The very first thing that a new player will notice, of course, is the simple fact that it’s called Happy Wheels. This instantly conjures up happy ideas. One might think of kids playing with toys, riding bikes or any of a wide variety of entertaining distractions. This is about as far from the title screen as one could possibly imagine. The first thing to greet a new player is the grizzled and beaten face of the primary character. This character is a war vet, confined to a wheelchair. And the old man is most certainly not the happiest guy in the world. On starting a new game, the player has a choice between the vet and a few others characters. However, they all share one characteristic. They’re stuck using wheels to get around.
In the case of the vet, he’s stuck in a wheelchair. But there’s also a yuppie who refuses to get off his segway. Along with this, there’s an amazingly overweight woman whose mobility scooter is stuffed to the brim with food for her trip. What she’s obviously not planning on is the hills and chasms which lay before any player.
The space key will allow the player to trigger the character’s primary action. The shift and control key will engage the secondary action. If the player hits the Z key, the character will be ejected. To accelerate, the player should pretty the up arrow on his or her keyboard. Likewise, the down arrow handles deceleration. The left arrow leans backward, and the right key leans forward. These controls are a bit more complex than one normally finds in browser based games. However, it really doesn’t take long before use of the character becomes second nature. In fact, with a game like this is’t almost necessity.
When a player is limited by needing to think about the actions of the character, there’s just too much of a buffer between thought and action. One must become the character. Just as one doesn’t think about putting feet in front of each other when walking, so balance shouldn’t be a concern for the character. That said, this can be easier said than done. These sorts of physics based games can be a bit difficult for players to pick up who haven’t played them before. Typically, pushing left makes a character go left. And pushing right will usually make a character go right. With physics based games it’s usually more about pure momentum. Again, this is a fairly simple thing to use once one’s gotten the knack of it. One simply has to push through some other ideas about how controls work and instead focus on results. One should feel the movement, not the keys which create it.
Once the player has the controls down, it’s time to really examine the game’s world. And this worldbuilding is where the game really shines. Happy Wheels presents a very pretty, and yet very humorously dangerous world. Imagine a majestic green hill. Beautiful grass on the ground and an even more beautiful blue hue in the sky. Then imagine trying to navigate it in a wheelchair. It probably won’t turn out very well. And this is the default result for a player trying to maneuver their wheel using characters around. It’s possible to see a shower of blood from a character, quite literally, within less than a second of playing the game. It’s a scary world out there, no matter how beautiful it might look! At the same time though, it’s all done in good fun. This isn’t photorealistic gore. Instead it’s just cartoonish blood and violence. More than one would find in a cartoon or the like, but still not something that most people would have issue with.
It’s a sometimes odd combination of funny and scary, of simplicity and complexity. But at the same time, that’s only the surface of what the game has to offer. One of the most notable extra features is a level editor. This allows one to really take control of the game’s world in order to create something unique. It’s a lot of fun for oneself, but it’s even more entertaining to create something amazing to test one’s friends against.
There’s also a whole host of other characters which a player can select from. However, to take advantage of them one will first have to prove his or her skill with other characters. In a similar way, there’s locked stages which a player can progress to once his or her skills have been demonstrated.
Lastly, the game is available on almost any platform. Because it uses Flash, almost any computer which can use a browser should be able to load it up. The system requirements are also kept low through use of 2D graphics. Even 2D this beautiful won’t take much away from system resources. This means that anyone who wants to play the game should be able to.
All in all, Happy Wheels is a very solid game. It’s a departure from most games in any number of ways. However, none of that would mean much if the game wasn’t fun. And, frankly, the game really is a lot of fun. It’s one of those games that’s easy to pick up, and hard to put down again. The fact that it runs in a browser makes it even more addictive. Because one can even play hooky for a few minutes at work by typing the url into a browser and loading it up there. It’s a game that’s hard to say no to.