Adventure Gamers Awards
It’s not always easy to evaluate a game, especially one that’s so weird and unique that it can’t be properly compared to other titles in the genre. That’s how I feel about Yugo Limbo’s and Gabe Lane’s Smile For Me, a first-person ‘nod-n-shake’ adventure that merges some traditional gameplay elements with a lot of bold new ideas. The result is a refreshing experience filled with peculiar and memorable characters and a surprisingly sad story, all wrapped up in a unique presentation that can be enjoyed by any fan of adventure games.
Players assume control of a mute young flower delivery man, as evidenced by some of the characters referring to you as ‘Flower kid’ (or Flower child, or just Flower, or just kid). For whatever reason, you have taken up residence in a place called “The Habitat”, a small community somewhere in the mountains which promises that people who are sad or down on their luck can come here to feel happy again. That may sound pleasant enough on the surface, but the creator and current leader of the Habitat is a mysterious man named Doctor Habit, who rarely shows himself and only does televised announcements using a puppet look-alike during the night, whose subtitles are riddled with childish spelling errors. He is obsessed with making people smile, but everyone living in the Habitat is miserable for various reasons. It’s not your job, but apparently you have “a way with people”, so it’s up to you to make them all happy again.
Despite its premise, Smile for Me is far from simply a feel-good tale. The writing manages to maintain a good balance between quirky and sinister – quirky in the sense that a lot of tasks you end up doing and the characters you meet range from sensible to off-the-wall cartoony. You bounce between things like helping a feisty girl dress up like a superhero, “cooking” a steak made out of metal bolts and wood for a hungry lawyer, and fetching a record out of an acid pool for someone who’s hidden himself behind a wall.
While the moment to moment interactions are on the lighter side, however, the overall atmosphere is a dark one. There are security cameras everywhere, artificial staff members made of paper that refer to the Doctor as “father” with unwavering smiles, and the buildings themselves are in visible need of repair. Failing to meet the strict curfew imposed results in an extremely unnerving PSA that wouldn’t be out of place in a horror game. More ominously, the more you do for the people in the Habitat, the angrier Doctor Habit becomes, eventually addressing you directly in his nightly broadcasts.
Both light and dark moods are prominent but complement each other instead of clashing. The other people living here know Doctor Habit isn’t quite right, but are also dealing with their own personal problems that keep them from smiling. It’s all done very well, in such a way that can have you laughing one minute and feeling disturbed the next without experiencing tonal whiplash, which is impressive.
The residents of the Habitat are one of the game’s biggest highlights. Not only do they offer up witty dialogue and bizarre puzzles for you to solve, most of them have believable reasons for coming here and are grateful for your help, no matter how big or small it may be. Some of my favourites are Dallas, the hippy painter who has a crush on a photographer named Mirphy and wants to dazzle her with his art; Trencil the vampire gardener, who has lived for centuries but just wants to reconnect with his daughter; Ronbo the clown, who is going through a bad breakup; and Gillis, the towering bouncer who puts on a “bully jock” act but is actually a big softie. These are but a handful of characters in a surprisingly large cast that manages to never feel bloated, as most of them are given enough exposure to flesh out nicely. Another great aspect is that a lot of these people are connected to each other in some way, either by family, friendship or romance, which helps the group feel like a small, tightly knit community involved in each other’s lives.
The interface isn’t hard to grasp: you walk around in a fully 3D environment using either WASD or the arrow keys to move, and look around using the mouse. The left button is used to interact with items or select something, and the right to bring up your bouquet, which acts as an inventory you scroll through using the mouse wheel. The space bar can be used to skip through dialogue line by line if you’re in a rush or have already heard what someone has to say.
Since the protagonist can’t speak, the main conversational mechanic is the nod-n-shake feature. When a character asks a question, you can either quickly move the mouse up and down to indicate yes, or left and right for no. Answering yes or no to the right questions will get you far and is needed to solve a fair number of puzzles thrown your way. You aren’t punished for giving the wrong answer, thankfully, as you simply have to restart the conversation to try again. In very rare cases, either response can be correct, and it’s just a matter of how nice you want to be.
The world is moderately sized, with six major areas all connected organically without loading screens, and you’ll have full rein to go anywhere by about the fifth or sixth day. Despite the Habitat’s scale, backtracking never feels like much of an issue thanks to Flower kid’s default walking speed, which is brisk. The run option is even quicker and can help in a pinch, especially to make it back to your room before curfew.
Smile for Me’s gameplay varies in terms of puzzles. There’s plenty of “get the right item for the right person” fetch quests, but there’s also a good mix of environmental obstacles in your path, some that include a slight emphasis on the day-night cycle. Near the beginning, your mooing, talking bed gives you a stopwatch-type item that can be used to speed up time to suit your needs. A couple time-sensitive puzzles involve the sunlight shining on particular places at specific times of the day. These are used sparingly, but they’re executed well enough to become a memorable part of the journey. Other interesting tasks include distracting Mirphy the photographer so you can get a photo of her butt (which she asks you to get), tricking Trencil into confessing he’s a vampire to some conspiracy nut, and indulging in a borderline psychotic child’s wishes and punching 20 different people.Continued on the next page...