Why I Love Hidden Object Adventures

A totally ordinary room

Until my mid 20s I loved doing jigsaw puzzles. It was an act which baffled my sister. She would wander into the living room at Christmas to find me sifting through pieces, sorting them into piles, as Midsomer Murders played on the telly. “It’s a con!” she would yell, hoping to make me see the light. “They took a nice picture, ruined it by chopping it up, and now you’re PAYING THEM to allow you to put it back together WORSE than before.”

She had a point, but I still enjoyed myself. I find fulfilling those kinds of low-pressure mechanical tasks incredibly rewarding. My cat also enjoyed jigsaw puzzle time but only because he liked squeezing into a box he was too fat for and then assuming that me trying to get at the pieces was “stroking and tickle time”.

It’s the same type of pleasure I associate with hidden object games. You know the basic shape of what you’re looking for, there’s the satisfaction of completion and there’s rarely any meaningful penalty for messing up. They’re a little oasis of calm amongst the Dotas and the Heroes of the Storms – games where everything I love about hidden object adventures disappears in a miasma of stress and flexibility.

Hint systems can be rather curious

Some hidden object adventures seek to complicate the genre, adding action sections or extra tasks. I’m okay with the tasks, usually because they’re often an untaxing riff on the sort of puzzles you might find in Professor Layton. Sometimes there’s even a jigsaw puzzle and I’m as happy as a big cat in a tiny cardboard box. Others try to take the genre in directions I do not care for. Detective work and the like.

Mate, I’m here to find unlikely versions of household objects in what seems to be the residence of a compulsive hoarder with a butterfly infestation. I do not have the time or patience to solve your other problems.

Actually, that brings me to another fondness when it comes to hidden object adventures: I really love their odd object vocabulary. Objects are plucked from various historical periods and jammed into the scene. There’s a peculiar mental checklist you develop as you play these games and learn to scan for particular shapes until you find the iteration you’re looking for.

You’ll be asked to find a fan and it will be one of three things:

1. a desk fan from the fifties

2. an ornate wooden fan unfurled into a familiar semicircle

3. a palm fan which looks at first glance like a table tennis paddle

You might then be asked to spot the telephone and that’s generally one of these:

1. a very old desk set where the earpiece hangs next to the voice input

2. the sort of receiver model you might use to phone Batman but with a dial

3. the sort of receiver model you might use to phone Batman but with buttons

In addition to learning these object types, I’ve grown accustomed to oil cans that look more like a cross between a piping bag and a pipette rather than what’s in my actual garage, bizarrely imposing thermometers, hand scythes which are routinely stored in pantries, radios ripped from the counter of a fifties diner…

I like that there’s no attempt to explain the in-game rationale behind these things. It’s because videogames. Of course the furnace room contains an owl and a fork and a staple gun and a metal crow. If it didn’t you wouldn’t be able to tick them off your list.

My fondness doesn’t mean I accept the genre’s shortcoming’s willingly, but I think they might be slightly different to the usual objections. For example, I don’t actually mind silly or overblown point horror or point romance style stories which play out in the background because the object finding element a) sets a tone that’s less than serious anyway and b) is the point of the games for me rather than any narrative. I mean, I love Poirot but I play the Death On The Nile hidden object game because I want to find objects not because of how that particular tale unfolds. I certainly didn’t play the one about finding the crown jewels on the Titanic for plot reasons. I can’t tell you the first thing about the plot of either of the Murder She Wrote hidden object games either.

I'm rather fond of Theatre of the Absurd

The part I do mind is when games try to force you to download yet another proprietary game client, attempting to funnel you towards all manner of advertising and extra payments. Or any of those acts separately, actually. When you know scenes are being recycled already given the amount of times you revisit locations and that not a vast amount has been spent on the writing, the money being asked and the mailing lists and the install requests feel like a disproportionately big ask – an extra investment of personal data or cash or similar. That’s not a universal complaint, just one which crops up from time to time and I feel like that stuff is designed to take advantage of players who are less tech savvy.

With jigsaw puzzles I reached an end point because anything with a picture was too easy. I entered the realms of single colour puzzles with thousands of pieces, or those baked bean puzzles with no picture on the box and no edge pieces. They started taking up too much space and a lot of the pleasure dissipated.

Hidden object adventures are still satisfying because they still manage to wrongfoot me every so often with some bizarre take on a household item or a pen (the fountain pen rather than the quill, obviously) which almost perfectly blends into the edge of a shelf and takes whole minutes to track down. When they don’t I make up my own rules. On easy scenes I go for speed runs or for more measured attempts where the aim is to never miss a beat, clicking a new object from the list every two seconds.

Oh, and in terms of disapproval or bafflement I get that from nearly all of my gaming friends and my partner BUT never my sister. She actually loves hidden object adventures too. I’m going to message her later and see if she wants to play the Titanic one co-operatively. Literally no-one else I know will say yes.

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32 Comments

  1. Dorga says:

    I loved the hidden object books, usually because they all had pictures so stuffed with animals that the kowloon walled city looks more empty than Australia in comparison.

  2. wraithgr says:

    Nice to read from someone who enjoys these games. For me, I get my “tedious task, managed” kicks from light puzzlers like professor Layton or, you know, from doing actual chores…

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      with me it’s Patience (aka Solitare) on my phone. It occupies just enough of my brain to stop me feeling bored or ansty, but I can get some good thinking done at the same time, or give music a proper listen.
      It’s got to the point that when an OS update borked it a few weeks ago I tried pretty much every other solitare app in the store, and when I decided I hated all of them I got a bit depressed.
      It’s ok, it’s working again now (this one for those that are interested).

  3. Premium User Badge

    Skabooga says:

    “Your arm has acquired strange powers. It can now pick up objects from the environment around you!”

  4. thedosbox says:

    The part I do mind is when games try to force you to download yet another proprietary game client, attempting to funnel you towards all manner of advertising and extra payments.

    Huh, I didn’t realize the market for these games was large enough to support quite so many sites that offer said games.

    As an aside, It’ll be interesting to see what happens to my ads now that google has seen me research them.

  5. RogerioFM says:

    I would rather like some title recommendations.

    • godzillasushi says:

      Check out Nightmares from the Deep and the other games made by Artifex Mundi :)

      link to store.steampowered.com

    • GameCat says:

      Drawn: The Painted Tower.

      And yeah, Artifex Mundi is a gold mine for games from this genre.

    • mgardner says:

      My wife and I both enjoyed Yardsale Hidden Treasures.

    • kalirion says:

      +1 for Artifex Mundi games. Of the ones I’ve played, my favorite was Clockwork Tales: Of Glass and Ink.

      Note that AM’s games are HOG/adventure hybrids, and in addition to actual hidden object scenes there are all kinds of puzzles (as mentioned in the article here), as well as basic inventory puzzles (inventory on environment only, no inventory on inventory combinations.) There’s often a lot of backtracking to use that shiny new item you just found to clear away an obstacle or unlock a container or whatnot on a previously visited scene.

    • merbert says:

      Please see my post below!

      It was meant to be in reply to your post!

  6. godzillasushi says:

    I love me some HO games.
    Artifex Mundi is making the best ones IMO

    link to store.steampowered.com.

  7. Asrafil says:

    It is designed that way. I worked for a company that made these games for facebook (actually they were just starting so they had only 2) and the majority of the public were women in the 40-60 range, which, most of them, aren’t exactly tech savvy.
    What I have to admit that surprised me, was the level of seriousness some of these ladies had when playing the game. They were pretty hardcore. I remember one that had made a mathematic calculation to max the influx energy from sharing news with friends and the regen rate to play as much as possible time each day. I wish I could remember the details but it was scary.

    • Asrafil says:

      My quote failed. I was trying to cite this bit:
      “I feel like that stuff is designed to take advantage of players who are less tech savvy. “

  8. Nice Save says:

    I can appreciate a good jigsaw. I can never be bothered at home, but there was a pretty quiet period at work earlier in the year so I challenged myself to complete this one:

    link to jigsawplanet.com

  9. Christo4 says:

    “My cat also enjoyed jigsaw puzzle time but only because he liked squeezing into a box he was too fat for and then assuming that me trying to get at the pieces was “stroking and tickle time”. ”

    That’s one of the cutest things i read in my whole life

    • Ross Angus says:

      I don’t know. I’m having difficulties picturing it. I feel a series of photos is required.

  10. Guy Montag says:

    Truly an under appreciated game genre, for the work that devs are putting in currently. I play at least a few a year just to marvel at how much more user-friendly and polished they get over time.

  11. BluePencil says:

    I played ‘Pickers’ as my first hidden object game about two years ago. Got it in a sale. I’ve played a few more hidden object games since then. I do rather enjoy them. Except for the “Grrrr” moments when the baseball bat you’re trying to find proves to be a stencil of one on a wall rather than the object itself. But I guess I’d get used to such chicanery if I played more often.

  12. mgardner says:

    For those who are not aware, there are subscription sites such as http://www.iwin.com where you can pay a flat monthly fee ($10) to play an unlimited amount of hundreds of these types of games. Not a bad way to get a good sampling, even though you won’t “own” anything when you decide to cancel your subscription.

  13. Scurra says:

    Plus it’s worth remembering that, for all that the “story” is largely irrelevant to this sort of thing, the main character is almost always female (usually around 30 or so, I’d guess) – mostly because the target audience are, as was observed above, females between 30 and 60. (And quite often, the antagonist is female too, especially in the extreme fantasy/fairytale genre.
    It kind of counter-balances all the stuff about games lacking female protagonists – I just think those people are looking in the wrong place; if they look at games targeted at males, then they’ll tend to find lots of men*. I accept that those games are largely the AAA, high-profile titles, but I still reckon they’re more than outweighed by the sheer number of these that are now around.

    *OK, so those games tend to have somewhat absurd portrayals of women, where HO games don’t have quite the same issues with male characters, although the men there are usually depicted as being exceptionally self-obsessed rather than being merely objects of desire or lust.

  14. merbert says:

    The Tiny Bang Story comes highly recommended.

    The settings and animation are beautiful and the puzzles are clever and engaging.

    It’s dirt cheap and will comfortably kill 10-15hrs to get through it all.

    Re-playability will be a blast with your kids / nieces / nephews….and you’ll look even cooler, coz you’ll have worked out most of the answers :p!

    Highly recommended.

    link to colibrigames.com

  15. florus says:

    Been playing these type of games for years now. Especially the Artifex Mundi ones.Nice to see RPS has its share of casual players. I find it’s just a relaxing and easy way to unwind and the stories are often very interesting for the size that they are. Are we going to get (small) reviews on the best ones as well?

  16. Ejia says:

    Would somebody who absolutely despises pixel hunting like these? Because that’s me. I hate having to comb every inch of screen space to find that little dot that is supposed to be an important item.

    • statistx says:

      Yeah, you better stay away from them. It’s basically “Pixel hunting – the game” with most of them

  17. statistx says:

    I absolutely despise them and even more the fact that they are popping up all over steam.
    I am not going to try to change your mind on them, everyone can play what they want, but their coverart and descriptions are often so flashy and since i never heard the title before, i have to click them.
    Now steam has the stupid System that if you leave a list, it usually removes your filter and puts you back on the top of the list and not once i jumped out of a list, cause i clicked one of those games.

    Not to mention that most of them feel like quick cash in by mass producing companies without advanced programming skills.

    • Nice Save says:

      Isn’t that something you can fix by viewing the Steam store in a browser and opening the games in new tabs?

  18. tssk says:

    I used to be in the loathed ’em camp.

    Then a few years ago I became hidously ill, for about a month of recovery I was having problems with fatigue and memory. I’d often fall asleep sitting in front of the computer waking up minutes or hours later.

    These games were a godsend during that period. I had something to keep my mind active while I was awake but I’d suffer no penalties if I dropped off in front of them.

    These games cop a lot of flack but I think they’re perfect for the ill or for those who’ve never used a computer before and want to get used to using a mouse.

    I’m guessing a lot of the hate comes from people that have played with computers for nigh on 20-40 years and may have forgotten just how intimidating they are to begin with.

  19. Amazon_warrior says:

    I played some of the Artifex Mundi HO games recently while staying with friends in London. They’re probably not something I would track down for myself (I got frustrated by the “logic” behind “combine X and Y at arbitrary location Z because LOLREASONS”), but for entertaining squiggly three-year-olds they’re solid gold. :) I was surprised at how hard some of the (non-HO) puzzles were, actually, and I did enjoy those bits.

  20. vorador says:

    Got the Humble Bundle Artifex Mundi a while ago, and still working trough it.

    The story is usually rubbish, and character animations go between serviceable and just terrible, like “using smudge to simulate movement in photoshop” terrible. Some puzzles are repeated between games, and trying to find logic in these games is impossible, so don’t try. Just do as you’re told.

    Still, they’re quite relaxing. And even if you’re not in the mood to think, the developer gives you ways to skip your way trough if you’re stuck, or giving alternate puzzles to the “hunting pixels” screens.

  21. Premium User Badge

    Neurotic says:

    In my capacity as a professional freelance translator, writer and editor, I’ve worked on dozens of HO games (as well as those weird timed puzzles, like Roads of Rome) over the years. I could throw a bunch of darts at the Hidden Object search results at Big Fish Games, for example, and at least half of them would hit games I’ve proofread or written for. Every single one I’ve worked on has been for Russian devs – Gaijin, Meridian 93, Akella and others.

    The translated text that I receive for these games is always highly idiosyncratic. Russian stands apart from all the other Slavic languages, and when you take it into English, the results are always easily identifiable because problems occur which you don’t see in other translations. It’s quite mad.

    The thing with the ambiguity of the nouns used in the object lists has always stood out to me, too. The word choices they make — and this is not just a generational thing, because they tend to be a little crazy from both young and old RU translators — sometimes seem to be based on very outdated, antique English. It’s almost as though they haven’t received any new dictionaries since the end of WW2.