When the first Where’s Waldo? book was published I was already in high school failing to impress the ladies with tales of my 7th level paladin, Sir Loinofbeef. Yes, even at 16 I was confused why girls weren’t impressed by the wit of a Bugs Bunny cartoon from 1949. Anyway, I was a bit on the old side for “hidden object” books that seem to still be a thing 30 years after the bespectacled barber pole made his first appearance.
Hidden Folks is basically a Where’s Waldo? for the digital age. Each screen is loaded with a mind boggling horde of stuff, and you’re tasked with finding a needle in the figurative haystack. Sounds terrible, I know, but for some reason it isn’t. In fact, it’s a rather wonderful way to spend an afternoon.
Unlike the Where’s Waldo? and other hidden item books I’ve seen, Hidden Folks is a more subdued black and white and looks closer to something I would have sketched using only a Bic and my imagination during social studies in 7th grade. What really differentiates Hidden Folks from its printed ancestors is that the developer, Adriaan de Jongh, hasn’t forgotten that they’re working with a digital medium. As such, the pictures aren’t static. Creatures move along predetermined paths, critters hide in trees or behind bushes, and items you’re looking for aren’t always out in the open. It kind of changes everything.
First of all, the images are just more fun. You can watch a rather wacky and filled-to-the-brim world in action, and interact with it here and there as well. Chop down bushes to see what’s hiding behind, remove tall grass, tap a crocodile. Birds will fly away as trees are explored and that one monkey you’re looking for will come dropping out from behind a branch as you poke and prod each scene.
More importantly than the aesthetic advantages of a moving scene are the new options this afford for hiding. Like the monkey I mentioned above, some of your quarry will hide behind trees or bushes but the more clever ones will be in plain sight, but not. For example, in an early stage a bird can only be found by realizing that it might have earlier become a snake’s dinner.
I should probably have marked that as a spoiler, but actually that’s the one problem I have with Hidden Folks. The game pretty much tells you where to find stuff. The hint system is far too easy to access and you’ll find yourself getting clues on items’ whereabouts without really wanting them. I’ve been trying to not read them as they pop up, but having the hints hidden behind a wall instead of easily accessed on the main page would have been welcome. Also, every item you’re searching for is available when you get to a new scenario. I would have preferred one item “findable” at a time, with items not currently in your list remaining “untouchable”. With the world being so interactive, you’ll find that you stumble across items you didn’t know you were looking for as you tap here and there just to see what happens. The game is already on the shorter side, so it would be nice to not stumble on items you didn’t even know you were looking for, which speeds up the game even more.
Hidden Folks isn’t the greatest game ever, and it certainly isn’t something that I’ll be playing every day. It is, however, a wonderful diversion when you want a quiet, relaxing experience or just want to kill a little time. If you have kids, it’s a no-brainer. They’ll eat it up and ask for more and, best of all, you won’t mind sitting down and playing along.