Piecing it Together
Over the past decade the prevailing school of thought in video game development has been bigger equals better. Bigger open worlds to explore. Higher fidelity graphics to push consoles and PCs to their limits. Ambitious, complex narratives that span dozens of hours. These have all become standards within mainstream game development. Every so often, an indie developer comes along and eschews these conventions to create a game that is wholly unique. These are the developers that push the medium forward and force the rest of the industry to innovate. Sometimes, like with Hidden Lands, the concept is so simple but executed so well, that it feels like something entirely new.
Finding A Niche
Hidden Lands is a spot the difference game, common staples of dive-bar touchscreen games and Highlights magazines. Even the most well-designed games in the genre can only push the medium so far in terms of gameplay. Moreover, they serve primarily as a distraction from more engaging titles.
Embracing the limitations of the medium, Hidden Lands shines as a simple but wholly enjoyable experience. Each stage has the player rotating two identical islands, searching for the differences between them. Sometimes the differences are obvious, like large trees or rock features. Other times, the differences are maddeningly small, like a missing patch of grass or a hidden rabbit. Players can zoom in and out to inspect each minute detail of each island.
If players remain stumped the game offers a limited number of hints. These take the form of a floating orb of light that circles the area of a missing difference. This allows players to retain the satisfaction of completing levels while ensuring they don’t remain stuck on any level too long. The balance of difficulty and satisfying gameplay creates an almost Zen-like feeling in the player, aided by the stunning visuals.
Searching for Perfection
Developer AVIX decided on voxel landscapes with distinct themes to populate the game. Think Crossy Road crossed with Monument Valley. There are three branches that players can choose from, each with a unique theme: Japan, Europe, and Midwest Americana. Each location accurately conveys the theme and changes enough to keep gameplay interesting, while being visually striking and immersive. Gameplay and visual elements culminate to create a fun and easy gameplay experience
Hidden Lands is not the most exciting game you’ll play. It’s not a game that will take you on a detailed journey through a fully realized world. But it accomplishes everything it sets out to do and then some. It serves less as a game and more as a moment of meditation. Although I was not enthralled by an epic story, I was nonetheless entranced by the world it created. In that respect, I cannot recommend this game enough. It certainly isn’t for everyone, but I would highly encourage everyone to at least try it. In times of increasing anxiety and uncertainty, Hidden Lands is just the game that many of us need right now.
Is It Hardcore?
Hidden Lands offers a sojourn from the everyday. Providing a virtual Zen garden for players to escape into, it shines as an example of what spot the difference games can achieve. It won’t be for everyone, but everyone should at least give this game a try.