Posted on June 27, 2008, Chris XBLA Hors D’oeuvres: Happy Tree Friends False Alarm
XBLA Hors D’oeurvres are a weekly feature where I play the latest Xbox Live Arcade game – in trial form – for no more than 10 minutes, and then summarize my impressions of the game based only upon that.
This seems to happen every week lately — one of this week’s new Xbox Live Arcade games, Happy Tree Friends was released without any prior knowledge on my part that it was an existing property. The whole cutesy animals crossed with blood-splattering violence thing isn’t an entirely new concept (see Conker’s Bad Fur Day for more of that), but it certainly feels fresh in a sea of futuristic space marines. (Is that redundant?)
Happy Tree Friends plays like a platformer crossed with a strategy game where you don’t have any direct control over the characters. Instead, you remotely interact with the environment to allow safe passage through dangerous, obstacle-laden levels. It’s a pretty neat idea, but from what I could tell from the tutorial and first level, there’s not going to be enough diversity to keep it from becoming stale.
The game reminds me a lot of Kirby: Canvas Curse, an early DS platformer where you didn’t directly control Kirby. Instead, you drew lines on the touch screen and Kirby would move along them as he came into contact with them. You could tap Kirby and that would cause him to dash, and that was how you played the entire game.
In Happy Tree Friends, you’ve got four abilities — water (lets you freeze things), fire, nitro, and action (basically an ‘interact’ button for pressing switches and levers). You use these to manipulate different things in the environment, like using the action button to open a door, freezing your characters so that they don’t walk off a moving platform and then melting the frozen critters so they can keep moving, or setting them on fire so that they more quickly.
Great idea, but from what I could tell, this turns into an affair where you simply scroll ahead of your characters, see an obstacle, and just pick one of the four abilities to take care of it. There’s really nothing more to it, and it doesn’t take much effort to figure out that you need the action button to open a door, or to freeze a leaking vent with water so that you characters can pass. What could have been intricate puzzles amount to a very simple exercise in logic as you wait for your characters to keep moving.
Don’t get me wrong — it’s entirely possible the game does have more complex puzzles as you move along. This was just the first level, after all, and throwing some complicated puzzles at you right off the bat would likely turn people away. But for a person like me that is looking for a challenge, the trial leaves me unconvinced that I should drop $10 in hopes that the game ramps up the complexity of the challenges as you progress.