I SPY: Fun House, the latest interactive spinoff of Scholastic’s popular hidden object picture books, proves that a good hidden object game can appeal to virtually all demographics. My kindergarten-aged daughter loves the paper versions of these puzzles, and she had just as much fun working through their digital counterparts. I – a man 30 years her senior – played with her, and I’m pretty sure we were both equally engaged.
The game’s setting is a carnival. Players explore the park to track down hidden object game ("HOG") puzzles with themes like a carousel, a magician’s tent, and a midway prize wall. The artwork is a mishmash of photography and clip art and is just as pretty and interesting to gaze at as pictures found in the books upon which the game is based. The inside of a gumball machine, for example, is a bit psychedelic but undeniably fascinating, while a silhouetted circus tent showcases some highly detailed and mesmerizing shadows.
Rather than showing pictures of or simply listing off the objects we’re required to find, players are provided an "I spy" rhyme that makes clear some of the items we are to search for while turning others into a riddle.
For example, this clue set – "I spy SKILL, scissors, two spoons/An acorn, an eight, a match, three moons/Two thrown beanbags, an egg, a nest/A hole worth ten, and a prize for the best" – specifically names about a dozen objects, but forces the player to figure out what the final two items might be.
These rhyming clues also ensure that younger children don’t need to be able to read well in order to play. Simply click a bullhorn beside the rhyme to have the entire sequence spoken by an enthusiastic young woman. Alternately, you can click on each individual word/phrase to have it and it alone read aloud.
Once all objects have been found, players are provided a short and simple riddle directing them to look under one of the puzzle’s objects to reveal a ticket for the fun house-an area filled with bonus games. Eleven tickets are required to enter for the first time, while additional tickets will unlock more bonus games in pairs of two.
These bonus games are surprisingly compelling. One has players arranging Tetris-like pieces on a board to create a particular pattern, while a vaguely marble-popper-ish match-three game has players trying to match up similarly colored objects on a series of spinning concentric circles to make them disappear. I also enjoyed one in which I had to lock in objects that faded in and out of a group of several rings while trying to sort the items by type, and another that has players deducing which of a quartet of funhouse mirror images doesn’t match the others.
And while everything is clearly geared toward children – you’ll be looking for teddy bears, balloons, and baseballs rather than tubes of lipstick, cigars, and wine bottles – you can still expect a surprising level of challenge. The objects are often very cleverly hidden and the clues can be misleading ("three pins" might mean you need to find a safety pin, a wooden clothesline pin, and a bowling pin).
It’s worth noting, too, that there are no easy outs. You can’t use hints or get any free reveals; players need to earn their tickets by finding each and every object in the rhyme. It can be tricky, but it’s also a good lesson for kids (and perhaps adults, too) about the satisfaction of not cheating.
The only downside is that there are only 11 hidden object scenes which are played over again with different assortments of objects to earn more fun house tickets.
But that might be for the best, given the young target demographic. My daughter and I played through these 11 puzzles together on three separate occasions. It took us a little over an hour each time, which was just long enough to hold her attention but not tax it. I suspect we’ll come back to it at least a couple more times. Not bad for the investment.