John has already reviewed Hidden Folks [official site], an exquisitely illustrated game that is like an animated Where’s Wally? book. He used the term “Wimmelbilderbuch” in the review and I like looking at those letters in that order, and I like trying to say the word even more. As a game Hidden Folks is a lot like that word – just poking at it and looking at the screen makes me happier, and I hope I can enjoy its company forever.
Importantly, it looks incredible. I think it’s important that the drawings, though intricate and detailed, look like they could be sketched in the back of an exercise book. Hidden Folks reaches right back to my childhood, when I’d draw similar scenes, though nowhere near as competently, when a teacher or subject had become boring. I have no technical knowledge when it comes to visual arts, and I’m not even very good at doodling, but I loved creating characters and scenes. It was a way to tell stories quickly and in a way that I found unpredictable.
If I start writing a sentence I have a pretty good idea of where it’s going to end, and the same goes for a paragraph or a short story, but with a drawing, anything could happen. My lack of ability might have made things more exciting because the figure I drew standing in a window might end up looking ominous, unintentionally, and then the page became a horror story rather than a street scene. Art, when you’re as clumsy with a pen or pencil as I am, is accidental, and that’s kind of exciting.
Hidden Folks doesn’t seem accidental at all, but its scenes are so busy and lively that they do feel like a series of smaller drawings that have coalesced into something larger. I haven’t even finished the first set of drawings yet – set among trees and rivers packed with snakes, monkeys and birds – but I’m already happy to have spent just over a fiver on the game. From what I’ve read, it won’t take me long to see and find everything, but there’s more to come in a few months, and the whole time I’ve been playing has been absolutely delightful. There’s a word I don’t use very much, writing about my grand strategy games and Resident Evils. I wish there were more delightful things in my life.
Part of the joy is in playing something that feels so crafted. Even games made by a solo developer or small team often feel thoroughly processed, the code and the engine and the plugins and the screen all placing barriers between me and the creators. Hidden Folks feels a bit like buying a book though, or having a sheet of paper passed across the room. It’s about as close to being an object as a game has ever felt to me.
That’s probably partly because it does bring about nostalgic memories of Where’s Wally? books. I only ever owned one, bought in an airport when I was a tiny child who needed distractions before a flight so as not to be a complete pain in everyone’s earholes. It’s one of my earliest memories of a book and I thought it was the most magical thing, and spent most of the holiday glued to it, not particularly trying to ‘win’ by finding Wally (though I was always happy when I spotted him), but just amazed by how many stories each page contained.
I wonder if Where’s Wally? books still have appeal now that I’m more likely to see kids playing on tablets when they’re trapped on a train or plane. Would the lack of animations and the redundancy of tapping on the page make the pictures seem inelegant? I don’t think so. But Hidden Folks adds in all these silly sound effects, all made by a person’s mouth mimicking various things, and jolly little animations. It’s splendid and consider this a second thumbs-up after John’s initial praise.
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