Wot I Think: Under Leaves

Sometimes tiny is just enough. Isn’t that a lovely thought? But more often it’s not quite enough, because it’s tiny. Under Leaves [official site] is a very pretty, very tiny little hidden objects game, and it’s not quite enough.

“Hidden Object” now more likely suggests a weird mutant point-and-click adventure about a female cop battling the ghost of a pirate by tracing the lost daughter of a famous author, while intermittently trying to find three wrenches and a snow globe in a cluttered garage. But as the genre title becomes increasingly meaningless, it makes it a little difficult to describe games that are more purist in their approach. Under Leaves is far closer to the puzzle book style of asking you to spot a particular shape scattered throughout a scene.

And what lovely scenes. Each level is set across multiple screens, one in woodlands, one in the Savannah, another under the sea, then icy wastes and of course, the jungle. There are 20 levels spread across these five biomes, each with an animal asking you to find between 7 and 13 of a shape. It might be acorns, a particular flower, a bundle of slugs, and each is hidden in the busy backgrounds across a collection of screens. Click on them, get the lot, move on to the next level. And that very much is it.

The process is perfectly sweet. The drawings for the puzzles are very pretty, and poring over them to find the tiny details is a calm and gentle experience. Get stuck and there’s the ideal hint system: a bloody sliding tile puzzle before it’ll find it for you. No one in their right mind likes sliding tile puzzles, so that’s a great incentive to never actually use it, and the perfect punishment for having intended to cheat. And then you’re done. And that’s it.

The whole game can be completed easily in an hour, and there’s no real push to encourage you to play again. Oddly, for a game that seems like it could so easily offer variants on its levels, there’s none – you can do the levels over again, but the same things are hidden in the same place. No difficulty options are included, so there’s also not the chance to try a trickier version of what came before. It’s just there then gone.

The same is true of the recent Hidden Folks. Although perhaps three times longer, and more if you’re meticulous about finding every last hidden person or object in that, it too is a one-and-done game. But Hidden Folks has so much more going on. Each scene is a lively animated world of detail, so much to see and click on. That just isn’t the case here – errant clicks gain no results, even when clicking on the animated animals that occasionally pop up. It just doesn’t have quite enough going on to feel fulfilling.

Under Leaves either needed a lot more to do in a level, or a lot more levels, to feel substantial. As it is this plays out like a demo, over just in time for you to be ready to get to the meat of it. However, that’s somewhat counterbalanced by the low price tag of £4 (currently discounted by another 15%). Perhaps an hour or so is enough for you at that price, and it’s a perfectly passable hour. I just wish it had been something more, whether that’s more to do per level, more levels, or just more happening as you do it.

Under Leave is out now for Windows, Mac and Linux via Steam for £4/$5/€5.

1 Comment

  1. Mr Underhill says:

    I rarely comment just to highlight particularly good turns of phrase, but that is by far the best description of hidden object games ever put to pixels. Nice.