Happy Wars ReviewOctober 16, 2012
A fun, fresh F2P brawler, but the experience could be deeper.
Happy Wars is the strangest, goofiest game I have ever played. The free to play Xbox Live Arcade title (for gold members) by developer Toylogic is so weird, in fact, that I had a hard time formulating some solid opinions regarding the game. On the surface, Happy Wars is a pretty fun beat ’em up game, where cartoon knights and wizards wail on each other for absolutely no reason at all. However, if you dig deeper, you find an involved (I’m hesitant to call it deep) multiplayer experience, with a decent amount of strategy therein. Overall, the game is a good effort by Toylogic to bring something fresh to the free-to-play genre, even if it falls short of comparable games in a few ways.
In describing the gameplay of Happy Wars, it is best to compare the game to, well, I’m not quite sure. The single player experience is a series of missions that play out in a similar manner to the Unreal Championship/ Tournament games. These missions are really just a bunch of skirmish bot-matches, where your team has to start at its home base, fighting down a linear path toward the enemy base. Along the way, you must build totems that act as spawn points, so that your forces may advance forward without having to hoof it from the base camp. If you come upon a totem controlled by hostile forces, you have to tear theirs down and build yours up, eliminating a spawn point for the enemy, and granting one for the good guys. Once you reach the enemy’s fortress, you must capture a final totem, essentially eliminating the oppositions ability to respawn, and securing a victory for your side.
To make these skirmishes a bit more interesting, the game allows you to choose from one of three typical classes: warrior, mage, or cleric. I’ll let you guess what each does. Upon death, you can switch classes, which adds a layer of tactical thought to this bizarre cake. Say, for example, you are fighting a pair of gatekeepers outside of the enemy’s fortress, and you keep dying as the warrior class. Switching over to the cleric class, and healing your allies as they pummel the gatekeepers may be a better strategy than being the meatshield you were a few deaths ago. Or you could try to sling spells by choosing the mage class. The choice is completely up to the player, which feels like a nice touch in a pretty linear game. However, I did find a potential problem with this system. Most battles, at least in the single player arena, boil down to attrition. So you can usually keep respawning as the same class, taking out another enemy, dying, and repeating this process until all opponents have been defeated. While enterprising players will find the best class for any given situation, the simpletons out there can just as easily keep hacking away at their foes until nothing is left.
Continuing, as you play Happy Wars more and more, your character levels up, becoming more proficient in the various classes. Your hero also accrues better armor and weapons over the course of single and multiplayer gameplay. This variety in equipment, along with the existence of three classes, means that at higher levels, your hero shouldn’t be overly similar to another player’s character of the same level. To change things up even more, Toylogic has chosen to include microtransactions in Happy Wars, meaning you can trade Microsoft Points for Happy Tickets, which can in turn be exchanged for random packs of items, or sets of armor and character skins. This system reminded me of being a kid, and buying a booster pack for a trading card game. I never knew what I was going to get, but I came back time and time again to see if there was something worthwhile. The same feeling of curiosity and wonder applies to the random item packs in Happy Wars, as well.
Another thing I loved about Happy Wars were the visuals. Toylogic creates a graphical style that absolutely fits the tone of the game. Cell-shaded avatars run about a vivid world, beating their foes across the greenest grass and under the bluest skies. Also, each map has a different feel. Some are staged in traditional fantasy kingdoms, while others feel as if they exist in some distant, ethereal world. Regardless of map choice, players should appreciate the robust, colorful landscapes. The animations are also fun and playful. Baseball sized fireballs sling across the map, as bursts of healing magic go off in every direction, ensuring that there is never a dull moment in a Happy Wars battle.
The music, much like the visuals, is very fitting for the game. The soundtrack is very basic, and feels a little like an upbeat, adventurous homage to the 8-bit rpg era. If you played any of the earlier Final Fantasy games, and replaced their soundtrack with that of Happy Wars, I doubt anything would seem out of place.
In concluding this review, I find myself at an awkward crossroads. There are a few things this game needs to be faulted for. The story is completely nonexistent – pick a Mario game, and I assure you it will be more engaging than Happy Wars’ story – and Toylogic knows this. The campaign even opens by telling us “…the reasons for war are always silly….” The combat, while initially fun, is a little repetitive. And while the focus here should be on multiplayer, as that is the meat of the game – you even have to level up in multiplayer to unlock more campaign, thus making multiplayer cumpulsory – I really didn’t feel compelled to play more than a few matches after grinding my way through a vicious win/loss cycle where the first team to capture the central respawn totem was nearly always the victor. The rub here, of course, is the fact that Happy Wars is free-to-play, so most of my complaints are pointless. If players don’t enjoy the game, they can move on with nothing invested or lost but an hour or two of time. And if they enjoy the frantic, wild ride that is Happy Wars, well then more power to them.