled Happy Game.

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The team at Amanita Design has specialized in a certain kind of game for the past decade. Those who have followed the indie gaming scene for the last ten years is likely familiar with their distinct art style, their minimalistic presentation, and their unique worlds where the stories are mainly left to the player's imagination. Happy Game is more of the Amanita Design style, but one that's going to prove to be much more of an acquired taste.

Don't close your eyes

As noted, most Amanita Design stories are left to the player's imagination and Happy Game is no different. The game centers around a young boy drifting off to what's supposed to be a peaceful sleep. However, he's quickly plagued by nightmarish images and creatures. The boy soon finds himself in a dream state, where his innocent mind is fixated on either finding a ball or a toy.

This leads into the game's various puzzles. In sticking with the spirit of the Amanita Design aesthetic, there's no HUD at any point. There's no explanation of what to do and there's only a fleeting glimpse of the game's controls. Puzzles are entirely up to the player to figure out, in more ways than one. First, they have to figure out what the puzzle even is and then how to solve them. They're not overly difficult with the main trick being to iron out what's even at work.

Or maybe do close your eyes

The main idea of Happy Game is that it looks like a happy-go-lucky experience on the surface, but that facade is quickly erased and replaced with something far more horrifying. The puzzles that players face often involve terrifying images of strange monsters, mundane objects with horrifying faces, and red lighting as far as the eye can see. For example, one puzzle has players in a room filled with broken toys and they must reassemble them, one at a time. Every time a new toy gets put back together, there's either a flash of red light or there's a twisted image that briefly injects fear down the player's spine. The ominous atmosphere on this and other sections are enhanced greatly through the game's sound design. Once the puzzles are solved, there's a brief reprieve from the terror until reaching the next sequence.

The puzzles themselves are creative, though it can be easy to get stuck and sit in front of one for minutes at a time. However, that's not their main issue. The problem is that many of them have flashing white and red lights, which can be an epileptic nightmare. Even though I'm not an epileptic myself, I found the effects to be a bit much. While there's a lengthy disclaimer in front of the game, an option to turn those effects down would have been a better way to go.

The road to happiness

Those looking for a short, unsettling stroll can find one with Happy Game. One thing to note about it is that it's a short romp, able to be completed in just a few hours. There's nothing that would make me want to revisit it, but I certainly can't fault it for what it is: a seasonal treat filled with tricks.


This review is based on a Steam digital code provided by the publisher. Happy Game will be available on Thursday, October 28 on Steam/GOG.com and the Nintendo eShop for $13.13. The game is rated T.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

Review for
Happy Game
7
Pros
  • Imaginative imagery
  • Unsettling atmosphere, appropriate for the genre
  • Thought-provoking puzzles
  • Strong sound design adds to the atmosphere
Cons
  • Flashing lights are a bit much
  • Some puzzles can prove a bit too difficult for certain players
  • Too short with no real reason to return
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