One of the strongest aspects of Smile For Me is the art design by Yugo Limbo. Limbo has two house styles. The first is this sharp cartoonish style that’s reminiscent of the work of Parappa The Rapper character designer Rodney Alan Greenblat (who I guess is also a children’s book artist), and general board game designer Kyle Ferrin (especially in the game Fort). Characters are often single colors, like small-time actress Lulia Fame is red and bird-mom Borbra Luddington is robin’s egg blue. The overall design also has great attention towards silhouettes, with characters like anti-clown child Millie Coulro’s drastic hair and anti-people gardener Trencil Varnni’s moon shaped head being good examples. What’s especially great is how they keep that Danganronpa flat look, which allows for a lot of really good poses and postures.
Limbo’s second style is this really creepy deal where they use photos of real things as objects. For example, you interact with valves and buttons with a literal human hand, and flirty teacher Jerafina Tabouli kisses you by giving you a pair of lips. In one of the game’s endings, this photo collage style gets ramped up in pleasantly surreal ways. Shout out to the Dr. Habit puppet and the interstitial video tapes, which are probably not done by Limbo (the puppet’s studio is listed in the credits), but deserve mention.
Like most point-and-clicks, the puzzles in Smile For Me are the main way to interact with the world. I am one of those point-and-click players who play them for the characters and the stories because of dreaded “moon logic” or “testing each item one at a time on each person”. Despite this, the first 2/3rds of Smile For Me’s puzzles are pretty reasonable. I still referenced a guide from time to time around the end, but it wasn’t always open like when I play, say, a Lucas Arts game. Physically doing puzzles was often more struggle than the logic part. For instance, an earlier puzzle involves teaming up with Millie to shoot a golf ball into a pipe and hit something on the other side, which involved far too much trial and error. Puzzles that depend on the time of day are clever but often unpleasant in execution. For example, the puzzle where you have to catch a running owl within the minute before you have to go to bed. Another conflict was how I didn’t realize I still had to interact with characters who I had made happy, as most of them aren’t necessary once their tasks have been completed.
Smile For Me’s length is a double-edged sword. Poking at a guide a few times means Smile For Me can been beaten within a few hours. Short games are often a blessing that I will champion whenever possible, but that does mean parts of Smile For Me feel like it’s missing something. This become especially noticeable with the patients on the roof. Because each new area of The Habitat is chambered off by a barrier, with access to the roof being the last one, little time is spent with characters on the roof. The game has a low-key time limit of days, and by the time I got access to the roof, I had to really rush. The time-limit makes narrative sense, and that is acceptable, but this means certain characters don’t get to involve themselves as heavily with other puzzles. Old fisherman Marv Truncler gets this the worst because he doesn’t appear until almost the end of the game.
Pros: Visually charming game about what it means to be happy and how happiness shouldn’t be forced onto people. Majority of the puzzles are reasonably rewarding and doable for the average point-and-click. Succeeds at the two strong tenants of the genre by having interesting characters and a distinct plot. Mellow and relaxing soundtrack.
Cons: Because the entire game is rendered as one large sky-box without any loading, the game has noticeable frame rate problems. This, combined with the occasional wonkiness of the first person caused a level of motion-sickness that took a good thirty minutes to overcome. Some puzzles are annoying and certain characters are not given enough time to enjoy.
Smile For Me is available online on places like itch.io and Steam. Mechanical problems aside, I thought Smile For Me was pretty great. It’s easier to describe nitpicks because those can be better itemized, but there is just something so charming and unique about Smile For Me that’s hard to describe. Because the Habitat is housed in a multi floor apartment complex, you end up going up and down a flight of stairs over and over again. I think it was my third or fourth time taking the stairs where I thought to myself ,“I rather like this game’s whole deal”. Visual aesthetics are super important to me, as it makes videogames feel like they art they really are. I highly recommend spending a long weekend with Smile For Me.