Looking for Aliens Review
A charming casual puzzler
There are many games out there that zero-in on a particular experience. It could be a specific setting or a single mechanic. Some players may scoff at such limited, focused titles, but they are nonetheless often endearing to those who want a particular type of entertainment. Such is the case with hidden object games – it distills the mechanic that some would consider to be a negative elsewhere, such as pixel hunting in adventure games – creating a relaxing and calm way to pass the time. Looking for Aliens is the latest such title, asking players to find a variety of hidden items and creatures through 25 different large levels.
The game has a thin but charming narrative thread. Aliens are looking to visit Earth, and are trying to blend in with the humans as much as possible. Formatted as an alien-hosted TV show, before each level you get a brief animated scene where the aliens explain their various plans and the oddities that they discover on Earth. They also get involved with a man that's trying to find them all, a typical tinfoil hat-wearing man, but everything is done in jest. These opening scenes are often humorous and contain pop culture references, and give the game a more cohesive feel than just a series of levels.
The majority of your time in Looking for Aliens will be spent doing just that. The game offers a series of levels, where you must find a variety of objects hidden throughout. The 2D levels range from fairly simple small ones, such as an alien ship floating in cosmos that features lots of empty space, to the very densely packed army base or music festival, where you have to pan over the screen multiple times just to see its full size; you can zoom in and out quite far. The levels all feature tens to hundreds of interactive items – and something almost always happens when you click on things. There are many humans wondering around, doing their own thing, rocks that can be moved, windows/doors/latches that can be opened, and so much more. The bigger levels have an absolute ton of things you could potentially click on, and with the constant interactivity and the many elements in a level that move on their own, it really feels like the game is alive. It's a far cry from the static Where's Waldo games that exist out there.
Each level tasks you with finding a few specific items, which are displayed in the bottom of the screen. It could be finding aliens in disguise, blasters that were misplaced, or just mundane items like photographs. There's not much context to the items, other than they are fairly random and often whacky. To help players navigate through the big levels, each item comes with a subtle text hint to narrow down the search area. The hint could say that the alien found a quiet place amongst the rubbish, so you start opening all the bins. Most will just contain a random item or effect you can still click on – even if it does nothing, it gives a tiny amount of satisfaction. Or the hint could be to find a strange looking watermelon, so you find where those are in the level and explore the area. Or you could need to complete a minigame of sorts, such as collecting scattered tires. The hints are actually pretty great in their balance of being helpful and not outright telling you the answer. If you get confused or feel stuck, the level or entire game progress can be reset.
How long it takes to complete each level depends on your approach. You could be methodical, follow the hints right away, and try to find everything that's required. Or, you could take your time and take it easy. The game actually lets you complete the level with around 80-85% of the required objects, so you are not stuck. Players can return to the levels later and get what they missed. There are also random bonus items – you could click and eat tons of food that's lying around, turn on monitors, or find the bonus cards. None of these do anything, but just add to the reasons to interact with everything. However you play, there are a few good hours of entertainment here, something to keep yourself busy but doesn't require a lot of brain power. For around $12 USD, it's also a well priced game for the amount of levels that you get.
The charming and warm art style also helps the game stand out, and makes the levels feel more welcoming. Each location has a specific color palette, from different shades of green, to purple and orange, capturing the alien theme quite well. The variety of settings that you will be clicking through is also decent, though at the end of the day you will probably be more focused on the items. Still, seeing little humans dance at a music festival, or Aliens snoozing in their ship, is pleasant. The looping background music is fitting for the setting, and the audio effects when you click on things help add to the atmosphere. There's not much in the way of settings – the game obviously is not very demanding, so it runs well. But you can only really adjust the music volume, no visual or even resolution options, and there is some notable screen tearing when panning the camera around.
Hidden object games are a dime a dozen, especially with the rise of the casual mobile gaming market. However, Looking for Aliens manages to stand out thanks to its good price, charming presentation and lots of levels to click through. Each location's color theme, plentiful interactive elements, and a variety of objects to hunt make for an entertaining and calm way to spend your time. The ability to progress without tracking down every single item helps the game flow better, and autosaving means you can return to a level at any time. It would have been nice to get more PC specific options, and to have the bonus collectibles be more worthwhile, but overall Looking for Aliens is a fun and calming experience that fans of this genre should enjoy.