There are games so prominent that they create their own subgenre on arrival. A perfect example is Dark Souls, which gave rise to the “Soulslike” term used on all manner of hardcore RPGs. Similarly, regardless of the creator’s shortcomings, Five Nights at Freddy’s spawned its own subgenre of horror punctuated by cutesy mascots that hide a deeper, more diabolic intent. Not only that, but these types of games often place you in a mundane setting, like a restaurant or fast food joint.
Welcome to the latest entry in this subgenre of horror: Happy’s Humble Burger Farm. This title combines restaurant management with a wider setting that seems to hide something sinister beneath its surface. Does this unique combination produce delicious horror, or is this burger undercooked? Let’s find out.
A Solid Cooking Game Wrapped in an Insatiable Mystery
When I first booted up Happy’s Humble Burger Farm, I thought I knew what to expect. I figured I would be confined to the titular restaurant and would be subjected to jump scares while making sure some exhausted and hungry customer gets their burger and fries (or possibly salmon nuggets, which I didn’t know were a thing).
Instead, Happy’s Humble Burger Farm (HHBF?) immediately opens with something unexpected, tossing you into your apartment and into the wider environment of New Elysian City. From the onset, the game has this aura of mystery about the town you’re in and the nature of your place within it that I found irresistible.
Whether it’s the locked doors in your apartment building that possess keypads, the fever-dream content that plays on your television, or the buildings that loom just outside your reach as you walk through the city streets at night on your way to a shift, everything in Happy’s Humble Burger Farm seems to belie a deeper mystery, and as you progress, you’ll find that these instincts are correct.
A brochure menu that you can pull up at will gives you some basic information on the cooking mechanics, and quick tutorial brings you up to speed when you first arrive at the restaurant, but things like being able to pick up multiple ingredients and distribute them across the grill or onto a bun weren’t immediately apparent to me.
Part of that comes down to how things in the world are presented. While I loved the in-game representation of mechanics and story, stylized on colorful backgrounds and featuring the mascots that you’ll soon content with as the game goes on, without any kind of text or zoom option, it was very difficult to read items I found in the world or messages written in my brochure menu.
I imagine this would be easier on a monitor, but I was sitting on a couch in front of a 65-inch TV, so the readability here was an issue for me, doubly so because you need to read a lot of things to gather story elements and when using the game’s vending machines to buy collectibles or healing items. There’s also no subtitles option in the in-game menus, which would have been nice for spoken dialogue.
Beyond this, the controllers were never quite as accurate as I would like on a controller. There is an option for controller sensitivity, but it never felt quite right for some of the more obscure actions like picking up a pickle or hitting a button on a vending machine. Having to line up the cursor with the object while in a panic just made the control issues stand out more for me. I imagine the experience is a fair bit easier on mouse and keyboard setups.
Those issues aside, the actual cooking mechanic in Happy’s Humble Burger Farm is quite good! It’s not incredibly deep, but as you work a few shifts you’ll get new tasks like making drinks, shakes, fries, and nuggets or cookies and pies, in addition to your standard burger, chicken sandwich, or pork sandwich duties.
Running around the back of the restaurant as your chief cook sits there doing nothing is quite fun and makes me wish there was some local co-op to assist with the orders. Juggling multiple items gets pretty hectic, but the only things that can actually burn are your sandwiches, thankfully.
During your shifts, random events like shadowy figures will complicate your job by shutting off lights or turning off your appliances. Further wrinkles like deliveries or other tasks can emerge as well, all of which can lead to “infractions” if you take took long to complete an order.
While the random events certainly caught me off-guard, it was the fear of what would happen if I let too much “infractions” build up during a shift. Let’s just say that doing so will show you the darker side of one of the restaurant’s mascots, forcing you to satiate her hunger if you want to survive the night.
All of this is wrapped in the aforementioned city environement, which slowly opens up as you progress through shifts. You’ll find hidden tokens to upgrade your restaurant, collectibles, and new environments to explore, allowing you to dig deeper into the overarching mystery.
This is also when boss fights become a part of the gameplay. I won’t spoil the mechanics of these, but the first one for example does involve managing the cooking mechanics while also dodging non-stop exploding enemies. It’s frantic and a little frustrating when things like explosions clip through walls, damaging you despite being away from them.
You can stock up on healing items for these encounters, but during these frantic moments, I found myself fighting with the controllers or odd things like the aforementioned explosions clipping through walls. In the first boss fight, I also would constantly lose cooking food due to projectiles knocking it off the grill, which was infuriating to say the least.
Even so, each of these milestones peels off another layer of the mystery, and what a mystery it is! If Happy’s Humble Burger Farm was just a cooking game with horror elements, or just an exploration title across the city, it would be fine but nothing special. Combining the two mechanics into one experience, however, elevates this above other similar horror titles for me in a big way.
Retro Presentation Provides an Atmosphere Thicker Than a Milkshake
The entire presentation and music of Happy’s Humble Burger Farm screams classic PlayStation. Despite being in first-person, walking the city at night gave me certain Silent Hill vibes, as if something would jump out at me any moment. The chunky pixel style also gives everything this grime-covered look that I really enjoyed.
The music is appropriately tense and upbeat during boss encounters, leading to a presentation that smartly leverages a retro style without losing its own identity in the process. I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I started playing Happy’s Humble Burger Farm, but I am very glad I had the chance to check it out.
Fans of horror, cooking games, and especially both, should give this one a shot.
Final Score: 8.0/10
Article by – Bradley Ramsey
Insert date – 12/07/2021