Adventure Gamers Awards
You have limited time to act each day before either heading back to your room to make curfew or being forced to end the day when you pass out from staying out way too late. This works because different characters and areas are unlocked as days pass, so as to not overwhelm you all at once. It also allows for better narrative progression, as the more you help people, the livelier the place becomes. More and more residents show their faces when they see that things are looking up – while Doctor Habit gets angrier each passing night.
There isn’t really any point where the challenges become too difficult or too cryptic to decipher, as it’s clear the puzzles want you to have fun with the hijinks rather than tickle your brain too hard. The other characters always give clear hints or instructions on what you need to do to help them, and they can be talked to again at any time if you forget. The unconventional solutions to both mundane and absurd problems match the script’s humor to a tee. They add to the unsettling yet wacky atmosphere where nothing feels “right” but you can’t help but laugh as you help these isolated people from making things worse.
The presentation, much like the writing, is another highlight, as it displays this world with a unique art style that invokes feelings of disquiet and absolute lunacy, which is fitting for a small community locked away in the mountains and run by what is essentially a madman. Everything looks like it’s made of paper or cut from cardboard. The pastel environments and even people are flat and angular, lacking things like proper 90-degree angles or perfectly round shapes, with only a few exceptions. It’s an interesting aesthetic that’s pleasing to the eye and doesn’t ever feel cluttered, despite the mishmash of weird shapes.
The six major areas to explore comprise the apartment floor where your room is situated, the lobby that connects to most of the other locations, a maintenance section that includes the sewers, a carnival, a nightclub called “The Lounge”, and a roof terrace. Each zone looks very distinct from one another and usually has one to three major colours depending on the mood being conveyed, such as the main building interior’s sickly greens and blues, accentuating the depressive residents, the hip nightclub’s reds and purples to reflect the more jovial characters inside (for the most part), or the carnival’s oranges and bright greens, as it’s split between both dour and cheerful elements.
The character models aren’t animated, per se, but they can quickly shift between poses for different emotions or actions and are always facing the player (something that’s brought up as a joke at one point). The design style here resembles pop art, with a lot of straight edges, abstract Picasso-like faces and unconventional hair and skin tones. This ensures every character looks unique, which is good considering there’s 23 of them altogether (including Doctor Habitat). A cute detail is that characters related to each other share common elements, like Trencil and his daughter Nat having similar hair, or Parsley the lawyer and his father both wearing black and red. Each person has a specific happy model once you help them, and it’s satisfying to see everyone in a good mood when you succeed.
Objects that appear in your inventory fall under two visual categories: either drawn in an equally stylized manner or real photos of things that are slightly altered with new details, like blue lips as a “kiss” item (because the person who kissed you has a blue coloured face) and a megaphone with a smiley face stuck onto it. While that may sound jarring given the flat paper-like look overall, the discrepancy adds to the illogicality of it all. The odd photo altered into an original design, like an owl with long legs (called the “fowl”), is creepy enough to fit the already inhuman atmosphere.
The audio is just as distinctive as the art, with each area having a different theme ranging from jazz in the Lounge to a more synth-like and emotionless score in the residential area, or even nothing at all besides ambient sounds of water dripping and wind blowing in the back area behind the building that has been chained off. The two standout pieces to me are Flower kid’s room, which has a calming acoustic guitar track, and the Lounge’s piano-heavy music, both of which sound great. There are also a few bonus tunes that can be played on the club’s jukebox that are worth at least a listen (my personal favourite is the dance number called ‘Eleven Cities Under’). Every item and environmental object also has its own specific effect that plays each time you use it. My only complaint about the sound design is the pause between music tracks switching if you quickly run between areas. It isn’t a big deal by any means, but a few seconds of dead silence are definitely noticeable.
Dialogue isn’t spoken but there is voice acting in a sense, in that each character has a collection of jumbled verbal sounds (that could well be real words reversed or edited) that play to create the notion of speech. It’s clear that some are just the same person pitched either up or down depending on who’s talking, but thankfully no two characters sound identical, and this too adds to the general weirdness. I didn’t have any issue with this pseudo-language, but some players might find the decision annoying and there’s no way to disable it without turning off all the sound effects as a whole.
Smile for Me isn’t resource-heavy so it shouldn’t be hard to run, and I didn’t experience any kind of noticeable bug or glitch during my entire four-hour playthrough. The technical polish caps off a unique adventure game that manages to juggle a strong yet strange presentation, a combination of experimental and familiar gameplay elements, and an ominous but overall heartwarming and memorable narrative that both new and veteran adventure gamers can enjoy.