HIDDEN FOLKS Review
The best things are often the simplest ones. It’s the kind of design logic that has long driven Apple products and Apple software, and it’s a not-so-secret mantra of most of the independent games that are published on Apple’s App Store. Well-considered design can be the difference between getting featured on the front page or not. Getting a million downloads or not. It’s often make or break. The App Store frontier is no longer full of promise; there are no guaranteed successes, with proportionally fewer true gems in an ever-growing field of shovelware and thoughtlessly licensed clones. When a game is designed well, in a way that is charming, playful, and hearkens back to the old days of the App Store and games, it means something. HIDDEN FOLKS is one such game.
When it comes down to it, this multi-platform game designed by Adriaan De Jongh and Sylvain Tegroeg is very simple. It’s a beautifully animated image hunt game. A sort of Where’s Waldo or Eye Spy for adults with discerning taste, or all people who enjoy something cute and thoughtful. Players are presented with wide swaths of black and white imagery in a variety of settings. A farm, a jungle, a bustling city; each is full of life and full of people and animals, the titular Hidden Folks that need to be found. From there, players can select the individual “folk” from a bottom row of icons to receive an audio sample and a simple clue to help them parse where the “folk” could be. When they tap the right person, they disappear from the bottom row and the next clue and sample are played. Like a traditional, book-based image hunt, these searches can be completed in any order and not everything needs to be found to advance to the next image. But the wonder of HIDDEN FOLKS is that often, even when you’ve found enough to advance, you stick around to find everyone else. This isn’t because HIDDEN FOLKS inspires some kind of completionist mentality, or that finding absolutely everything unlocks secrets or extra levels. Really, you stick around because each HIDDEN FOLKS level is a genuinely relaxing place to spend some time.
Imagine if everything you’re searching for in life was neatly contained in a nice bar
Playing HIDDEN FOLKS on iPad (my chosen platform for review) inspires a sort of zen-like state. It’s low-stakes enough to never be stressful or incredibly frustrating, and beautiful enough to inspire a simple joy. Contained on the iPad, it feels a bit like those old Eye Spy books. A more tactile, self-contained source of entertainment. It’s like a breath of fresh air from the more traditional, stressful, or repetitive actions you complete day-to-day on your phone or tablet. It’s a nice break and a game that, unlike the free-to-play titles that dominate most app stores, doesn’t require constant input.
The secret to HIDDEN FOLKS charm lies squarely in its two creators. Every single image in HIDDEN FOLKS is hand-drawn, scanned, and animated by Sylvain Teroeg. The game is programmed by Adriaan De Jongh and no one else. They are a true two man team and the handcrafted nature of their work shines through. Whether it’s in the visual presentation or audio design (all of the sounds in HIDDEN FOLKS are created by the two creators’ mouths) everything is unique and there for a reason.
Nothing is crazy or novel about this formula, but it is done well, and that is something that should be acknowledged. The App Store is full of thousands of half-assed games and cash grabs. Things that are meant to be purchased on accident; basically a sea of white noise in an ocean that used to be clear and defined. Finding the good in the cruft is its own far less entertaining game of Eye Spy. The only way to cut through that noise and rise above is by being both specific and thorough. HIDDEN FOLKS is just that.
Exhibit #1: Incredibly detailed drawing to be turned into cute game
HIDDEN FOLKS is part of a rare group on the App Store. It’s up there with the likes of MONUMENT VALLEY, ALTO’S ADVENTURE, or THREES for being a game that is not only beautifully designed, but also nice to play. It’s a good group to be a part of, and with the promise of more levels for the last two sections of the game, along with further sections and expansions in the future, HIDDEN FOLKS should only increase in quality and value over time. Like a fine wine, a beautiful black-and-white wine, seasoned with man-mouth noises and lots of ink drawings.
Reviewed on mobile, also available on PC.