Smile For Me Impressions: Strange Handheld Happiness

Smile For Me is, perhaps, one of the most bizarre games I’ve ever played. With a parade of recorded videos, 2D-meets-3D art, puppets, and unsettling undertones, it’s an experience that will linger in my mind for some time. The original game was released on PC in 2019 but the unique title is getting a console release next week. I checked it out on the Switch and Nintendo’s portable console is a great fit for Smile for Me‘s unusual mechanics and colorful world.

The game’s unconventional nature makes it tricky to describe, but it functions largely as a point-and-click adventure in which my goal is to make everyone around me happy. Who these people are, why we are gathered together, and what our smile-obsessed host is up to are less certain. Smile For Me is a refreshing approach to the genre. Its unusual mechanic framing, like transforming the inventory into a bouquet of flowers strewn with helpful items, keeps it from one of the categories common pitfalls: Feeling formulaic.

Another distinct mechanic involves the oddly immersive nodding system. Unlike most game dialogues, which have me click a button to choose my words, I’m forced to physically shake my character’s head yes or no to respond to NPCs. This works fantastically on the Switch. I can move the right joystick up and down to agree or left and right to dissent. But even better, the Switch’s gyro controls let me produce the desired gesture just by moving the console.

If you haven’t played Smile For Me yet, the Switch is a great place to experience it. But let me clue you in to what you’ll encounter. Scrolling an amateur website plucked straight from the ’90s, I learn of Dr. Habit and his reportedly joyful space, The Habitat. Accepting an invitation to the location, I’m bombarded by a video of platitudes scrolling over fields of VHS-quality flowers. Then I wake up on a thin mattress on the ground covered by a horse-patterned blanket.

The Habitat is filled with lost souls, beautifully rendered in a hand-drawn art style. My first encounter encourages me to wander the graffiti and propaganda-filled halls to offer help to any resident that needs it. However, the dwelling’s overseer warns me he has a strict bedtime policy and I succumb to a suspicious bout of dizzying exhaustion whenever the sun goes down.

Discovering the sinister secret behind this purportedly happy place is the name of the game. If that sounds intriguing, Smile For Me is coming out on Switch — as well as PlayStation and Xbox — April 24.

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