Review: Where’s Waldo?: The Fantastic Journey

WW-DS.jpg My criteria for determining the value proposition of a game like Where’s Waldo?: The Fantastic Journey (this review only covers the DS version, but the game is also available for PC and Wii) is very simple. Basically, I ask myself how well the developers adapted the popular search-and-find puzzle books to video game form and if there is any particular feature with the game that makes it worth playing over the actual books.

After a few hours of hunting clues in Where’s Waldo? for the DS, the answer to those questions is an emphatic “sorta.”

In general, Ludia did a good job translating the search-and-find format of the books to the DS, while also capturing the book series’ distinctive art style and humorous parodies of different historical eras and worldly settings. Throughout Waldo’s journey you’ll drop in on medieval battles, a haunted castle teeming with vampires and other ghoulies, an underwater fishing expedition bursting with vibrant sea life, and various other scenes with the goal to scan the scene to find certain hidden characters and events – there are also spot-the-difference puzzles in which an image is displayed on both screens and you have to compare the two and pick out any hidden differences between them.

So yes, it plays just like the books, only you are hunting clues with a stylus on a touch screen rather than pointing at a page in a book with your finger.

The developers also did a good job introducing “gamey” elements to expand upon the Where’s Waldo? book experience. A tiered timer, for example, rewards you with stars based on how fast you are able to solve each puzzle, and there are even certain power-ups you can activate to slow down time, refill your timer, instantly point you to the next clue and so on. By collecting hidden bones in each scene you can also call on your dog Woof for hints.

But for all it gets right, Where’s Waldo? ultimately suffers from key interface and playability problems caused by the limitations of the DS. Since the two small screens are simply incapable of displaying an entire scene, you are given a scrolling list of clues on the top screen and a zoomed-in view of the scene on the bottom screen which you can pan around by dragging the stylus. However, when you select a clue your viewing space on the bottom screen is boxed in to a specific area in which the clued item is hidden. So rather than having to pore over the entire scene for one little item like you do in the books, the game points you to a general area where each item is hidden, which really takes away much of the game’s challenge.

Something else I had trouble with, mostly in the spot-the-difference puzzles, was a lack of definition with smaller hidden items. Again, because of the small screen size certain objects are so tiny they become almost impossible to see. Even when I’d use a hint to find certain objects I’d still have trouble making them out.

So ultimately the question here becomes is Where’s Waldo?: The Fantastic Journey worth owning over or in addition to the books? I’d like to say yes, because for the most part I have enjoyed my time with the game and do think it is probably about as faithful an adaptation of the books as can be expected on the DS. But unfortunately I just don’t see the value in doing so. For $30 you get 12 scenes and a total of 36 puzzles, which amounts to 2-3 hours of gameplay with no substantive replay value. For the same price you can get a complete collection of Where’s Waldo? books offering far more bang for the buck, not to mention greater family interaction as it’s much easier having others huddle up around a book than it is a DS.

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Pros:
+ Captures the book series’ art style and spirit
+ Generally fun search-and-find gameplay
+ Some interesting game elements like power-ups and hints

Cons:
– Small viewing space hinders playability
– Clue interface makes it too easy to find most objects
– Lacks multiplayer mode found in PC and Wii versions
– Limited value and longevity compared to the book series

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on DS, also available on PC and Wii
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ludia
Release Date: 10/5/09
Genre: Search-and-find puzzle
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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!