One of the most distinct, style all its own type games that I played at PAX East 2023 was Smile For Me from developer LimboLane and publisher Serenity Forge. At surface level, the game seems like a standard point-and-click, puzzle-solving adventure buoyed by a bold, unforgettable art style.
Dig deeper, and you’ll find some exceptional character writing, trippy settings and areas of exploration, and a myriad of other assorted creative elements as well that all blend together to form one of the most original games I’ve ever played. I’ve played quite a few indie games over the years and I really haven’t experienced anything else quite like Smile For Me. I mean this as a huge compliment, it was refreshing to have hands-on time with something that felt so distinct.
For example, photorealistic objects seen blended into the game’s cartoon-style 2D space like a toothbrush or even a hand come courtesy of the two main developers, Day and Yugo. In speaking with the two at PAX East 2023, they noted that objects like the toothbrush were something that they simply came across, while the hand seen in the game is quite literally a photo of their own hand.
Story wise, an interest in cults and why people join them was among the inspirations behind the game’s setting known as the Habitat where patients come to rediscover the happy feelings that they’ve lost. In Smile For Me, as its name suggests, you’re quite literally working with residents to help them smile once more.
While residents can talk to you and explain their likes and interests, your character is limited to nodding and shaking your head for yes or no, in addition to giving them items and information as needed. The mechanic of shaking or nodding your head is complemented quite well on Nintendo Switch (the platform I played the demo on) thanks to its motion controls.
Among the things I liked best about Smile For Me include its surreal strangeness and absurdity, like the bed you sleep in that talks to you. I appreciate when a game can immerse me in a world that feels new to me, and Smile For Me didn’t disappoint in this regard. It also felt familiar, particularly with some of its characters.
As someone who’s struggled with depression and mental health issues most of my life, I appreciated seeing some of that reflected back at me in these characters. It doesn’t make any of these characters feel unlikable either, but rather, adds to their heartfelt and endearing presentation.
As noted on the game’s store page on platforms like Steam, there are 23 characters to chat with in Smile For Me. Each of the ones I came across made me feel naturally curious to learn more, as did the game itself. If the game has piqued your interest, Smile For Me is currently available on Steam, as well as Nintendo Switch, Xbox, and PlayStation platforms.
Morgan Shaver posted a new article, Smile For Me wants you to turn that frown upside down