Review: Happy Wars for XBLA is fun and free, so get it!
What is there to actually say about Xbox Live’s new arena battler Happy Wars? I enjoyed playing the game immensely, but I’m finding it fairly difficult to describe exactly what it is about the game I found so good. It does indeed feel very similar, but am I doing the game a disservice to compare it to League of Legends and Awesomenauts in the very first paragraph of its review? I don’t think so, and here’s why: Happy Wars is a game that knows exactly what it wants to be, keeps the concept simple, maximizes replay value, and delivers an almost flawless product. It is MOBA of the most unoriginal variety, but it’s easier to grasp than most others, and it’s fun every single time. Also, and this is the most amazing part, it’s free to play.
Happy Wars comes to us via ToyLogic, a company in Tokyo whose other works are listed as Super Smash Bros. Brawl and TMNT: Smash-Up, and so it’s no surprise that with this game, they’re delivering another highly polished if overly simplified experience that impresses with its by-the-book design more than it challenges conventions. There are three classes, the Warrior who runs around beating people up, the Mage who runs around casting powerful spells, and the Cleric, who runs around healing people and building war machines. They each have their own unique skills, and everyone has to work together to succeed. To win, you must breach the walls of the opposing team’s castle and topple their largest tower, building towers of your own along the warpath, so that they can act as spawn points closer to the action. The more towers and war machines you build and the more people you kill, the more powerful you become within that round, and you also gain experience for ranking up outside of battle. Along the way, there’s items to find, and if you want to pour in some real money, you can use it to spec your character out exactly how you want, in much less time. And that’s it. That’s all there is to it.
While the structure alone is totally not offensive, and seemingly impossible to screw up, Happy Wars backs up their total disregard for realism and aesthetic polish for the smoothest and simplest gameplay around. The graphics and music are both good enough and even delightful at times, but neither really stands out enough to be particularly remarkable, and though the characters may look like dolls that have been shocked to life by a mad scientist, each class has it’s own specialized and well-balanced set of moves and skills, and the button layout allows for fairly speedy switching between sometimes as many as twelve different options at a time. The obvious roles each class plays, and the way they depend on each other is always so straightforward, too, which makes it super easy to have a job to do at all times. For example, the Mage will often travel with and hide themselves within a group of heavier warriors for protection, and in return will enchant all their weapons with elemental powers. Another satisfying element of the gameplay is “Team Skills”, which all classes have, in which the caster creates eight specific spaces, arranged in various patterns, for teammates to stand in and participate as part of an extreme powerful synchronized attack, like a barrage of magical arrows or a running charge. The beautiful if not extremely numerous amount of levels are all expertly designed, too, and chock full of shortcuts and secret paths to boot. It all just works really well, and together it creates an entertaining pace for the game to clip along at, and the sense of teamwork it instills within you separates the advent of your character dying from the idea of losing, leaving you itching to get back to fight rather than screaming about how unfair the game is. By and large, the experience of playing this game is overwhelmingly positive.
The only real negatives lie in parts of the game that aren’t really within the designer’s control. For example, it probably wasn’t their choice to make the best items the ones you have to pay for. Luckily, you can still have a good character without spending any money, but the process is almost too much more time consuming, and this is a game that asks you to buy stuff from it a lot, and impolitely. Literally each time you die, it offers you the choice to pay money and come back stronger. That being said, however, making purchases within the game is very easy, and totally non-intrusive, and the items that are available are very satisfying to own. Another problem I encountered was that the queuing process fills up one team before the other, and so when there’s not enough players, it’s likely that one team will have much more AI characters, giving the team with more real people the advantage. Again, this isn’t really their fault, but improved AI would be a huge improvement for a game whose online component being fair and balanced is so central to its being enjoyable. Partly to counteract this and also likely to even the playing field between high-ranked fully geared experts and weak little beginners, ranks and levels are not the same thing, and while a player’s rank continually increases, a player’s level is reset to 1 at the start of each match, so that everyone has a much more even chance at success.
On top of all this goodness, ToyLogic even saw fit to sprinkle Happy Wars with some quality extras, such as a single-player campaign that only allows you progress once you’ve reached various milestone ranks online, and the ability to customize and forge your weapons, armor, and a separate cosmetic character appearance for each class. The achievements are also a plus, nicely straddling the line between being realistically obtainable and requiring a large time investment.
In the end, Happy Wars is a no-brainer. It’s free. Get it even if it sounds terrible to you. I promise you it isn’t, and really, there’s nothing lose. Take a chance on it. It really is great. Despite its minor flaws, I can see this game being around for a while, especially if enough people download it, and there’s at least a little DLC every once in a while. I’ve got high hopes.