Where’s Waldo? The Fantastic Journey
Genre: Hidden Object Puzzle Game
Release Date: 09/22/2009
If there’s anyone out there born in the last 30-years that didn’t love the Where’s Waldo books as a kid, raise your hand and I’ll be over to drive a stake through your heart shortly, since you clearly have no soul. The Waldo books tested our wits, didn’t bother making us read a bunch of tedious words, and were filled with all sorts of hidden filth and insanity for the eagle eyed 9-year-old to discover.
Boobs, guys in suits of armor, striped weirdos…the Waldo books had it all.
So yeah, the books were pretty fantastic. The numerous attempts at Waldo videogames? Not so much. The latest company to take a crack at doing right by Waldo in video game form is Ubisoft, who took some time off from developing Party Babyz 3 to bring us Where’s Waldo? The Fantastic Journey. Could this be the first Waldo game worth searching for?
Believe it or not there’s almost, sort-of, kinda a plot to be found here. The Wizard Whitebeard tasks Waldo with finding 12-scrolls in order to discover the truth about himself. The answer is actually weirder than you might expect (and no, it has nothing to do with Waldo being an international drug mule as I initially suspected). The tale is presented using an absolute bare minimum of flash though, with most of the story being told using plain white scrolling text on a black background. Clearly weaving an engaging yarn was dead last on the list of things the developers were concerned with.
In terms of modes, you get the main single player quest and that’s it, although it does allow you to go back and replay challenges to better your score.
Story Rating: Poor
One of the most glaring shortcomings of previous Waldo games was that they all tried to replace Martin Handford’s distinctive designs with generic pixel art. Handford is actually a much better cartoonist than he’s often given credit for, and any game not featuring his work is pretty much doomed from the get go.
Where’s Waldo? The Fantastic Journey is based on the book of the same name first published 20-years ago, with the game’s visuals being lifted directly from it. The developers infuse things with a little extra life by adding funny little intros and animating select characters within each scene. That said, the game still consists of mostly static imagery, but that’s an acceptable price to pay for authenticity.
Graphics Rating: Very Good
I was pleasantly surprised to discover each of the game’s 12-stages was accompanied by it’s own unique tune, some of which were actually kind of catchy. Not bad considering most developers of budget games think randomly jabbing six notes on a Casio keyboard than looping that for the duration of the game is all that’s required of them. Wizard Whitebeard also blurts out a few lines here and there, and I’m not sure if it’s the voice acting’s fault, or if it’s just poor compression that’s to blame, but usually it sounds like ol’ Whitebeard forgot to put his teeth in.
Sound Rating: Very Good
4) Control and Gameplay
You view the current scene one small section at a time on the bottom DS screen, with you being able to change which bit you’re viewing by either sliding the stylus across the screen, or using the d-pad (which is the option I preferred). Once you’ve found what you’re looking for it’s a simple matter of tapping it with the stylus. It all works about as well as can be expected considering you’re searching a scene originally spread over two large book pages using a 3-inch DS screen. A huge amount of the appeal of the Waldo books was just drinking in the insane amount of detail poured over each double-page spread, and a lot of that is lost when you’re only able to look at the picture one bite-sized chunk at a time. I don’t blame the developers, they did what they could, this simply isn’t the ideal platform for Waldo.
Speaking of whom–I remember when Waldo was a lone wolf. A perpetually grinning striped weirdo wandering obliviously around the planet and through time itself without a care in the world, but apparently these days there’s a whole cast of Waldo characters. Waldo’s now burdened with a Wario-esque nemesis (actually Waldo’s enemy Odlaw predates Wario by a year) a dog, and even a girlfriend Wenda (who resembles Waldo to a somewhat disturbing degree). All Waldo needs is a stripy shirt wearing baby and mistress and his descent into domestic drudgery will be complete.
Anyways, these characters provide extra challenges for each scene. There’s Wanda’s picture find, Woof’s find-the-differences game, and Odlaw’s “hunt down a million little black and yellow critters I spread across the scene”Â challenge. These add some extra replay time, but really only Woof’s game feels unique.
One final nitpick; in order to give people who owned the original book a new challenge, the developers moved Waldo’s location in each scene. A good idea in theory, but it seems as though they couldn’t get Handford to actually touch up the pages. Waldo’s always frozen in the exact same pose and often looks like he’s simply been superimposed on the scene rather than integrated into it. It makes finding Waldo, the most entertaining part of the original books, very easy and somewhat unsatisfying.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Above Average
It will take you around 4 or 5 hours to play through The Fantastic Journey’s twelve stages (I imagine the kids the game is intended for may take even longer), which actually isn’t that bad for a budget DS title. If you’re really serious about your Waldo, you can also go back and try to get higher star ratings on each challenge.
Replayability Rating: Decent
As I already mentioned, the somewhat clumsy way the developers went about moving Waldo to a new location in each scene made finding him far easier than in the original books, and that’s not the only way challenge has been compromised. When you select a character or item to look for the game will highlight the general area you should search, so you’re rarely required to investigate more than maybe 20% of the scene at a time. Beyond that, the way the DS game is played just makes things fundamentally easier. Viewing one small zoomed-in area at a time makes it almost impossible to miss what you’re looking for, to the point where finding things becomes a test of patience rather than observational skill.
What little challenge is left in the game is pretty much obliterated by the fact that the developers decided they needed to include a hint system on top of everything else. Back in my day we found Waldo without any hints…while walking to school uphill in the snow with wild dogs biting at our bare frostbitten feet. Built character.
Balance Rating: Mediocre
Pretty much everything about the game is directly lifted from a 20-year old book. The only thing original about The Fantastic Journey is that it’s the first Where’s Waldo? game not to be completely awful.
Originality Rating: Poor
The Fantastic Journey did a decent job of keeping me hunting and poking. Most of that credit goes to Handford’s excellent illustrations, which remain entertaining even on the low-res DS screen.
Addictiveness Rating: Enjoyable
9) Appeal Factor
There’s no denying the appeal of the Waldo character, but with that said, I have to say I’m really not sure who this game is supposed to be for. Waldo fans almost certainly already own The Fantastic Journey in book form considering it’s probably the most popular entry in the series. I suppose you could give the game to kids who haven’t yet discovered the wacky world of Waldo, but why not just buy them the book? Its cheaper and whole Waldo concept simply works better on paper. You have to admire the developer’s faithfulness to the source material, but in sticking so close to the original book they’ve sort of painted themselves into a corner.
Appeal Factor Rating: Mediocre
I’m glad to say, Where’s Waldo? The Fantastic Journey is still as totally bizarre as I remember it being. Creepy fire shooting monks, red dwarves battling bright yellow Asian stereotypes, it’s all in there. I may not be crazy about some of the decisions the developers made, but the source material will always be near and dear to my heart.
Miscellaneous Rating: Very Good
Graphics: Very Good
Sound: Very Good
Control and Gameplay: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Very Good
Final Score: Above Average Game
Is Where’s Waldo? The Fantastic Journey the best Waldo game I’ve ever played by leaps and bounds? Yes. Is it extremely loyal to the Martin Handford’s classic book of the same name? Yes. Should you buy it? Well, that’s a question not so easily answered. For the most part the developers have done well within the limitations imposed on them, but the DS just isn’t well suited to Waldo, and ultimately the game doesn’t offer anything that the original book doesn’t do better. The DS version of The Fantastic Journey is an oddity; a well designed game whose existence is ultimately completely pointless. Time for this one to blend in with the bargain bin.