Developer: Ludia
Price: $2.99
Version Reviewed: 1.0.0

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★☆
Game Controls Rating: ★★★★☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★★☆

iPhone Integration Rating: ★★☆☆☆
User Interface Rating: ★★½☆☆

Re-use / Replay Value Rating: ★★½☆☆

Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆

photo (1)For those unfamiliar with the Where’s Waldo? series, Waldo is a guy in a red-and-white striped shirt who appears in each illustration; your task is to find him. There are other characters, too: Wanda, the Wizard Whitebeard, and Woof all appear in the Fantastic Journey. In some of the books, you also hunt for scrolls and other objects hidden in each picture.

As a kid, I obsessed over the Where’s Waldo? books. The colorful, ludicrous illustrations captivated me far more than other hidden-object series could hope to do, and I would spend hours pouring over the giant books. I clearly wasn’t the only fan. Where’s Waldo? has transitioned to the iPhone, and quickly soared to the top of the charts. That doesn’t mean that this is a good port, however. Sure, it has the charming illustrations of the books I know and love, but the experience has been degraded by technical annoyances to the point where I’d rather lug around a book.

These annoyances are almost immediately apparent. Why should I have to tap past an intro screen just to proceed to the main menu, for example? Once you do hit “Play,” you create a new save file or load an old one—up to six can be stored, which is a much-appreciated touch—and then you get to leap into the story after waiting for the game to load. There are two difficulty levels, and I chose the harder of the two.

The entire game consists of a story mode (there’s no free play), so you’ll have to tap through explanatory dialogue before you make it to a map. The maps used are identical to the ones from the old book, which means gorgeous illustrations, complete with all the quirks and oddities you remember; better yet, some of the characters have even been animated! Each level consists of a few stages: first, you find Waldo and the gang (Wizard Whitebeard, Wanda, etc) and then you have to find certain images. These images can either be visual icons the game shows you, or text-based clues (“fire meeting with water”). There are lots of hidden items, and finding them within the colorful and chaotic illustrations is often challenging.

photo (2)However, all’s not well in Waldo-land. There are three major factors that annoy me most. First, games are timed. Wait…isn’t this Where’s Waldo? Aren’t we supposed to be exploring the maps, not racing through them? Alas, the developer had different ideas. You’re rewarded stars for how long it takes you to finish a round, and three stars are required to progress; therefore, if you’re not fast enough, you can’t “win” the round and move on. Secondly, only portions of the map are accessible at times. (More on this later.) Third, the lag is atrocious. It’s impossible to savor the images while waiting for the map to catch up with your movements, because everything jerks and sputters instead of sliding smoothly across the screen. There’s no way to zoom out, so you’re stuck viewing the pictures piece by piece. It’s quite frustrating. As if to top things off, you can’t even save mid-level!

Now, more about only portions of the map being accessible. Where’s Waldo? tries to make the classic image-search game even easier in a number of ways. For example, while you’re searching for items, the game limits you to scrolling around a portion of the screen, narrowing your search field. Worse still, if you take too long, the game highlights whatever it is you’re looking for. Where’s the fun in that? Call me an old humbug, but part of the thrill inherent in Where’s Waldo? was, um, finding the stuff yourself. Cheating is bad, especially when there’s no option to turn these cheats (ahem, hints) off! You can also tap Woof—he’s the dog in the lower-right part of the screen—and he’ll find what you’re looking for, too. I can understand wanting to make this game appealing to younger kids, but if it wasn’t for the ever-present timer, we wouldn’t need such things.

I really wanted to love Where’s Waldo. The nostalgia factor is immense, and it’s one of the best image-hunting games around. But it’s crippled by so many technical flaws and poor decisions that I just can’t immerse myself in it. Give us a free play mode, optimize it for devices other than the 3GS (I’m on a second-gen iPod Touch, it should NOT be this slow), and give us the ability to zoom and pan, and I’ll fall in love with it, I promise. Until then? The old-fashioned books are leagues ahead of this hobbled app. Where’s Waldo? is full of images that are meant to be savored, explored, and appreciated. You just won’t get that with the current app.

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