In a dramatic twist, Happy Wars came out over the weekend with little promotion from Microsoft. Considering it’s a free-to-play tower defense game, where the real income stems from players buying new weapons, armor, and accessories with actual money–well, real money converted into Microsoft Points ridiculously converted a second time into Happy Tickets–you’d think they’d want to let people know the thing exists. Instead, I learned about it from a forum post on Giant Bomb, and then had to sift through menus (and submenus!) to figure out where to download it from. Not ideal, I assure you, and considering I just watched Indie Game: The Movie the other night, placement on the e-marketplace is vital. Especially around launch time.
Happy Wars is a free-to-play tower defense game, with a single player story and online multiplayer matches. War has broken out between…uh, people that dress in white, and people that dress in black. Or something like that. That’s the overall gist, but some story-based missions focus on other topics, like a stolen princess or a mad scientist and his army of crazy red robots. Cute, cartoony graphics help emphasize the happy part of these wars, as does most of the loot, such as a sword made from a dead fish, a flower petal shield, and a stat-boosting pencil you can stick in your avatar’s hair. The look of the game is not going to astound you, but it won’t also annoy you, being just right for this sort of experience of capturing spawn points, building deadly turrets, and using class-based action skills. Reminds me a bit of Quarrel and Costume Quest and something else.
If you don’t remember, tower defense is not one of my favorite gaming genres. It’s a lot of building and waiting until one side tips the scale just enough to wash over their forces. So that part is kind of boring to me, but there are some aspects here that I do like. Such as leveling up items, earning loot, and completing mini challenges during a match. Of the three classes–warrior, cleric, mage–I prefer being a warrior, rushing into the thick of things and using thrown stones to stun opponents before I cut them to pieces. The other classes all have their uses, but I’m not terribly comfortable with them just yet. Give me time. Plus, of those three, I have the better equipment so far for the warrior. Also, the roulette wheel called the Spinner is a wonderful way to spend all your hard-earned Happy Stars; just like in Borderlands 2 with their slot machines, I can’t resist testing my luck. It is a nice feature for those that don’t want to spend really money on item packs to try and get something better for their characters.
There are some problems though. The single player experience is severely hampered by a strange level rank restriction. You beat the first story mission, and you are immediately slapped in the face with a note that says you can only play the next story mission once you’ve achieved a rank of 6 or higher. You can only increase your rank, from what I can tell, in multiplayer matches. Seems simple enough; however, the problem continues from there. Not sure if it just had to do with server issues or initial launch problems, but connecting to an online match or getting one started from the ground up was extremely hit or miss for me. My system kept trying to “connect with Xbox Live…” over and over again before ultimately booting me out of matches that looked promising. I did eventually get a few games in after many attempts, but once you beat the second story mission–made up of two smaller missions really–you are again told you can’t continue playing solo stuff until your rank is 11 or higher. Eep. Back to multiplayer, I guess. Either way, this experience is fairly frustrating, only softened by the fact that I did not pay any more for this game or give it any money so far. Maybe the online matchmaking will shake itself out over the next week or so.
Oh, and free game means free Achievements, none of which have been too tricky to unlock:
First Victory (10G): Get 1 victory in any game session
The Legend Begins (10G): Receive mention in Hero Pop-up in a Quick Match or Co-op mode
Mod 0 (10G): Level-up an item
Rich Man (10G): Get 30 items
I’m not having a great time or a terrible time, but I’d also like to see more of the game before calling it quits. Especially the single player missions, as I don’t have to rely on anyone but myself to get the job done. If you’re on Xbox 360, definitely give this a try, as it won’t cost you anything but a download. Just be aware that after the tutorial and training missions, you’ll be locked out of most content until you can up your rank, and getting online matches to connect is consistently wishy-washy at the moment.
As Happy Wars is the first dip into free-to-play games for Microsoft’s platform, it’ll be interesting to see just how long this war really lasts. I think there’s promise here, some good and bad, but maybe not enough hooks to really keep a crowd coming back. Or I could be completely wrong. Again, these sorts of gaming experiences are generally not for me. Time will surely tell.