Happy Game opens with a message that it is, in fact, not a happy game. It’s a warning to prospective players that despite its name and seemingly pleasant veneer, Happy Game is more akin to a horror experience and probably isn’t the ideal title to sit your five-year-old niece or nephew in front of as their first foray into the point and click genre. Bunnies being decapitated, little ant-like mites being impaled on a skewer, heart-shaped characters being goaded and prodded until they explode in a bloody fountain. Probably not kid-friendly fodder.
Happy Game plays like any point and click adventure; using the mouse cursor to move your character; an infantile boy of toddler age; around various 2D environments that are the psychedelic manifestations of his nightmares in the hope of finding and rescuing several of his favourite toys. There is no inventory, combining of items or dialogue trees as is typical for the genre. Instead, Happy Game, like many of Czech developer Amanita Design’s other games such as Chuchel and Samorost, fosters a more experimental and trial-and-error approach to gameplay; encouraging the player to poke and prod (and sometimes stretch, mutilate and eviscerate) on-screen characters and items in order to see what reacts and what doesn’t with no written dialogue or instruction. Most of the puzzles are (literal) child’s play but there were one or two that were abstract enough to cause a few head-scratching moments.
Whilst there is certainly joy to be had in solving puzzles, most of the entertainment when playing Happy Game comes from seeing what the notoriously quirky minds of Amanita Design have concocted in the game’s thirty-or-so seamlessly connected and increasingly horrifying vignettes. Happy Game plays on the notion that childhood is traumatic; it’s only due to constant coddling and pure naivety that we are oblivious to the terrors and strife of human life. It’s a well-trodden trope but it definitely doesn’t make for a trite experience in Happy Game due to Amanita Design’s boundless creativity and ability to depict unique, nightmare-inducing monsters that relentlessly terrorise the young boy.
The art style does a lot of the heavy lifting to bring the Burtonesque (although you could just as easily call it Amanita’s ‘house-style’ at this point) world to life. Vibrant, neon colours produce a sickly-sweet shiny veneer that contrasts wonderfully with the disturbing imagery. Like a sugar-coated lollipop with a poison centre or regurgitated rainbow-coloured vomit. It’s so different to the insipid greys and brooding darkness in most horror games, making Happy Game stand out even more. The soundtrack is equally bizarre, as you’d expect from the brilliant Czech freak folk band DVA who have scored previous Amanita Design games and have a predilection for creating cacophonous yet brilliant soundscapes that bring an eeriness and intensity to proceedings.
Whilst I understand why Happy Game opens with a message warning it is not a happy game, I couldn’t disagree more with this statement. During my playthrough I was frequently chuckling out loud and grinning ear-to-ear witnessing how batsh*t crazy Happy Game gets throughout its two-hour runtime. The game’s dark and twisted humour intensifies with every new vignette and you can’t help but think what a great time the designers had conjuring up what creepy concoction to bring to life next. If you’re sensitive to cartoonish gore (and flashing lights as warns the opening message) then Happy Game may not be for you but for those who can revel in seeing the artists’ twisted imaginations ooze (sometimes literally) onto the screen then be sure to pick it up. I promise you’ll have a happy time.
Reviewed on: PC (Steam) (code provided by Amanita Design)
Developer/Publisher: Amanita Design
Playable on: PC (Steam, GOG.com, itch.io) and Nintendo Switch
Released: 28th October 2021