Where’s Waldo? The Fantastic Journey Review

Before discussing the game, we feel that we must raise the following question: What if Waldo doesn’t want to be found? Here’s a man who does more globe-trotting than Jason Bourne, who seeks out and inserts himself into large crowds, and who hovers near anything even remotely matching the pattern of his shirt. Wouldn’t we be better people if we just left the man alone?

Of course that’s impossible, because Waldo has been a part of our lives since childhood, and every carefully-laid line in the artwork by Martin Handford makes us smile and remember times past. The new game includes 12 massive, exquisitely detailed stages, and viewing them on your iDevice screen presents less of a problem than you might fear. To view the whole picture you’ll do a lot of dragging, but you won’t often have to search the entire image. When the game starts asking you to find items smaller than the characters of Waldo, Wenda, and Wizard Whitebeard, it helpfully limits your view to a smaller area.

Zaniness in the Waldoverse.

The art is not only noteworthy for its size, but also for the stories packed into its details. In each of these stages, a hundred small actions are playing out before your eyes, infusing the landscape with comic life. People are being kissed, chased, smacked, and photographed. They’re falling, cringing, shrugging, and wailing. Characters from other scenes in the game are hidden in each one. And, best of all, parts of the images are animated. A man tips his hat while a woman waves. A stream of people walk up a dead-end staircase and fall off the top. It doesn’t sound like much, but after years of looking at totally static images of Waldo’s travels, these tidbits of animation add unexpected depth to the images.

Just like in the books, the basic gameplay consists of finding a series of tiny images within each large scene. As you struggle to locate what you’re looking for, a timer bar counts down, starting at five stars and dwindling toward none the longer you look. Each time you locate an item and tap it, one star’s worth of time is added back to the bar. In order to move on to the next mission, you must end the stage with at least three stars.

This is where we ran into a problem with the game. Part of the appeal of the books was that there was no time limit. You and your family or friends could pore over the pages for as long as you wanted, pointing out funny details of the scene with no negative consequences. Idling in the game, on the other hand, results in a do-over. Completing the stage a second time is easier, since you know where most of the things are, but the setback seems unnecessary.

There he is!

Another issue is that the viewing area is limited not only by the size of the screen, but also by the size of the dashboard bar at the bottom. The bar is a necessary component, but it takes up more space than it has to and encroaches on the precious viewing space.

But overall, this is classic Waldo stuff, and it comes at a fraction of the price of the books. The gameplay even has some added dynamic effects to suit the new medium. For instance, the mustached villain Odlaw (Waldo backwards!) will sometimes interfere with your searches by flipping the image or spilling paint on it to hamper your progress. A minigame that asks you to tap falling stars kicks in occasionally, adding to your timer bar. And Woof the dog offers a limited number of hints, should you need them.

Waldo, we hear you, and we get it. You want to be left alone. Hey, sometimes we need our space, too. But if you really want to escape being stalked by the masses, then don’t make looking for you so much fun.

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