‘Hidden Folks’ Is a Huffing, Puffing, Handcrafted Take On ‘Where’s Waldo’

This pleasant puzzler doesn’t put the player under any pressure. So just take your time, and poke away.

Feb 15 2017, 5:00pm

For the past couple of days, I've been taking my breakfast with a bunch of hidden folks. I hear them, sometimes, sneakily creeping behind hay bales and shuffling up tree trunks. Some zip themselves inside tents, while others chase butterflies in the tall grass. Some of them aren't folks at all—there are snakes here, spiders and tortoises and, every so often, monsters.

Hidden Folks is a new game for iOS, also available on Steam and Apple TV (with Android to follow), which takes the Where's Waldo principle of discovering needles in haystacks (sometimes fairly literally), presenting sprawling black and white screens populated by all manner of busy life. You prod at it with your finger, on iOS at least—I've had my iPad beside me as I've noshed down my muesli—ticking off a set number of "targets" per stage. Get enough, and you can proceed to the next screen of highly detailed and delightfully drawn fauna and flora.

What sets this game apart from other find-all-this-hidden-stuff puzzlers is its handcrafted feel. Made by a pair of Dutchmen, Adriaan de Jongh and Sylvain Tegroeg, every piece of art in Hidden Folks is drawn on paper (by Tegroeg) before being scanned in and layered (by de Jongh), so as to create multiple layers of animation in each screen.

Above: 'Hidden Folks' release trailer

More impressively—and, perhaps, annoyingly, if the cuteness of it doesn't click with you—every noise in the game is made by the two developers, from the rush of the wind as you swipe from one side of the area to the other, through a host of animal and mechanical sounds and the dripping and flowing of water. There are bloops and plops and hisses and gulps, and it's all just a bit aww. (But it's a Pingu-like aww, which I know will drive some people right up the wall.)

Many touches will trigger a reaction of some kind—tap a camper van and its door will swing open; poke at an "X" marking a spot and you'll dig into it, revealing who knows what. A crocodile might spit out its lunch if you tickle its back, something that's really not recommended IRL. Plenty of what moves, shakes, rumbles and trickles in every does nothing to progress the game, but that's not the point; it's just fun to mess about, to see what will get a reaction.

'Hidden Folks' screenshots courtesy of Adriaan de Jongh.

A rope swing, sure, obviously—it swings, with the branch above creaking like only a branch voiced by a young Dutchman can. Sticking your forefinger into the opening of a rabbit hole might usually result in a nibble at best, a lost digit at worst; but here, it'll flush out the furry critters, and you'll want to keep your eyes out for the black one. He's on the list.

There's no scoring, no against-the-clock pressure to contend with. Hidden Folks is just a lovely little plaything, something to have beside you as you're doing something else, like scoffing a bowl of cereal, as much as it is a crossword-replacing coffee-break pursuit. It has no deeper meaning. It tells no real story. It's just nice, you know? And that's all you need, when you need it.

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