“Happiness to everything!” This is the mantra of Misfortune Hernandez, the sassy protagonist of Little Misfortune, a spooky game where children go missing and foxes lurk in the woods. She’s a sweet little girl — but she’s in a bad, bad world, and by the time her game ends, Misfortune will die.
You learn this particular fact almost immediately after you begin the game. It’s no secret, just a fact of Misfortune’s life. This is what the mysterious ‘Mr. Voice’ tells you as you join his peculiar game. Misfortune will die, but precisely how is a matter of mystery and circumstance until the final moments.
‘Mr. Voice’ is the mysterious guide of Little Misfortune, a disembodied voice that guides Misfortune out of her house and into the woods. You can hear Mr. Voice, and so can she. But can you trust him? All he wants is for Misfortune to play his game. If she does, the prize of Eternal Happiness will be hers. What his motivations truly are is shady throughout the game, but our own experiences and trepidation at Misfortune’s eagerness helps to give the game a sense of unease.
Things are not right in Misfortune’s world, and that’s made clear pretty even from the opening minutes. Misfortune lives in a broken home. Her father is abusive, and her mother smokes and drinks regularly. The fantasy world that envelops Misfortune can easily be read as a form of intense escapism from her reality, but its true nature is only revealed at the end, and to say anymore would spoil the twist.
So, armed with either her trusty pet rock or a unicorn plush toy (her journey is guided, but not shaped, by player choice), Misfortune sets off on her grand adventure to win the prize of Eternal Happiness for her mother. The game is simple — it’s an adventure-based sidescroller where players input simple choices and take part in mini-games to help Misfortune complete her quest and ultimately gain the prize of Eternal Happiness. The art is whimsical and gorgeous, resembling a children’s story book. It’s gorgeous, and extremely well-suited to the tale being told.
As Misfortune journeys, she finds out more and more about her world, the haunting visions that she encounters, and the perils of the world. The creatures that she meets along the way are bizarre, to say the least, and her reaction to them is the most bizarre of all.
Misfortune is the innocence of childhood personified, so when she sees a blunt-smoking, dancing bird and reacts with joy, you immediately want to take her by the hand, say, “Sweetie, no,” and guide her away. She joins the duck for a dance anyway, and is worse off for the experience.
The entire game is guided by Misfortune’s sweetness and naivety, and seeing the world from her own eyes is more than a bit frightening. Ghosts populate the streets, the demon realm is constantly encroaching on hers and adults become smiling, ghoulish figures. Something else is walking in her world too, snatching up little children in its jaws. It’s delightfully creepy, and Misfortune is the bright, shining star of the adventure.
In a way, the player guiding her on her journey becomes her carer. You want to save Misfortune. She’s an adorable character, and voiced by developer and artist on the game, Natalia Martinsson. She’s vivacious, cheeky and pure. She doesn’t deserve to die. But as the Voice says, she will, you just don’t know how. All along your journey, even as you encounter ghost children and sneaky foxes, you’re presented with the faint hope that you can save Misfortune, but all is not as it seems, and even the narration isn’t being honest.
While Little Misfortune‘s adventure isn’t long (it took me about 2.5 hours to emerge from the other side), it is very meaningful. Misfortune is a bundle of pure joy, and she’s a delight to spend time with, even if her adventures come to an abrupt end. While Misfortune breezes and bluffs her way past the darker parts of her story, including a journey through a racy hamster nightclub, players will be all too aware of the sinister world that she dances in.
On the streets, adults around her wear ‘Happy Face’ masks to hide their true feelings, and as they pass by Misfortune they look like spectres on the street. While the world of Little Misfortune is our world turned up to 10, the truisms it utters are frightening. This starkness is where the horror of Little Misfortune thrives, even in the mundane, everyday life of its protagonist.
Little Misfortune is a game about lost innocence, trust and childhood. It’s about morbid curiosity, and the charming adventures we all go on as kids. But it’s not a happy tale, and the ending, while final (and expected), is heart-wrenching. Little Misfortune is just a short journey into the woods, but I’ll be thinking about it, and its wily little protagonist, for a long time.