reviewed on PC
Nostalgia for a candy striped scarf
For as long as I can remember myself, a major newspaper in my country has been running the same old weekly game for children, called 'The weekly drawing for children'. The game is basically a simple puzzle where an object or a person's face is hidden somewhere in a picture no larger than a couple of inches squared. Needless to say, it wasn't long before I grew old enough to pick out the hiding object within seconds, and pretty much abandoned this short-lived entertainment for more complex and profound things like Sesame Street. But the interest in this kind of puzzle was embedded in me, and it's no surprise that in later years I have always found such puzzles, albeit the more complicated ones, a very enjoyable pastime. Waldo comes fondly to mind.
It was only a couple of weeks ago that I stumbled, completely by accident, upon what I currently consider the best 'find-the-thing' puzzle I have ever encountered, possibly the toughest and most challenging, and what is generally one of the best designed flash games I've seen in a long time. It is actually not just one game, but a whole series of games by a company called Big Fish. The first game is Hidden Expedition Titanic, followed by the Mystery Case File series (Huntsville, Prime Suspects, and Ravenhearst).
Needle in a haystack
The basis of the game is extremely simple to understand. Faced with a two-dimensional scene, the player must hunt for specific items that appear on a shopping list at one side of the screen. They are listed by name, of course, and the player must use his or her visual-cognitive skill to find the items within the main scene. If you've never played a Where is Waldo game, you may exclaim that the task sounds too simple to waste your precious time upon. However, once you view one of these rooms, you'll quickly think otherwise.
Each such room is practically littered with a ton of different items, from big to small, of various colors and shapes, most of which clearly does not belong to the background scene, some in plain sight, others blended and camouflaged cleverly into the scene, and the greater part of these are not even on your shopping list. They are just there to confuse, baffle, and play tricks with your eyes. It takes some time and practice to get used to examining the smaller or more important details while purposefully (and sometimes forcefully) ignoring the irrelevant items, as well as the scenery itself. It is also impossible to tell which items are on your shopping list just by looking at them, because all items seem as though they were carefully arranged to be hard-to-spot. Just because something looks like it's carefully hidden doesn't mean you were meant to discover it. You'll see butterflies camouflaged against the background image, long spears or fishing poles hidden over the sidings of a door, sometimes the item you're looking for is actually a small detail in a picture on the back wall of a room. At first, slowly scanning the picture and paying close attention to each item you manage to discern may be the only way to find the items you're looking for.
To make things much more interesting, each time you play such a room, your shopping list will contain different items, which means you'll also be looking to ignore different items each time around. That green marble you found so quickly last time could now just be part of the scenery and therefore completely useless to you. Alternately, the snake you noticed casually the last time around might now be your last item on the list and you're frantically trying to remember where it was! Items might also partially hide something you may be looking for this time, although items never completely hide other items for reasons of gameplay. One of the greatest things about the design is that once you've found an item after long minutes of eye-straining, the common exclamation would be a big, long 'Oooh...'.
No Pros and Cons at this time