“Anyone who has a continuous smile on his face conceals a toughness that is almost frightening.” – Greta Garbo
Smile for Me is an unusual first-person point-and-click game about cheering people up, and teeth, it’s also about teeth! Set in a conventional multi-media world, the player must navigate a surreal sanctuary named Habitat and help spread a smile to each of the distinctly troubled personalities that reside there.
Development and Beyond
The game was created remotely by Yugo and Gabe after the pair met online in 2018. Within one week a solid concept was in place and they began working on prototyping mechanics and creating concept art for a diverse range of characters and environments. The first playable demo was finalised in October of 2018, remotivated, the pair made rapid progress and launched a beta version in early March 2019.
The full version of Smile for Me was well-received when it released in full only a few months later in May. Despite the initial success, Yugo and Gabe surpassed their release day sales numbers when they decided to put the game on sale in aid of Reclaim the Block and local bail funds for Black Lives Matter protestors and raised over £10,000.
Smile for Me begins with the protagonist, a child and former flower deliverer, inexplicably waking up at The Habitat, something of a retreat or sanctuary for those who ‘just don’t have a smile’, a place created by the mysterious Doctor Habit who promises to make everyone happy again.
Aside from a few of the Doctor’s paper minions, there are 23 distinctly quirky characters for the player to meet as they explore the various environments within The Habitat, players can expect to encounter a heartbroken clown, a very uncool vampire gardener and an aspiring superhero, to name but a few. Each one has their own reason for being there and are in need of something.
Why has everyone been here so long and why is nobody smiling yet? It soon becomes clear that The Habitat is not quite as it first seemed. Interacting with and helping different characters will reveal the reality of the sanctuary and the uncomfortable and slightly sinister secret past of Doctor Habitat himself. Smile for Me clearly touches on themes of mental health, approaching the subject well, posing subtle questions about what it means to be depressed and various forms of treatment, however, there seems to be no intention for the game to be a source of information or understanding and it does not discuss the subject directly.
One of the more unique features of Smile for Me’s gameplay is the dialogue mechanic; rather than use typical text options with multiple response choices this game uses the tangible actions of nodding or shaking one’s head to indicate yes or no. This limits the communication between the player and the NPC in an interesting way, minimising the superfluous whilst creating branching conversations, choice and replayability.
Helping any of the eccentric personalities within The Habitat, with tasks that range from planting flowers to taking a photo of a butt, will involve solving a puzzle. These are largely interwoven as they are used to drip feed different elements of the narrative and it is often required to cheer up one character to reveal information or gain items to complete a previously acquired task.
There is a good mix of environmental, logic-based, traditional puzzles and minigames that are generally quite satisfying to solve, but there are a couple of conundrums with very random and somewhat illogical solutions that might have players resorting to a guide (like I did twice!).
Smile for Me has a uniquely stylised, multi-media aesthetic, ambiguously vibrant yet simultaneously dark and/or muted. It features 2D and 3D artwork, cartoon-style characters, simple but effective art collage-style environments, crumpled paper minions as well as old VCR style film recordings and live-action puppetry! Such an array of art styles and techniques could easily result in a cluttered or confused overall visual, however, this game amalgamates the different aspects in a way that feels organic and appropriate to the game.
There is some loosely defined voice acting in Smile for Me, with a variety of gobbledegook and gibberish, adding a little value by filling the silence that might otherwise befall the many sections of dialogue. There are also some amusing and effective sound effects, minimal but well implemented. The soundtrack is also fairly minimal but has a nice selection of tracks for the length of the game including some that can be selected from the in-game jukebox.
The game is unique in a number of different ways and a credit to the small team that created it. Gabe’s desire to create immersive, nontraditional mechanics, resulted in the game’s nod-and-shake controls and similarly, it was Yugo’s love for multimedia that materialized into the game’s distinctive collage-art and live-action puppetry. Additionally, the colourful personalities, cute characters and the goal of helping people smile are juxtaposed with The Habitat’s corruption and the melancholy of Doctor Habit’s past creating an interesting sense of conflict.
Overall, Smile for Me is a surreal and engaging experience, it will take around 5-6 hours to complete and offers some replayability making it good value for money as well.