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Hidden Folks is the most joyful thing on iOS right now

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Where’s Waldo?, silly sounds and lots of smiles

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Hidden Folks, the latest game from indie designer Adriaan de Jongh, is the most pleasant thing I’ve done with an iPad in years.

In a sea of games screaming for my attention and my money, Hidden Folks makes demands on neither. What it does is reward me for my effort, unfolding at a decent clip while encouraging me to go deeper into the experience. It’s become a game that I look forward to spending time with each day.

I’ve been dealing with some awful stuff here for the last couple of days, both inside and outside of work. I have a feeling many of you are in the same boat. The last thing I want to do with my down time is fight with someone, either in a game or on social media. I’ve been trying lots of new experiences, and returning to old favorites. But everything just feels like such an unwanted mental load.

So when de Jongh offered me an early code for Hidden Things, I jumped at the chance.

I’d first heard about the game at last year’s Game Developers Conference. De Jongh described it as a kind of hidden object game, and then he sat me down at a table on the top floor of the Moscone Center and just let me mess around with it. A smile immediately came to my face.

A poster for Hidden Folks.
Charlie Hall/Polygon

Working from the unusually detailed ink and paper style of a young artist named Sylvain Tegroeg, Hidden Folks feels like the animated Where’s Waldo? book you never knew you wanted. Yes, it’s a hidden object game and that makes it sound like it was made for kids, but in motion it’s perfectly engaging for adults. It feels more like an ant farm mixed with a light adventure game.

Players hunt across massive drawings, zooming in and out hunting for characters or items from a list with both their eyes and their ears. As the game progresses the environments become more interactive. Open a tent flap, roll a hay bale or move a car out of the way to trigger the little Easter egg and find the thing. Little puzzles reveal themselves around every corner.

As a rewards, players are greeted with the most adorable, human sounds. It’s like de Jongh is there whispering in your ear while you play.

“The first time I used my voice to add sounds to anything were on some simple experimental videos my girlfriend had made,” de Jongh told me via email. “She filmed a bunch of trees and I added my voice to them. It was tremendously silly and we laughed really hard at it.

“During a global game jam with a bunch of friends, I decided to do the sound design with my voice, and accidentally won the Best Audio Award. ... This was around the time Sylvain and I started adding more basic features to the game, and I borrowed some of the sounds I had recorded in that game jam for Hidden Folks. I thought it was kind of funny. Sylvain thought so to, and we decided to stick to it!”

Someone smashing “boop boop de doop” into your ear hole for any period of time should be grating. It should drive you nuts. But in Hidden Folks, it’s perhaps the most pleasant feature of all. The timing and the intonation are perfect. I guess if you enjoy ASMR you’ve got a new favorite obsession here. But for the rest of us, it’s just a joyful noise.

My only hope is that de Jongh and Tegroeg are quick about making more levels to explore. I’m pacing myself right now, sipping rather than gulping the experience down.

You can play the game on iOS and Windows PC via Steam.