Well, it’s about time.

The hottest casual game genre on the planet pretty much owes its success to the Where’s Waldo books that challenge kids to search for and find well-hidden objects in a busy scene.

And now, years later, we have the first Where’s Waldo "hidden-object game" (HOG) for PCs and iPhone — Where’s Waldo: The Fantastic Journey is based on the beloved book series by British illustrator Martin Handford. (Factoid: the first book was called Where’s Wally?, in 1987).
 
So does this new HOG live up to its influential namesake? Yes it does, though it’s not a perfect adventure.

After you choose the easier Kids more or more challenging Normal mode, you’re introduced to the whimsical tale by Wizard Whiteboard, who tells of 12 ancient scrolls that need to be retrieved throughout the globe. And so he enlists the help of Waldo, his friend Wenda and their faithful canine companion, Woof.

Each of the dozen locations have a humorous theme, and multiple areas to search through, as you’re tasked to find objects listed at the bottom of the screen. In some cases it’s a picture of who or what you need to find, such as the red-and-white-striped Waldo or camera-donning Wenda, or perhaps an animal (e.g. 5 monkeys) or objects (e.g. 3 balls). In other cases you’ll see a black silhouette and must match it to the actual characters, items or scene in the busy, colorful level (such as one that features flying carpets or one with people playing sports). Or you might see words like "Bridge made out of monks" and so on. If you’re asked to find Waldo’s nemesis, Odlaw, who is donned in black and yellow stripes, you only have a few seconds to find him or else he splashes paint on the screen to obstruct your view. At the end of every chapter you’re asked to find the magic scroll.

If you get stuck, you can click on Woof the dog to give you a hint, which changes the color of your mouse cursor to indicate when you’re getting hot (i.e. near the hard-to-find object).Find bones in the level to "feed" the dog more hints. If you click incorrectly too many times, birds temporarily take control of your mouse cursor and spins it around for a few seconds.

Sounds easy, sure, but these levels have hundreds of very small people and items, and well-concealed, too! My wife Kellie and I laughed out loud at some of the silly faces and funny, animated scenes; the developers at Ludia did a great job retaining the art style and humor of the books that are popular with our young kids.

Some minigames are also in the game, be it catching falling stars, spot-the-differences challenges and other puzzle diversions — all tied to the story, as narrated by Whitebeard (the voice talent is excellent).

But aside from only one game mode, Where’s Waldo: The Fantastic Journey has some other flaws. For one, a timer counts down while you complete the levels and if you fall below 3 (out of 5) stars, meaning you took too long, you have to repeat the level all over again. Not only is this frustrating — especially when you barely miss the cutoff — but many of the objects are in the same place the second time around. In some cases, we found new objects were introduced, but most were the same, which could also affect the game’s replayability.

Secondly, there were some inaccuracies such as being asked to find five green fairies, but there were six, and one didn’t register when clicked on. Another glitch was being asked to find a "globe" when it was a diamond.

Also, while the graphical style is a delight, it’s in a window instead of being full screen.

But overall, Where’s Waldo: The Fantastic Journey excels in its fun gameplay, story, graphics, voice talent and humor. While it’s no easy feat to follow all the amazing HOGs this books series inspired, Ludia has done a fine job at taking on the daunting challenge.