• Happy Tree Friends is a Flash cartoon based around the antics of a collection of dewy-eyed cute little animals, ranging from the sugar-obsessed Nutty, a squirrel with a serious candy addiction to the blind as a mole..er Mole.

    You may be forgiven for thinking this is some sort of Nickelodeon-style cartoon for kids, but within 5 minutes of watching any of the web-based episodes of Happy Tree Friends you’ll realise that these critters are not cute, and that nasty things happen to them, usually resulting in one or all of the gang being squished, burned, blown up, maimed or otherwise splattered across your screen.

    Turning this strange surreal animated series into a game should be relatively easy then – but kudos to Stainless (my evil gaming nemeses) and THQ for coming up with something more original than just punting out a cheap knockoff shooter based around the gang.

    Happy Tree Friends: False Alarm

    Let me take you back in history to when the 16-bit consoles reigned supreme. On the Megadrive there was a rather quirky little title called Krusty’s Super Fun House. Based around (of all things) Krusty the Clown from The Simpsons, the game involved finding ingenious ways for Krusty to rid his fun house of nasty little vermin. If you like, Happy Tree Friends: False alarm is the exact opposite of this idea – in fact it’s your task to use Lumpy (the rather familiar looking Moose who could almost be Bullwinkle’s twin brother) to operate various gadgets and use different methods to ensure that Flippy, Mole, Giggles, Toothy, Russell, Nutty, Flaky and the rest of the gang get from one side of each level to the relative safety of the final warp gate at the exit.

    It sounds simple enough but as any of you will know, collecting a bunch of lunatic animals together and getting them to do exactly what you want them to is nigh on impossible (this is why my brainiac idea of a squirrel powered C5 never got off the ground, curse those little bushy tailed idiots!)

    Lumpy has to be quick off the mark to ensure that the gang don’t get marmalised but at least he has more than his fat fingers to help him. Aside from flipping switches and operating valves, Lumpy can use explosives to blow things up, fire to burn things (or hurry the lazy little critters along when they’re being a bit slow on the uptake by lighting fires behind them), and ice to freeze things (again useful for applying to the Happy Tree Friends when you need them to stop dead in their tracks).

    The general idea is to make sure the entire gang make it to the end of the level, awarding you a nice shiny gold medal for your efforts.

    Unless each of the creatures gets killed outright (and believe me this is rather easy to achieve) usually they’ll just lose a bit of energy when they run into something sharp or nasty. Once all their energy’s gone though, so is the critter. A blood soaked mess on the floor could be all that’s left of them so it’s up to you to try and plan ahead.

    The first “World” you’ll encounter is a handy dandy candy factory. Fraught with danger from the outset your creatures begin to make their way across the place. Using the shoulder triggers you can scroll left or right through the level to spot any potential hazards and deactivate them or plan ahead so that your critters hurry through unscathed. Similarly you can flip through and get ready with the “finger” selection (The A button) to operate conveyor belts, lifts, door switches and other non-threatening controls.

    Rather grossly (but secretly rather satisfyingly) as the creatures take damage, their cute furry exteriors are stripped away to reveal bloody injuries and rather gross nastiness so this is definitely not a game to let little Timmy or Jenny loose on, despite first appearances as it’s all a bit grim really.

    As each different level is encountered, you’ll be guiding the gang across hazard-strewn hospitals, incredibly dangerous underground mines and all sorts of other unpleasant places that furry wee characters really shouldn’t be found in.

    It’s reasonably easy to control the basics (with each of the activation powers mapped to the A, B, Y and X buttons and just the shoulder buttons to control the right to left camera, as mentioned before) but it does get trickier naturally as you encounter each level, and soon you’ll find that the relatively simple first few levels turn into a living nightmare, with perhaps only one or two of your critters making it to the end with just enough go-juice left in their tiddly little bodies to see them through.

    The game has rather simple and functional 3-D renderings of the main Happy Tree Friends characters, but is nicely brash and colourful enough. Each level is similarly quite basic looking but as this is in keeping with the original animations there’s not really much to complain about. The looping tune that plays maniacally in the background as you guide the friends to their goal will drive you loopy so best to kill that off as soon as you can.

    The question is, does the game warrant its price of 800 points? The answer would have to be a firm ‘no’ simply because it becomes all too repetitive far too quickly and with no real pull factor other than perhaps replaying each level in order to nail gold (and pick up achievements a-plenty) there’s not much longevity here either.

    Realistically, if you really wanted to see a bunch of cute little cartoon characters get maimed and blown to bits, you can download the web shorts free (Google Happy Tree Friends and go hunt them down) and you won’t even have to lift a finger to try and save them, just revel in their cel-shaded demise time and time again.

    Score: 4/10

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