Review: Tiny Lands

Tiny Lands, at its core, is a simple spot the difference game like any other. You’re given two nearly identical images side by side, the task being to examine both images and pick out elements that are ever so slightly different from the other. An object on one side of the image might be a different color, larger or smaller in size, in a reversed or altered orientation, or rotated at a different angle compared to its counterpart on the opposite side of the screen. It’s your job to find these hidden-in-plain-sight anomalies and click on them. That’s it. Think of it as a variation to a hidden object hunt, except you’re hunting for unknown objects that have been changed in some way rather than searching for specified items given to you on a checklist.

Where Tiny Lands deviates from tradition with resounding success is in its use of three-dimensional scenes instead of the typical two-dimensional pictures we’re accustomed to. Each level is presented as a diorama, a tiny play thing to rotate and look upon with childlike glee. Presentation is indeed one of the main reasons this game is so enjoyable. The low-poly models, pleasing color palette, and diminutive scale to the imagery is just so damn charming.

Small though they may be, each diorama is crammed with so many fun little details that it’s easy to get caught up in just admiring the scenery, like peering into a snow globe to see what wonders are hidden inside. The game offers a wide range of visual themes too, from various scenes of nature to things like a Zen garden, koi pond, ski resort, family campout, day at the beach, magician’s potion workshop, lighthouse, and even more event-like scenes such as a giant octopus attacking a ship full of gold-filled treasure chests, and an epic battle of knights and wizards against an army of skeletons and ogres.

Even though the scenes themselves are static the way they are staged and lit somehow still manages to evoke a sense of life and movement. This is aided further by ambient effects, both aural and visual, such as weather (rain, snow, lightning flashes, etc), falling leaves and flower petals, smoking fires, and fireflies fading and reappearing across the screen. Chirping birds, lapping waves, cracking thunder, gusting winds, and other sounds complement a deeply soothing piano score, so you’re basically listening to a white noise machine the entire time you’re playing.

Tiny Lands consists of five unique world themes. Each world contains 10 levels, and each level has five hidden differences to spot. Progress from one world to the next is gated somewhat by collectible stars as a unit of currency. Each difference spotted rewards you with a star (so that equates to five stars per level), and you need to accrue enough stars to unlock the next world. Thankfully the number of stars required to unlock additional worlds never feels restrictive.

Progress on a level by level basis is not saved though. You keep the stars earned for any differences that have been spotted, but any time you exit a level the next time you come back to that puzzle you will have to start from scratch. The differences don’t change so you should be able to re-find them easily enough if you have a good memory, but it still would be nice to have an option for previously spotted objects to stay highlighted when you leave and return to an incomplete puzzle so you know where you left off.

As far as controls are concerned, the game couldn’t be any easier to play one handed with the mouse, left clicking to select differences, holding the right click and dragging to rotate the camera, and rolling the scroll wheel to zoom in and out. WASD on the keyboard can also be used for the camera manipulation, if preferred. The only thing you can’t do is pan the camera. The camera is fixed to the center of the scene, which means there’s no way to pan around and zoom in wherever you want. This isn’t a huge deal since the scale of the dioramas is small, but occasionally areas of a particular scene can be trickier to spot than necessary simply because you can’t fully move the camera to offer a clear viewpoint.

The good news is that I’ve been told by the developer that a camera pan function is being considered for an upcoming update, so hopefully that comes to fruition. Another suggestion I would offer would be to nix the HUD indicator in the bottom right corner of the screen that keeps track of how many differences have been found, because it tends to obscure the view when the camera is zoomed in or you’re trying to examine the edges of a diorama.

Depending on your spot-the-difference proficiency, Tiny Lands should keep you busy for at least a few hours. A fair and relaxing difficulty curve keeps the pace moving along, and the fact that each puzzle only contains five differences prevents any given level from turning into a grind. Certainly you’ll encounter some differences that are tricky to find, but the game never tries to stump you to the point of frustration, worry you with time limits, saddle you with rules, or exact any form of punishment. Tiny Lands is a game that wants you to relax and have fun exploring the nooks and crannies of its many cute dioramas, a job it does exceedingly well. I can only hope for more levels to be added in the future, because Tiny Lands is a miniature puzzle world I never want to leave.

BuyIt

Game Info:
Platform: PC (a Nintendo Switch version is coming later)
Publisher: Maple Whispering Limited
Developer: Hyper Three Studio
Release Date: 1/22/2021
Genre: Puzzle
ESRB Rating: E
Players: 1

Source: A free Steam key for Tiny Lands was provided to VGBlogger for review consideration by Hyper Three Studio.

Buy From: Steam for $6.99.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!