Another month, another pile of fun indie games to dissect! As I did last month, I’ll be talking about two newer indie games and one ‘lookback’ game from previous years. I don’t really go into these with a theme or unifying idea behind all three games, but as I played through all three I noticed just how stylish and gorgeous all the games were this month. Hidden Folks, Night in the Woods, and Abzû all manage to show off just what impact smaller games can have and what they’ll make you feel.

Hidden Folks: Find All the Waldos!

Hidden Folks by Adriaan de Jongh and Sylvain Tegroeg is a cute and challenging throwback to the Where’s Waldo books of your childhood. Except, in this case, Waldo could be hiding behind obstacles you need to move out of the way.

The game is split into four sections with three to five levels each covering a jungle, a desert, the suburbs, a downtown area, and a factory setting. At the time of writing, a few levels in the last two sections are locked with the tag “Soon” so I’m guessing these will be post-release bonuses as the levels are developed.

Each level is an image on a loop and you’re given a scavenger hunt list of people and things to identify in the tableau. If you click on the item in your list, you’ll get a clue about where you should try looking for the item and clicking the item in the image will check it off. Some of these images are small and don’t even take up the whole screen while others are massive and require a good amount of spatial awareness to keep track of where certain events are taking place. One level, in particular, was a gigantic desert and it was a pain to remember where anything was located.

You have a certain number of items to find before the game will unlock the next level but you always have the option to stay until you’ve found everything. You’ll follow the same steps for every item on your list. Say, for example, you need to find a chicken in a farming/forest image and your hint says, “This chicken made a break for it but didn’t get too far.” As you go over and over the image, you start to get a sense for what scenes are playing out across the level. When I got to that chicken clue, I knew there were animal pens in one corner. Click around, do some digging, and voila, you’ve found the chicken, Steve McQueen!

From a technical aspect, Hidden Folks is adorable with its simplistic hand-drawn scenes, characters, and animations. On top of that, the sound design is quite clever. Each sound is an acapella recording of someone, so instead of hearing a car horn when you click the car, you’ll hear some guy saying, “Beep beep!” They’re making all the sound effects themselves and it adds a substantial amount of charm without getting annoying.

I eventually stopped in the last City level, when I was given an entire city block full of skyscrapers. Each building was covered in blinds that could be moved and reveal whatever was behind it and I just had to stop. It was clear that I knew what Hidden Folks had to offer by then and I’ll recommend it with one caveat. I played Hidden Folks on the PC but it’s also available on iOS. Honestly, I think that would be the better way to play by utilizing touch controls for the moving, swiping, and selecting of objects.

Night in The Woods: Quarter Life Crisis with Animals

Night in the Woods by Infinite Fall left quite a mark on me. Even now, having finished the story once through, I’m still thinking about it. This game has an awful lot to say about what it means to find yourself, watch your friends grow up, building relationships with others, a dash of cosmic horror, and even some timely Rust Belt politics. And it’s all told with anthropomorphized animals.

You play the game as Mae, a twenty-year-old girl-cat who comes home unexpectedly after her sophomore year of college. It’s so unexpected that your parents actually forget to pick you up at the bus station and you have to walk home at the very start. As the game progresses, you reconnect with your friends Gregg, Angus, and Bea and throughout it all, Mae begins to realize how much she doesn’t have her life together.

Night in the Woods doesn’t fit easily into a genre. It’s a side-scrolling “walking simulator” or adventure game. You have some basic environment navigation and can jump, but most of the time you’re talking with various characters. The handful of game experiences outside walking and talking consist of a stealing minigame where you try to sneak merchandise when the shopkeeper isn’t looking or a Rock Band-like rhythm game. This game is far more invested in telling a good story.

Every day you’ll wake up sometime around 4 PM and head out to see your friends and fellow townsfolk to see what they have to say. Night in the Woods has only a few sections of the town to explore, but I made it my mission to talk to everyone that I could every day. Every other day, you can choose to hang out with Gregg or Bea and either get into shenanigans (Gregg) or realize how much you still have to grow up (Bea). There are other side events like stargazing with an old teacher or talking with the local pastor. Your parents in the game are full of great, cheesy jokes and advice for Mae as well. Every character in this game is extremely memorable and full of personality.

The game takes place in Possum Springs, a rural community that was known for mining before the mining company went out of business. There’s a strong sense of being in a rural town in the middle of nowhere, valuing the community more than anything else and feeling like you, as a millennial 20-something, have no way to break out on your own. One of the song sections of the game is for an uplifting song titled, “Die Anywhere Else” and your friends frequently comment about how stuck they feel in Possum Springs.

I found Night in the Woods to be legitimately funny and creepy. I was really engaged with the story and noticed just how much I was enjoying individual sequences in the game. Mae gets drunk at one point and comments that college is all about “writing sex and having papers with each other”. She finds a creepy statue of the town founder just outside her friend Bea’s window and draws a hilarious comic to accompany it. As the story progresses, there are several creepy moments that come while investigating a ghost sighting in town and once I got to this point in the story, I couldn’t stop until I figured out what was happening. The story culminates in a rather unsettling finale out in the abandoned mines with the kids. The game tiptoes into some cosmic horror subjects (think along the lines of Cthulhu) but I don’t think it sticks the landing on those. The small-town horror and early-20s growing up storyline is much more compelling.

Night in the Woods is a game I have found myself evangelizing wherever I can to my friends. It’s a very relevant tale about realizing who you are and learning what it means to grow up, while at the same time being a fascinating story about this weird small town. I’m happy with all the games I looked at this month, but Night in the Woods is the clear winner in my mind. Hands down, I think you need to play this game. You can find it on both the Playstation 4 and PC.

Abzû: An Underwater Journey

The lookback game this month is Abzû, which came out last August and one that’s been near the top of my “I should check that out” list. I enjoyed Journey when it came out a few years ago and Abzû hits a lot of the same notes with how it plays and the overall feel of the game.

In Abzû, you play as a diver exploring an underwater world teeming with life. There are dozens of real-world critters around you at all times, and you’re able to attach yourself to one and ride them around on their loop through each level. Along the way, you’ll find small robot companions that help you get through coral gate puzzles and eventually come across these giant triangular metal structures that are poisoning the world. In each section, there’s an area devoid of life with a shrine at the center. You’ll swim into the swirling shrine and enter a starry cosmic landscape to restore the life to the area. Each zone is connected by underwater temples and hallways covered in hieroglyphs telling a story about the world to flesh out what’s happening. It’s worth mentioning that Abzû does not spell out what exactly is happening and I’m completely OK with this. Abzû is much more about the experience in the moment.

Each area in the game contains a very basic puzzle you need to solve. It’s usually a matter of finding a small robot probe, pulling a lever, then opening the gate to the next section. If you explore in depth, there are pods on the ground which will release a new animal into the environment and shrines to sit at and meditate. I never figured out the benefit to meditating as it seemed to only let you cycle through the various animals in that room and follow them around like a camera. If you are a completionist and wanted to find every animal and shrine, you’re certainly welcome to but I think it highlights the wrong aspects of Abzû by reminding you that it’s a game and pulling you out of the flow of what’s happening around your character.

In case it’s not clear from the screenshots, this game is gorgeous. It isn’t the highest-def visuals to be sure but there is style in spades here and Abzû does a lot to make this world come to life. Controlling the main diver character is simple and consists of pointing yourself in a direction and holding down the right trigger to move forward. You also have a boost button to cover distances and pull off a sweet flip out of the water too. The musical score of the game is sweeping and grand as well, composed by Austin Wintory (who also composed Journey).

Abzû is a very short game. From start to finish, I did it in one sitting of about an hour and a half. It relies heavily on its visuals and “in the moment” flow and despite how short it is, it did feel like the perfect length for this experience. Out of all the title’s I’ve talked about this month, I would go for those before Abzû and wait for a sale. You can find Abzû on Playstation 4 and PC.

About The Author

Andy L
Review/Editorial Writer

Ever since he received a Sega Genesis for Christmas at age 6, Andy has been hooked on video games. Pokemon and Metal Gear Solid are his all-time favorite games, but he's found an appreciation for quirky, unique indie titles as well. He's also into board games because one gaming hobby just wasn't enough.