Happy Hills is a physics-based puzzler with a really bizarre premise. Okay, so maybe Angry Birds isn’t exactly high art, but there you’ve got egg-stealing pigs, and birds that attack them. It makes sense, in a weird sort of way. The Happy Hills are rectangular hills who are normally very happy — unless there are Gloom Blocks sitting on their heads, which gets them down. Your job is to free these hills of their depressing burdens, and you get bonus points if you can destroy the blocks in the process.
Here’s how it works: on each level, there are hills with blocks on them (you can see the ones that have sad faces). You get a specified number of bombs, and you place them by putting your finger on the screen and then letting go. The closer to the block, the further the block will be pushed. Your first goal is to make all the hills happy within the specified number of bombs. But the blocks can also be destroyed, depending on the type of block: wood blocks can be burned, stone blocks sink in the water or will shatter if bombed enough times. Destroy all the blocks, and you’ll get a star for the level — and getting stars unlocks additional levels in the “!” zone of each world.
It’s pretty fascinating the way the different blocks interact with each other. There are also metal blocks which don’t burn, but if they touch fire then they get red-hot and can be used to set other things on fire, unless they land in the water, where they sink. There are balloon blocks which float up temporarily when they’re heated. The latest update, released today, adds the new Arctic World, with ice blocks. These are a whole new creature, causing blocks to freeze into ice, which changes some of their properties, and the levels are cleverly designed to make use of the interactions.
You can also, as an in-app purchase, get “Happy Bombs.” These actually increase the number of bombs you’ll get per level permanently. It’s a big cheat, really, because some of the levels are designed to take exactly the number of bombs they give you, and this lets you throw in extras. It’d be nice to have some indicator of whether or not you’ve solved the puzzle using the provided bombs, or if you used Happy Bombs in addition.
I got a sneak peek at the latest update, and played through all the levels in a couple of days. I really enjoyed it, but with a couple caveats. The app is very cute and colorful, and the graphics are great: the hills and blocks are all animated and their expressions are fun to watch. There’s a very cheerful soundtrack that sounds like it could go in the background of a happy kids’ TV show (you can shut it off if you’re not in the mood). Between the graphics and the tune, it’s almost easy to forget that you’re setting off bombs and destroying blocks … and that’s where the death animations come in. There’s definitely some twisted humor here: the wood blocks burn for a while, twitching, until they turn to ash and disappear. Stone and metal blocks drown in the water, bubbles rising out of their mouths. If they paired this with a horror movie soundtrack suddenly you’d be watching a snuff film.
I mean, what’s with these hills anyway? Why do they care so much about having a block or two sitting on them? They’re hills, right?
Two other things I’m not extremely fond of: the app still has a bit of loading time, like when you’re switching levels or restarting a current level. Also, on the level selection menu, tapping one of the levels brings up a screen showing the number of stars you’ve gotten and the number of bombs you get. Plus there’s a thumbnail … sort of. There’s a little image next to it that kind of looks like a level thumbnail, but really it’s just a generic image of some happy hills that shows you which World you’re in: green hills, desert, or arctic. It seems kind of strange that they couldn’t have a small image of the level there, which would certainly help when you’re trying to track down a particular level to play.
Overall, Happy Hills is a pretty nice physics puzzler if you like those. The look and feel is polished despite a few interface issues, and the levels are designed well to provide a good challenge (if you don’t cheat). The price is $.99 for the first world (48 levels) and then an additional $.99 for each of the other worlds. (My understanding is that when you buy the app you do get a few preview levels of the other worlds, too, so you can see what you’d be getting.)
The app runs on iPhones, iPod Touch, and iPad, although it will not run on 1st and 2nd-generation iPhones and iPod touches.
Wired: Great physics-based play, with crisp graphics and funny (morbid) animations.
Tired: App loading times are a bit slow; no thumbnails in level selection screens.
Disclosure: GeekDad received a review copy of this app.