Happy Game is a fun-sized Halloween treat with a lingering aftertaste

Games that mix the cute and seemingly kid-friendly with horror aren’t necessarily anything new. That’s basically the premise behind the hit series Five Nights at Freddy’s after all. That said, when the talented folks at Amanita Design (Machinarium, Creaks, Samorost) decide to do the candy-colored horror, you sit down and take note. From Botanicula and Chuchel’s director Jaromír Plachý, Happy Game delivers the accessible point-and-click fun that Amanita is known for, while also making up the dark undercurrent that their games often have up to 11. Blood, Dismemberment and all kinds of gross and spongy stuff – Happy Game goes there, and then some. Of course, nervousness for itself isn’t that exciting. Does Happy Game live up to the Amanita games of the past or has all the bloodshed left it a little anemic?

Note: This is an opinion piece, and therefore not as detailed as a full, graded review would be.

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Dreams not so sweet

Happy Game stars an unfortunate melon-headed child who is plunged into a land of nightmares after being visited by a mysterious dark force. You have to guide the child through three disturbing dreams, usually while chasing something important to him (a ball, a stuffed rabbit, a puppy). The game does a fantastic job of steadily increasing goosebumps – the First Nightmare largely focuses on weird toys, which are weird enough, but not this off-putting. The second dream amplifies the juxtaposition between the merry and the corrupt, serving up smiling faces, happy hearts, and killer flesh-eating rabbits. Finally, the atmosphere of the last dream is downright oppressive, with a muted color palette, heavy music, and some truly grotesque creatures that are all too ready to do horrible things to you.

Interestingly, as Happy Game progresses, it’s not just the monsters you come across that get more disturbing – the things you do to them get more extreme as well. You are encouraged to slice, tear, grind and torture the monsters under the horrified gaze of the game’s young protagonist. What does it all mean? I’m not really sure. Like most Amanita projects, Happy Game is full of vivid imagery, but I’m not sure it’s symbolic of much. Honestly, that’s fine with me. Not all artistic indies need to be a big metaphor.

When it comes to gameplay, Amanita games tend to run in one of two modes – simple point-and-click type experiences (Samorost, Botanicula) and more in-depth and mechanically complex adventure games ( Machinarium, Creaks). Happy Game is definitely the first. The main innovation of the game is a point-and-shoot mechanism that allows you to hook into various things with the click of a mouse and shoot them in different directions, often with pretty crass results. Most of the puzzles in the game are pretty straightforward, with the player just having to figure out how various toy-like objects and creatures work, but there are a few more complex puzzles that will get you thinking.

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A horror treat to savor

Like happiness itself, Happy Game is fleeting, weighing in at around 2-3 hours. It might sound a bit thin, but the game costs just $ 13 (and is currently on sale) so it’s hard to get upset about a lack of value. Truly, Happy Game is the perfect spooky quickie with no major time commitment. Put the game on your Halloween party and see what kind of weird looks it inspires! Happy Game might not last longer than a good trick-or-treat session, but it will stay with you long after the mini Kit Kats are gone.

Happy Game is available now on PC and Switch.

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Raymond I. Langston

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