Written by Jonathan Wojcik
APP GAME REVIEW:
WE HAPPY RESTAURANT
We Happy Restaurant is a phone game I was alerted to only weeks ago, around mid-June, by no less than a dozen people who wondered if these folks had drawn any inspiration from my own artwork and writing, and I can see why. Both WHR and my Harmburger fiction revolve around strange, otherworldly fast food restaurants, peddling exotic, sometimes repulsive foods through hypnotic, convoluted advertising methods to customers who undergo gradual transformation into things not of this Earth.
...And, yeah, that's a pretty uncanny set of similarities, but the two settings are more than distinct enough when we really delve into them, and there's a lot to love about this "seriously sketchy restaurant simulator."
As a management game, much of WHR's gameplay consists of simply purchasing or upgrading things with virtual cash while you wait for your tiny little customers to complete their meals, though they won't actually come to you on their own.
The "BADPIE" machine, located on the corner outside your building, apparently allows you to reach through time and space to brainwash human customers and teleport them right to your door, each customer type - such as construction workers, policemen or joggers - costing money to reel in and requiring a unique set of one to five specific food items to complete a single meal.
These foods are produced by up to six possible machines. You've got a "Tofu Fermenter" that produces "tofu" from tortured, mutant animals, a "Mercury" machine to dispense beverages and more. There's a lot of fun morbidity in both the different machines and the foods they produce, like the increasingly abnormal chickens or the max-level "beverage" coming packed in a syringe.
Where this gets a little tricky is the fact that only five machines can be connected to one cash register, and a customer will only make a purchase if they can obtain all of their foods from that single line. You may have both a burger machine and a pizza machine in your restaurant, but unless they're built in the same row, a customer who wants both will angrily pace the floors, furious that you would slight them with such an inconvenience.
Only by opening every possible "production line," with every possible combination of the six machines, and upgrading all of them to their maximum level can you serve every customer.
...And speaking of those customers, each variety will "level up" with every meal they consume, and every so many levels, they'll mutate along a course of five possible stages. Once a customer has reached their final transformation, they have only so many meals left before they are considered "eternally satisfied," or in other words, they explode into green slime and leave you the rest of their cash.
This covers pretty much all the basics of the game. It's a simple but quirky SIM that you're supposed to just check back on at your own convenience, refreshing your supply of customers as necessary and upgrading food machines as the proper funds accumulate. If you're bored enough, you can use some of that money to customize your tables, chairs and wall art, though an option to customize your floor tiles, bathrooms and cashiers would have also been cool.
Something called "green essence" can be used to speed up machine construction, refresh BADPIE's customer selection or even recruit certain rare, unusual customer types who come with their own bonus effects. The easiest way to acquire this essence is to simply watch ads via this strange, television-wielding man out on the street, which is a cute way to incorporate ad placement.
Another way to collect essence is to complete the tasks assigned to you by this mysterious weirdo, who seems tailor made to generate fan art and supposedly acts as your go-between with "Headquarter," whomever that may really be.
I still don't even know this guy's name, but technically, the game is still in its early stages. Maybe we'll learn a bit more from future updates, or maybe it's more fun to remain in the dark.
There are also some additional staff you can add to the "offices" across the street, which unfortunately offer only negligible perks considering they cost up to $7.99 in real world money. At only two bucks and boasting perhaps the most useful effect, I got the retro robot "accountant" just to see what these characters actually do, and what they do is silently stand in place in a small booth. If they walked around or had any dialog, I think they might be a little more enticing.
It's those mutant customers, of course, that provide most of this game's appeal. Seeing what each one turns into can really keep you going for a while, and I'd honestly prefer not to spoil them, but reviewing creature designs is just what I do, so I'm at least going to go over my top six favorites.
The Fish-lizard Punks
These are customers you can afford to feed fairly early in your game, but it can be a while before you have the higher-level foods they require by level 4. It certainly pays off, though, when you've got a bunch of googly-eyed, bulbous fish monsters slithering around your restaurant...or maybe they're supposed to be more like pudgy snakes?
The Mantis Cops
I guess it would have just been too easy if they turned into pigs. In typical coply fashion, their dialog gets pretty threatening when they don't get their way, but they seem pretty happy once they finally metamorphose into beautiful, glossy blue bugs.
The Spaghetti Monster Schoolgirls
The cute thing about these is that the first stage of their "mutation" is just a pasta pot on top of their heads, as though shamefully hiding their rapidly growing eyestalks. Their final transformation into the satirical god of Pastafarianism has appealingly massive eyeballs compared to most depictions of the being, but does not, in fact, fly.
The Plant Women
These ladies are distinguished by a purple dress, red hair and white skin in their human forms, which shell out around 500 pretend dollars for every meal they purchase and will hang around in your restaurant for dozens of meals per stage, making them by far the most profitable customers. This is balanced out a bit by the fact that they digest extremely slowly, but on the plus side, it means you get to have these wonderful botanical cuties roaming your property for days and days at a time.
In fact, I've had around fifty plant women in my restaurant for over a month and a half, and they still haven't hit that final stage. Each stage seems to digest slower and slower still, which is fine. If any customer base was going to be so long-term, I'm glad it was a bunch of weird, walking botanoids.
The Plague Doctors
I don't care what anyone says - I for one am delighted by how mainstream plague doctors have gone. Knowing what they even were was once so rare that we were practically an elite club, and elite clubs are for jerks. Now we get to see the beaky freaks references in countless video games, a few cartoons, and who knows what else!
A very cool progression here, too, into just one massive, festering ball of diseased fuzz with a smiling, presumably organic "mask."
The Yithian Cheerleaders
These are lifted straight from the mind of famous dead weiner, Herbie Loveclumps, but I'm glad the one thing they decided to rip from the "mythos" was also one of the most precious. What's not to love about the ridiculous Great Race of Yith, or at least the ancient, multi-stalked organisms occupied by the disembodied minds of the Great Race? It's a long story. Not as long as those tedious Dreamlands ones, though.
I'm really loving how protrusive the eyeballs are on these gals, as well as the sparse, drooping hair and the smooth rippling animation of that fleshy "skirt." You really gotta see them in action for yourself.
So.......was "We Happy Restaurant" potentially inspired by the world of deep-fried meat monsters and garbled corporate lingo we've explored in my own fiction since 2013? Is it egotistical to even wonder? Maybe, maybe not. Both certainly draw to some degree from the reality we're already living, with what feels like an all-time high of paranoia, misinformation and predatory advertising over our dietary health and ever-more extreme offerings on both sides of that battlefield, from Flavor Blasted Mac N' Cheeto Puffs to Non-GMO Detoxifying Kombucha Jerky.
My own take on this phenomenon, however, is more focused on deriving monstrousness from food itself, and cynical humor from how an extranormal corporate entity might attempt to appeal to a world it barely understands...even as it preys upon it.
All of this is definitely present in We Happy Restaurant, but it's the customers who provide most of our "monsters," even if they are only innocent victims of the restaurant's machinations. Maybe it's a kind of negligible difference, and I do wish I'd been able to make a game out of this kind of setting myself, but I get the feeling that if I ever did, these folks would probably be happy to share an audience. There's plenty of room in the "unsanitary reality-warping food service" genre.
If I might only make a few recommendations for future updates or even a possible sequel:
• I would love a way to keep "favorite" customers around without them reaching "eternal satisfaction." Perhaps just five or six at a time, like the optional staff members.
• I love the little dialog snippets you can see from each customer, but the number is quite limited. Dialog is quick, easy and cheap to write, and I'd love to see more insight into their individual personalities.
• If we can customize furniture, I'd really like to be able to change the walls and floors!
• Customer and character profiles, or any unlockable "lore," would really go a long way towards a more memorable experience.
• Finally, CONFLICT! I really found myself wishing something "bad" would happen; that my restaurant could get an infestation of alien vermin, that I might have to butter up a health inspector (perhaps literally?) or that I might suffer attacks from some rival corporation. If we're going to play a cosmic horror Mr. Krabs, then who or WHAT could potentially be our Plankton!?
You can download We Happy Restaurant from all the usual app sources, and if you're reading this from the team who put it together... don't be a stranger!
MORE HALLOWEEN FEATURES: