Taking things that should be cute and twisting them into disturbing ideas is undoubtably a tried and tested horror method, but it’s been a while since I’ve experienced such an excellent execution of it as I did in Happy Game. The premise of the story is that you are a young child trapped in a nightmare by a terrifying creature that presents itself as a smiley face.
The nightmare, and therefore the game itself, is split into three parts, each more abstract and disturbing than the last. In each of said parts you’re tasked with navigating grotesque puzzles to retrieve one of your lost items. A ball, a rabbit, and a puppy.
So is Happy Game a horror experience that you need to play on your Switch during Halloween? Or do these scares fail to make you jump? Let’s find out!
Unlike many puzzle games that rely on backtracking and collecting items from across a large map, each of Happy Game’s puzzles are self contained and propose a unique and unnerving challenge for you to work through. Although creepy art and stand out design presents the puzzles in an enticing way, I often found myself underwhelmed by the actual problem solving.
Majority of the puzzles were either so abstract it felt impossible to know what I was even supposed to be doing, let alone how to do it, or so simplistic that they literally just consisted of repeating the same set of actions until something happened. However, when there was a middle ground between these two extremes you get the perfect blend of cleverness and artistic beauty that I know Amanita Design is capable of, having played their other games.
The controls are very straight-forward. One stick to move, one stick to control the cursor, and a button to select. After only a few minutes of clunky selection and misclicking, it became clear these controls are more intended for mouse and keyboard than they are for the Nintendo Switch. Luckily since it’s a pretty slow-paced game, this is never really a problem.
Having started on a more critical note, I want to move onto the things Happy Game excels at, most notably the horror elements. I have always found the Amanita Design games intent to be cute had a sort of creepiness about them, so to see the team intentionally expand on that makes for a truly fundamentally disturbing horror game.
The game has an almost Alice In Wonderland-type dark charm to it that oozes from every monster design and puzzle consistently throughout the game. When my family would occasionally walk in the room to see what I was playing, they’d often give me a concerned look before walking back out again.
Although horror isn’t a typical theme in Amanita Design’s games, something we do see in their games across the board is absolutely stunning hand drawn visuals and perfectly fitting sound design. Happy Game is no exception to this, with its genuinely creepy monsters, most of which can be linked back to a relatable or common childhood fear.
Although as the game goes on, not only the puzzles but also the creatures you encounter become so abstract it may seem like the game just doesn’t mean anything at all, but there are actually some really fascinating analysis videos on the game’s lore which I definitely recommend searching through if you’re even slightly curious about what on earth is going on in Happy Game.
Happy Game‘s graphically brutal horror, surreal story telling, and quirky art design allow it a clear place in the indie game hall of fame, but the weak puzzling seems to drag it off that podium. Which is a shame since it is essentially a puzzle game.
Despite the gameplay itself, since it takes only two or three hours to complete, I can’t help but say that Happy Game is still worth picking up and playing through if you’re looking for a little gruesome horror to pass the time.
However, as you are warned in the disclaimer that appears before you begin your play through: Happy Game is not a happy game, but it may be perfect for a Halloween scare.
Great horror elements
Creepy and effective art
Unique look and feel
Falls short in the puzzles
Controls are not so great on Switch