I remember when We Happy Few was announced. The creepy forced happiness in the trailer had me throwing money at my monitor. Then a few years later, the game finally came out. How could such a cool premise be bungled so badly? Even after its changes, the game just didn’t seem to cut the mustard. Now, fast forward a few more years, and My Beautiful Paper Smile is complete. The creepy forced happiness is back, but add in children, cults, and Tim Burton-style graphics. I thought the premise got its redemption. Sadly, this one didn’t cut the mustard, either.
In this dystopian world, children have only one purpose — and that purpose is to be perfect. You are one of the Joyous, a group of kidnapped children held inside a bleak facility. Under the rule of a mad king, the Joyous live with constant smiles on their faces, punished for feeling anything other than happiness. But one night, a mysterious voice visits your dreams and speaks of escape.
“My Beautiful Paper Smile is incredibly stylistic, using all hand-drawn graphics in a 2D meets 3D world.”
What attracted me to this game is the art. My Beautiful Paper Smile is incredibly stylistic, using all hand-drawn graphics in a 2D meets 3D world, much like Paper Mario. The colour palette is exclusively black and white, which emphasises dystopian vibes and hopeless feelings. It’s good that the art is so effectively creepy because there isn’t much else adding to the atmosphere otherwise. The music and sound effects are both unremarkable; I shudder at the thought of how much scarier this game could’ve been if the sound was utilised to its full potential.
The story is decent. It’s engaging enough that I felt the need to finish the game. When all is said and done, though, I won’t be thinking about the plot or characters as I fall asleep tonight. The pacing is alright, and there are 4 hour-long chapters, each with their own goals. However, My Beautiful Paper Smile is quite predictable. The twists don’t feel like twists and the narrative is lacklustre. Save for a few side-quests, there’s no real explanation for the state of dystopia — and that’s okay, but a little lore could have gone a long way in world-building and player immersion.
“While sneaking does add a degree of scariness, it quickly becomes redundant and boring.”
The gameplay is fairly simple. My Beautiful Paper Smile is essentially a walking simulator with some sneaking elements. While sneaking does add a degree of scariness, it quickly becomes redundant and boring. Similar to Tormented Souls, players must stay out of the darkness if they wish to survive, but unless players are hiding, there’s no real reason to turn off the readily available light source.
The rest is point-and-click, picking up keys and fetching items in order to progress the plot. Puzzles have really been put on the back-burner as there’s nothing hard or thought-provoking about them. Bosses require specific methods for defeat, but again, it isn’t difficult to figure out how. This is because My Beautiful Paper Smile will always state exactly what the player needs to do or find to proceed. With a game that’s already linear, the play-by-play feels unnecessary. Thankfully, side-quests and secrets are omitted from the hand-holding, letting players at least hunt for those on their own.
“The game has a truly unique art style that I can’t enough of, but that’s where the love ends.”
Overall, My Beautiful Paper Smile is okay. The game has a truly unique art style that I can’t enough of, but that’s where the love ends. With more playtime, the story could have been amazing. Unfortunately, the lack of exposition makes it hard to be absorbed into the intricate and dark world of the Joyous. The gameplay is dull and puzzles require no thought. Although I don’t regret spending four hours playing through to the end, I doubt I’ll find myself playing this game again.
My Beautiful Paper Smile is available on PC via Steam.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on PC, code was provided by the Publisher.