Simply put, Hidden Lands – Spot the differences is THE BEST spot-the-differences game you can get at the moment on Steam. On top of that, you get it for the affordable price of… FREE. I’d go as far as to say that the game is too good to not be sold with a price, be it even as low as $2-$3 but I am really happy with Avix Games decision to release it as a free-to-play game, thus allowing more people to experience it.
So what’s so awesome about this game, besides the obviously nice 3D graphics and the masterfully crafted mini-islands? It’s the high replayability value and uniqueness of the levels – these are entirely random-generated, from the biome featured and down to the details of each of the objects. A missing brick here, a tree that has only two layers of leaves instead of three, a well without a bucket, a birdhouse that lost its roof etc – these all will constitute differences that you have to spot. Some of them are quite big and easily noticeable – full objects missing from the scene – while others are very concealed and hard to see, even more so when they’re hidden behind other objects.
It’s pretty difficult to avoid comparing Hidden Lands – Spot the differences to Tiny Lands – a game very similar in mechanics and design, which was released around the same time by a different team. The two games play in the same way: the screen is split in two and you have to find differences between the left and right side; each level is represented by a 3D island that you can rotate to adjust your perspective. While Tiny Lands only consists of 50 levels, in Hidden Lands – Spot the differences there are 78 main levels (“quests”), each composed by several other sub-levels, totaling to hundreds of individual stages. And if you want even more levels, you can also hop onto the “Endless mode” in which stages are infinitely generated, one after another. In Quest mode, each level will grant you a collectible card which unlocks a new item that will be featured further on, while the “Endless mode” allows you to play the game interminably.
A few of the levels in Hidden Lands – Spot the differences have a timer that adjusts according to the complexity of the island. There isn’t a way to disable it, but you can replay a stage as many times as you need until you beat it. The requirements are not very restrictive and I managed to pass most of the timed levels on the first try.
In Tiny Lands, some of the differences come from resizing an object and that was sometimes extremely difficult to see, almost annoying. In Hidden Lands – Spot the differences the differences consist only in parts missing or entire items missing.
One thing that I really liked about the game was the map in “Quest” mode. You start at the center of the map, with only 3 levels unlocked initially, each corresponding to one of the three quest themes (Ancient Egypt, Medieval Times, Japan). When you complete a level, you unlock other levels of the same theme, and these are branched out from the current one. What you get in the end is a tree-like structure for each theme, with the level difficulty depending on the tier / depth of your current node (how far from the center you are). Additionally, the item unlocked by solving a level will be further featured in all its child nodes.
Procedurally generated levels ensure a high replayability value, but they also increase repetitiveness and decrease the surprise element. After solving a few dozen of these levels, you start learning where to look for differences. Sure, there will still be a lot of possibilities but there will rarely be new elements that you haven’t seen before, so ultimately the game turns into keeping a list of “details possibly missing about this item” in your mind and applying it to every object of the scene.
In terms of achievements, you’ll need around 10-12h to go through all the levels in Quest mode. Currently the Endless mode does not have associated achievements, but they might be added at a later date.