Little Things gives little pleasure

For those readers who nitpick grammar, the title of this blog is grammatically correct. Little Things is the name of a game, and therefore a singular noun. Hence, things gives is correct. The title is an example of what Derrida called differance, a written phrase that creates ambiguity when spoken. Sadly, I find this little trivia to be more interesting than Little Things. (Oh, is that another one?)

The bottom line on Little Things is that it requires players who love minutiae. Adrian Monk would love it, but he would be too busy rearranging the little things to find one of them. Readers who enjoy attention to the tiniest detail will enjoy Little Things. But some people like Sudoku too and that actually requires planning and thought.

Little Things

  • Is built on an intriguing concept.
  • Has a hint system that doesn’t just give up the answer.
  • Has a liberal scoring system.
  • Bored me to tears.

In addition, I discuss the essential elements of a good hidden object game, describe why you should never let your children watch certain movies on video even if you don’t particularly think the movie would expose them to elements your ex-wife would object to them seeing, and dabble in philosophical trivia (as you were painfully aware of when you read the first paragraph).

Hidden object games have developed a huge following for a number of reasons, but I blame Where’s Waldo?. I remember my nieces Joy and Kelly visiting as children. Kelly brought her Waldo books with her so I could help her spot that goony guy in those crowds. All I could think was, great I can’t watch Aliens until they leave or their mother will raise holy hell.

Liza is a joy but she didn’t want any corrupting influence around her little girls. Which makes me wonder why she ever let them come over, especially when my son Bryan was visiting from Michigan. Bryan’s mother, my ex-wife, was as protective as Liza which means he couldn’t wait to visit over the summer to see all the video tapes of all the movies his friends got to see in the theaters.

Having grown up a Baptist Preacher’s Kid, I missed my share of movies too, and my friends didn’t have VCRs. When I was a kid, we had to wait until the movie made it to television and by then they had edited out all the words and body parts my parents wouldn’t let me see. So I wasn’t about to deprive Bryan of the joys I missed out on as a kid.

Little did I know, there was a reason my parents didn’t want me to see stuff. I realize now I would have shared all the cool stuff I wasn’t supposed to see with my parents friends, and the deacons who decided on his raise. I know this now because Bryan couldn’t wait until his cousins were over and Carol and I were in another room to pop Doctor Detroit or Gremlins or, God Forbid, Basket Case or Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein into the VCR to show them all the cool stuff Liza wouldn’t let them see.

And Joy and Kelly couldn’t wait to tell Lisa about the cool movie Bryan showed them. So I made sure to keep an eye the girls—even if that meant helping Kelly find Waldo—whenever Bryan was in town.

Hidden object designers may have realized that adults quickly get bored looking for Waldo because they have added a few wrinkles to the modern games. Most hidden object games border on mediocrity, but the best combine narrative (even if the narrative is stupid), puzzles, challenges and, most important, several different techniques for disguising objects.

Rather than simply tossing dozens of objects into a pile and asking the player to discriminate between shapes, the better games blend objects into the background, lay objects over background objects with similar shapes and texture or even tamper with opacity.

This is why I was surprised when I downloaded Little Things, which had been selected as an App of the Week, and began to play. The concept and interface are impressive, but the game rapidly grows wearying. Little Things asks you to do one thing over and over again, find little things from a pile of little things. I can imagine this game has a great appeal for people who love puzzles that require them to dither over the minutiae.

My grandmother was one of those people. She could work one of those jigsaw puzzles with a thousand tiny pieces for days. She passed before the White Album puzzle came out—the one where you assemble all the pieces into a giant white square—but she would have ascended to heaven prematurely at the challenge. My approach to those puzzles was to sit down for fifteen minutes, put a few pieces into place and leave it for grandmother to finish.

Really little things. I mean really, really little.

Little Things is based on the principle of visual gestalt. This is the same principle that explains how we perceive those mosaic photos that were so popular for a week a few years back. When you combine hundreds of tiny images they form a larger pattern. Little Things clusters objects of the same color to create a larger shape.

Sadly, once you actually begin play, you don’t really get to see gestalt in action. When you click on a picture you aren’t zoomed in to see how the big image is made from the smaller pieces. The game simply swaps the original with a slightly larger image clearly made from smaller pictures. Once you realize the there is no trick, the rest of the game goes downhill.

The scissors aren’t really made of little things. They just switch images.

Game play is simple. You are presented with a series of objects and one rises to the foreground, say, a beagle or a tennis shoe. You don’t even get to choose the object, the game does that for you. Once you continue with the object, Little Things substitutes an image with the object’s shape made from hundreds of smaller objects. The game will task you to find a list of objects or multiple versions of the same object.

If you successfully find all the objects, you collect a puzzle piece. If you don’t, you get another picture to search. If you can collect all the pieces and successfully assemble the puzzle the game gives you a new picture to decipher.

Ingenious interface

The game design looks good, which makes it understandable why people would be attracted to the game. Each different colored picture element, say the scissors blades or scissors handle, is made from objects of the same color and each of those objects may actually be made of several similar shades of color.

Once I got past the initial wow, and realized there was no gestalt but simple substitution, the game became increasingly less interesting. I’m saying this as a fan of hidden object games. As an exercise in identifying individual objects from a crowded visual field, Little Things is a great training exercise. If I’m going to pay for a game, however, I want to have some fun in the process, and I did not feel the fun.

The puzzles themselves are a little more interesting. You have to rearrange and rotate squares filled with tiny things until all of the pieces tile seamlessly. And you have to do it against a background of tiny little things. The question for me was, how much tedium was I willing to endure to get to the challenge of the puzzles.

The reward puzzles present more interesting problems than finding little things.

Clever hinting

The one thing I don’t like about most hidden object games is the hinting system. Most games simply show you the hidden object if you ask for a hint. In the puzzle stage, Amazon: Hidden Expedition, for instance, the hint simply solves the next stage of the puzzle for you.

Little Things shines a large spotlight in the general area of the object and then gradually narrows it down. As long as you find the object before the light goes out, the game credits you with a find.

The game also provides an automatic hint option. With automatic hinting the spotlight turns on if you scroll past the hidden object.

It’s a shame that the best hinting system I’ve seen was also the best thing about the game.

Liberal scoring

Finding the objects in the crowd is difficult. The scoring, however, is hard to figure. You can use hints without penalty, but the game can’t always decide if you actually found an object once you use the hint. Several times after I used a hint the game told me I found all the objects in one field and that I missed an object in another.

So which is it? Did I find them all or not?

In the speed round I found two of eight objects in the time allotted and still got my puzzle piece. I could see the reward for spotting six of eight, but two of eight seems a little too forgiving.

This is kind of like getting a star on your second grade paper
because all the kids got stars.

The only mistake that prevented me from earning a puzzle piece was selecting more objects that weren’t on the list than finding objects than were.

This brings me to my only technical complaint.

Touch screen too sensitive.

A number of hidden object games penalize you for clicking on objects that weren’t on the list. The idea is to prevent players from cheating by just indiscriminately tapping everywhere on the screen. Readers who have followed this blog from the beginning should already know my feelings about that philosophy: It’s my game and I can cheat if I want to.

I’m going to let that pass in this instance because too often the game misinterprets an accidental tap, or a tap to move to a different area of the image as a wrong selection. You see a little X where you tapped, even if you tapped in the middle of the empty background.

So many elements of the game design are so well done, it’s shame to dislike the game. I kept wanting to discover the joy of little things, even as I plowed through more and more of them and found ever less joy. Finally, when I reached the level where the game announced that I need to collect nine instead of four puzzle pieces I couldn’t bear the thought of going on.

I don’t want to pan the game. I hope you felt the struggle I felt to like it and decide for yourself. But you do have to pay for the game, and I want you to be forewarned. Reading this column should make it clear whether the game is suited to the kind of puzzle solving you like. If you like picky, detail oriented puzzles this game should really suit you fine.

I’m serious when I say I don’t want to pan Little Things. When I reviewed Train Conductor 2, I said some players might like it, but I was just being nice. I can’t imagine anyone past middle school really enjoying Train Conductor (I know there will be many high school or even college grads who disagree with me, but they would have to really like trains). I know puzzle players who would take a lot of joy from Little Things.

That joy is simply lost on me.

Jenny Manytoes rates Little Things

Jenny Manytoes would take a nap next to Little Things. I find myself yawning as well. I downloaded an app that didn’t rate as App of the Week called Pottery. I played that for ten minutes and realized I would much rather cast pottery than find tiny little things. So I dashed off this review and now I’m going to fire up the digital kiln.

The Jenny Manytoes Rating System

Jenny Manytoes, our polydactyl cat
  • When Jenny makes biscuits on a product she thinks she’s in heaven.
  • When Jenny purrs over a product she’s very happy.
  • When Jenny naps next to a product it’s okay with her.
  • When Jenny bunches her tail she can live with a product, but she has higher expectations.
  • When Jenny leaves it in the litter box….I don’t think I need to explain this one.

iPad Envy is created entirely using apps from my iPad.
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About Phillip T Stephens

Phillip T. Stephens disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle twenty years before he was born, creating a time travel paradox so confusing it remains unspoken between physicists and sci-fi writers to this day. Follow @stephens_pt
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