Developed by Gabe Lane and Yugo Limbo, the two people behind publisher LimboLane, Smile For Me is a 2019 point-and-click adventure game. After visiting Dr. Habit’s GeoCities website inviting unhappy people to their facility, called The Habitat, the Flower Kid is woken up by a puppet show hosted by Dr. Habit. Dr. Habit explains that the Habitat is for sad and lonely people to learn how to be happy again, but as the game goes on, it seems its only a happiness created by Dr. Habit . Flower Kid is going to have to help the other twenty-two patients at The Habitat find their own happiness and escape Dr. Habit’s big plan.
What sets Smile For Me apart from other point-and-clicks is that all player interaction is in first person. While most of the traditional puzzles often found in these kinds of games are still present, such as finding a key item for a person or using a tool to progress, direct player interaction is different. All of Smile For Me is set in one large sky-box, where you walk around a 3D world with everyone else being a stuck-in-place 2D avatar. It’s similar to interacting with characters in the overworld segments of the Danganronpa games. Flower Kid has to nod yes and shake no to directly communicate with the other patients. Point-and-clicks are traditionally sprite-based 2D games, where each location is blocked off by a screen transition. Smile For Me restricts areas with locks and chains, but the entire game is in one location. Flower Kid is forced to engage with the other patients at Dr. Habit’s pace. They get tired at the end of the day and if they don’t return to their talking cowboy bed, Dr. Habit will get mad and Flower Kid loses half of the next day to sleep in.
Many of the video segments are just Dr. Habit narrating over analogue footage of flowers or other wildlife.
Edutainment games are a staple of childhood, now turned into interesting relics of early PC software. There exist two camps for edutainment: narrative-driven adventure games that are extensively point-n-clicks for kids, games like Spy Fox and Putt-Putt, and capital E games like Math Blasters, and that one where a rabbit teaches phonics (no, not that one, no, the other one). As an adult, revisiting series like Spy Fox and Putt-Putt (“don’t you forget Pajama Sam” you say with a clenched fist) was great because, like revisiting an episode of The Simpsons you only watched as a kid, I got more of the references. For instance, there is a movie theater that shows fish themed film parodies in Freddie Fish 2, where as an adult I recognized Flash Gordon and Charlie Chaplin’s The Tramp. It was an actually rewarding use of my time. But these were games I played over and over again because I personally had them, unlike the phantom nightmare The Secret Island of Dr. Quandary.
My entire experience with this game involved watching someone else play it badly after school, so for years, I could not remember its name. I have a similar failed memory with an arcade fighting game that I played once at a long-since closed CiCi’s Pizza. I want to say it was Fighting Vipers, but I’m not sure. Developed by now-gone developer MECC, known for classroom staple Number Munchers, The Secret Island of Dr. Quandary is a trip.
I’m just imagining a child skipping the text and ending up playing the game on d. feecult by mistake.
103 is a Kickstarted walking simulator and puzzle game developed by Australian group Dystopia Interactive. First person seems to be Dystopia Interactive’s marmite and toast (hacky Australian joke is hacky), as both 103 and their only other game, Make A Killing, share this predilection for protagonists without faces. Mystery should be 103’s real title, because solving said mystery is half of playing 103. Lily is an overly imaginative individual whose night out with friends ends abruptly and the player must piece together what went on, and potentially what went wrong (I went into 103 narratively blind of this premise and now you know more than I).
Playing 103 involves walking through a cozy house, filled with stylish 1910’s Alphonse Mucha posters and adverts with drinking skeletons, in order to find…something? From the beginning, after quickly turning down the camera’s sensitivity because it was giving me motion sickness, 103 does not inform the player of anything. A blonde mannequin is present, often found finding value in staring at mirrors or enjoying the rain visible through the house’s sole window (which is honestly rather calming), and only she and the game’s patchwork bear mascot are the navigational devices. Those arrows drawn on the carpet? Totally worthless.
Have they been here long?
This review contains both extensive discussion on the topic of sexual assault as it relates to both plot progression, character interaction and an untypical increase in profanity for this writer. If such topics are considered unpleasant, please consider sitting this one out, dear reader.
I have a love/hate relationship with visual novels, and while I have a ton of games I like, visual novels as a whole can leave me lacking. Visual novels as a medium have this cool way of letting the player reside inside the characters’ heads and shared experiences. But they often feel narratively padded or suffer, as I like to call it, Otome game cover boy syndrome, a pushed canon relationship. In other words, any visual novel with a dating factor really has a steep hill to climb with me. That hill is even steeper when it comes to the relationships in Nitro+chiral’s Sweet Pool.
High school second year Youji Sakiyama has spent years in and out of the hospital. He doesn’t eat much, has a sleep problem, and if it wasn’t for the fact that all the character designs make every character marble white, Youji’s also looking awfully pale. Plot summaries in visual novel reviews feel like giving boss tips in the middle of a review of a character-action game, so I will keep it brief with things aren’t going great for Youji in his super Christian Japanese high school besides is failing health. Youji’s currently lives alone in an apartment he use to share with his adult sister, because his parents are dead because plot. This provides appeal alone/kidnap time with Youji’s lovely classmates/love interests: wholesome hungry boy Makoto Mita, quite to a genuinely annoying fault Tetsuo Shironuma, and beer can licker and shit head son of a Yakuza Zenya Okinaga. What fun merriment will befall these boys?
Really strange how this game got the license to play Duran Duran’s Hungry like the Wolf just for this burger shop scene.