In my house, Sunday mornings are a time for relaxing. There’s no work to go to or school to get the kids ready for. It’s the one chance I really have to get up and immediately chill out with a cup of coffee, some pleasingly soothing distraction, and no commitments. Usually that means I’m reading a book or trying a crossword puzzle, but lately I’ve been spending my downtime poking at an iPad screen trying to find a dirty pitchfork or a flamboyant chef.
Hidden Folks — which launches today on iOS, Steam, and Apple TV — is best described as an interactive Where’s Waldo? but for grown-ups. The premise is the same as those classic children’s books: you’re presented with a complex scene, and the goal is to find specific people or objects within it. And like Where’s Waldo? it can be incredibly challenging. Trying to pick out a particular person in a sea of lookalikes often takes time and careful concentration.
What makes Hidden Folks different is just how playful it is. For one thing, there’s the art style, a charming black-and-white look illustrated by Sylvain Tegroeg. The lack of color may seem a bit strange at first, but it actually encourages you to look closer at the scenes. When the only difference between two characters is a hat or a cane, you quickly learn to notice the small details in order to progress.
The interactive nature of Hidden Folks also means that you’re doing more than just staring at a screen. The game encourages experimentation, coaxing you into exploring its scenes with your fingertip (or mouse) as well as your eyes. In order to find certain characters you’ll need to cut down grass or open a garage door. Other levels require you to knock bananas out of a tree or dig out a tiny hole. Most levels aren’t static, with moving buses, waving villagers, and slithering snakes adding a touch of liveliness. You’re never explicitly told to do anything. Instead the hints that accompany each character you need to find suggest ways you can find them. You might be told a character is “a real business man who stays up to date,” or that a rotting fish is “repelling potential customers.” It’s up to you to suss out the details.
Hidden Folks also does a great job of mixing things up. The meat of the game comes in the form of gigantic, complex scenes with around a dozen items or characters to find. They’re big enough that even playing on an iPad Pro I had to constantly zoom in and out, and pan around to find things. There are also much smaller scenes, like a simple campfire or farm, as well as one-off interactive vignettes. One such level has you helping a villager navigate a perilous path by removing obstacles.
This creates a satisfying flow, so you’re not just doing the same thing — staring at a screen — over and over. Hidden Folks also removes a lot of frustration by not forcing you to find everything before you can move on to the next scene. There are no times in the game, and no punishment if you make a mistake or struggle to find something. Instead, Hidden Folks is laid back and serene, while still challenging enough to make actually finding things feel satisfying. It’s a game you can play for a few minutes or an hour and still feel a sense of gratification. And it’s the perfect companion for that Sunday morning coffee.