Are the colourful cartoon animals of Happy Street truly happy, or are they just incredibly nearsighted soulless consumer drones with no real purpose other than purchasing virtual products and being shit upon by low-flying seagulls? Can they be both?
These are the questions that plagued me as I played through Godzilab's free social game for the iPhone and iPad. I build houses to shelter them. I build places for them to spend the money that miraculously appears in their pockets. I click on visitors passing through the town, gathering their hearts until I've earned enough hollow adoration to hit the Fiesta button, launching the entire populace into a consumer frenzy.
They have to buy the things I provide them in the Flower Stall or the Fruit Stand. They must play the games of chance I place strategically between shops. Restocking these distractions is the only way I can gain experience points and earn levels, unlocking new retail idols for my people to worship.
I can distract myself with gathering resources in the forest, crafting and cooking items demanded by my citizens in rare moments of clarity. Now and again they forget where they are or who they're with, asking my assistance in pointing out a shop or fellow resident, rewarding me for pointing out an object that's sitting right in front of them, as plain as day.
It's a dreary existence. I could expand their tiny world, but the cost is gems that are few and far between. Visiting my friends' streets grants these sparkling marvels, but only three times a day. My choices are use my own funds to subsidise growth, or watch these tiny helpless creatures engage in this mockery of joy and togetherness.
The urge to spend money is strong, but it would only lead to spending more and more, and for what?
The happiness of Happy Street is a hollow thing. It's a Facebook game gone mobile, only worse. The waiting, they say, is the hardest part, and there isn't much more to do here than wait. Wait and pity these poor cartoon animals, wondering if they'll ever know true joy.
And then the Mr T Duck drives his purple motorcycle to the fish market.
Happy Street (Free) [iTunes]