I hear the kids are really into those Hidden Object Games these days. Before all of these newfangled smartphones and twitter machines, we had to go to the store and purchase actual books about the adventures of a guy named Waldo, who apparently lived in a world that contained a disproportionate number of barber shop poles and people that looked and dressed exactly like him. If created in the modern era, we’d rightfully examine Waldo’s deep personal struggle with his sense of identity and place in the world. Back then we simply used him as an excuse to look at picture books under the guise of doing something mildly educational.
They were good fun, and as an amateur artist, I now more than ever appreciate the tremendous amount of effort that went into every double-page spread, always chock full of clever red herrings and sight gags. When I think about it, those books actually kind of formulated the way I critique most media now, a sucker for any subtle details slipped into the background of a work. It’s the kind of thing I try to capture in my own work, though obviously never to the same scale.
Where’s Waldo for the NES looks and feels like a contractual obligation dropped on one guy with a six hour deadline, and said guy in question only had a passing familiarity with the title character. I suppose this is the best that could have been done with the scenario, as creating a game intended for the “don’t want to bother turning pages” demographic was likely doomed from the start, especially when trying to keep in mind the graphical limitations of the system. Instead of intricately detailed hand-drawn art, you’re asked to search through a mass of tiny pixels that have essentially been copied, pasted, recolored, then vomited onto the screen. It is easily one of, if not the ugliest game the NES has to offer, which would be forgivable if a Waldo experience relied on anything other than visual splendor.
The actual searching portion doesn’t take particularly long, even when the game screws up and makes Waldo a different color for some reason. Employing a general “I think that mess of pixels is wearing a hat” strategy is usually enough to advance. Where things get weird is when the game tries to mix things up by offering nebulously defined mini-games that involve walking around in a dark forest or navigating a series of subway tunnels with that wizard character that I can never remember the name of.
Sadly, the game doesn’t climax in a rooftop fight with Odlaw, instead Waldo’s end goal is to eventually get to the moon, probably because he’s got major social anxiety and can’t seem to get away from large groups of people. I feel ya, man. I really do.
Don’t play this game.