Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Happier Than You Review

Happier Than You, developed and published by Fun Effect.
The Good: Unique multi-layered gameplay
The Not So Good: Easy to cheat the market, repetitive gameplay with little to motivation keep playing, extra cash grants no significant bonuses, initially confusing interface, no competitive multiplayer, extraneous religious “good person” quiz
What say you? This casual strategic matching game is unique but it lacks depth, features, and variation: 4/8

Hi! James Allen here! Are you an inspiring inventor that lacks startup capital or an annoying yet strangely persuasive voice? Well have we the game for you! Happier Than You lets you be that inventor, fulfilling the wants and desires of your customers while raking in piles and piles of cash. And it’s the best way to get your stains out of the wash! Because nobody wants to drive around with dents or dings. Plus, it gets the tough stuff that others leave behind. And protects against damage while keeping your floors looking new. But that’s not all! Call right now and we’ll throw in a second order of Happier Than You for twice the price! Just pay additional shipping and handling. That’s right: you too can be as disturbingly positive as I am!

Note: If you have no idea what just happened, click here.

Happier Than You is not significant in terms of graphics or sound, simply functional at the very basic level. The game is played in a window and the interface leaves a lot to be desired: tiny, unlabeled icons with no tool-tips and a lot of empty space that could have been used to make a more comprehensive interface. The characters in the game very occasionally are animated when you provide them with a new invention. The static backgrounds are quite dull. Luckily, a casual puzzle-like game doesn’t need fantastic graphics to be successful, and this idiom goes for Happier Than You as well. Good graphics, however, do help the overall game experience. In short, Happier Than You is not a visually stimulating game by any means. This goes the sound as well: while the music is OK (I waited at least five minutes before muting it), the sound effects are sparse and don’t relay any additional information or serve any major purpose. Don’t go in to Happier Than You expecting a stellar presentation.

Happier Than You is a single-player-only affair where you must match customers’ wants to make them happy. While the game works as a single player puzzle title, competitive multiplayer could have been potentially interesting, either online or on the same computer against a human opponent, or even simply against an AI inventor. The “campaign” is essentially infinite, as the requirements for advancement exponentially grow: there is really no overall goal in the game. You can customize the difficulty of the upcoming game, adjusting the number of people, invention components, and the severity of envy towards other players. Unfortunately, you have to make a significant time investment in Happier Than You in order to unlock the ability to alter these settings by even a small amount, and they do not change the gameplay significantly anyway. Your goal is to reach the objective number of points in a single level; once you earn all three difficulty cups, you are allowed to change one setting one spot. Games like Plants vs. Zombies introduce a new feature every level, while Happier Than You makes you play a whole lot just to change one thing. Additional features is usually the motivation to keep playing, but in Happier Than You new features are insignificant at best. The mechanics of Happier Than You are taught in the first couple of levels with pop-up windows; they do a good job covering the basics, although I had to go through the tutorial twice before I was adept at the game. The last “feature” of Happier Than You is a “good person test” that is completely out of context. It’s a not-too-subtle advertisement for Christianity that is not related to the game in any way. While this would be more appropriate in a religiously-themed game like Left Behind, it is certainly not here.

The gameplay of Happier Than You comes close to being interesting, but falls short because of the lack of depth in the unique areas of the game. Inventions you construct are made of several components that you purchase from the market and then assemble. This is not as sophisticated as it might sound: it’s just clicking little icons. Each of your customers has a desired combination and it’s your job to match supply to demand. It’s a straightforward process: just make enough matches to bring everyone to full happiness. Strategy comes from two aspects of the game: envy and the market. Customers can be envious of others, and if you make an envied customer happier in a single turn, then the other customer will lose happiness. This means you have a priority in which customer to focus on first. However, once a customer is fully happy, they do not count in the envy ratings, so once you make your envy target happy enough, you can simply switch to the other customers and ignore envy altogether. The other source of potential strategy is the market. The price of goods is determined by how many customers want that particular component, so you want to buy low and sell high to turn a profit. The trick is to buy a lot when you people don’t need them and then sell them when requests respawn. Because of the completely predictable nature of the market, it is very easy to cheat the market by purchasing large quantities of items at the end of the level (when there is low demand because most customers have reached full happiness). Since your goods carry over to the next round, so are then set to either use the goods for inventions or sell the extras for a nice profit. The market would be much more interesting if the prices were more randomized or if it cost more to buy than to sell, like in any other trading game. Since the extra cash is not actually used for anything (like an in-game bonus), having large amounts of cash is useless. Both envy and the market are excellent ideas, but neither of them is fully developed and the result is an uninteresting game.

At the end of each level, you are scored according to how efficient you were in making inventions, how closely you regarded envy, and whether you turned a profit. You can also earn bonus points by quickly completing a level. Happier Than You has insanely high requirements for the gold cups required to unlock new game options. The objective decreases after each unsuccessful try, but it will still take twenty, thirty games to bring the requirement down to a reasonable level. Because of this, I suspect not many people will stick around past the first couple of levels once they realize that they will be playing with the same exact rules for many games. The extremely repetitive nature of Happier Than You, combined with the shortcomings regarding envy and the market, makes the game dull.

Happier Than You has a couple of unique features, but the game runs its course in about two minutes and there is no real motivation to keep playing after that. There are a couple of promising aspects to the gameplay, namely the market and envy. The market could have introduced a unique trading aspect to the game, but it’s too easy to cheat the system once you learn that demand works in a completely linear, predictable, and static fashion. Envy is about the only randomized aspect to Happier Than You that carries any interest, as you must pay attention to which characters to focus on and gear your inventions towards. However, once maximum happiness is attained, characters cannot become less happy even if they have envy towards others, so the careful planning required in the beginning of a game goes by the wayside towards the end of each game. Unlike pretty much all casual games, Happier Than You offers no incentive to keep playing, never introducing new strategies to play with. You can unlock the ability to have more people or pieces in a level, but there are too many hoops to jump through (since you must get three different cups) and “progress” (if you can call it that) is very slow going. The extra features are not complete as well, with no reason to carry a lot of cash, no multiplayer modes, and the questionable inclusion of a religious-themed quiz that has no impact on the game whatsoever. In summary, the potential is there, but the execution is quite lacking.