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The first hidden gem of 2021 is Where’s Waldo meets ‘Lo-Fi Beats’

Tiny Lands is simple and relaxing

a low-poly diorama of underwater life, including whales, in Tiny Lands Image: Hyper Three Studio/Maple Whispering Limited
Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

Like so, so many others, an important part of my morning — following coffee — is opening YouTube and turning on its most relaxing channel: “lofi hip hop radio,” also known as “lo-fi beats to study to.” (Though I have to admit, I’ve added the lo-fi Bernie Sanders channel to my playlist lately, too.)

I can’t concentrate on anything — writing or other work — when I’m listening to music with words. That’s why I’m drawn to these sorts of lo-fi beats. It’s stimulating, but not too stimulating, so I can enjoy the feeling while doing whatever task needs to be done. I think that’s why I was immediately drawn to the relaxed, chill vibes of Tiny Lands, created by Hyper Three Studio. It’s the perfect mix of lo-fi music paired with a task I need to concentrate on: spotting the differences. It helps, too, that Tiny Lands is a low-pressure game, so the concentration necessary to spot the differences in these small worlds — à la Where’s Waldo? — isn’t too intense.

a darkly lit scene of a church and graveyard Image: Hyper Three Studio/Maple Whispering Limited

It’s a puzzle I could do right before I go to bed.

Tiny Lands was released Jan. 22 on Windows PC via Steam, and is available there for $6.99. Each level is its own isometric, low-poly 3D puzzle; using keyboard controls, I can rotate the worlds, zooming in and out to inspect details. There are about 50 levels, each with its own themed world; they’re set side by side next to each other, with five differences in each diorama.

To mark that you’ve spotted a difference, you click on the item, and it glows gold. Sometimes, items differ in color. Other times, it’s placement — a rake knocked over or not — or size differentials. It’s not absurdly challenging (like hidden object game Hidden Folks could sometimes be), but there were a few times I was stumped and spent a lot of time looking for an object that was, of course, obvious once I found it. But that’s the sort of thing I enjoy — that I can be delighted and surprised by a small, simple game.

If you’re into games like Hidden Folks, Cloud Gardens, or Islands: Non-Places, you’ll want to check this one out.

The next level of puzzles.

Take a break from your day by playing a puzzle or two! We’ve got SpellTower, Typeshift, crosswords, and more.