We’ve all been there. Haven’t we? We’ve all felt that need to hunker down and hide from the world. Lord only knows why this is just about the sanest and rational thing a grown human feels compelled to do when coping with a hard day at work, a fight with a loved one, or just an all-around garbage fire of a day. It’s a strange sort of a feeling; a need to conceal oneself out of reach from the rest of the world, and amazingly Hiding Spot captures that feeling impeccably — if not a little pointlessly — as you manipulate a rooms furniture to form a protective cocoon around yourself.
A few of you may think you’ve seen this type of game before, and you’re not wrong. This 3D indie game does share major similarities with other Sokoban style puzzles which have come before it (where you move objects around a level to complete a puzzle); but Corey Martin, Hiding Spot’s developer and publisher, has actually presented a refreshingly unique take on the genre. Maybe not all independent indie game development is copy-paste after all.
There is one overarching theme that became apparent to me while playing this title — one thing that stood out over everything else. It’s simplicity. And that may just be what I liked most about Martin’s title; it’s unapologetic simplicity. Hiding Spot operates on an interactive 3D grid-like space which is informed by voxel art, and the graphical design choices in themselves are clean — minimal even — which I am so happy to say does not appear to be an excuse for laziness. The term minimal can so often be used as a blatant cop-out, but not here.
Even Hiding Spot’s soundtrack has a simplicity, but while Martin may call it “a relaxing ambient synth score” to me it felt more like it could be meditation music. If it didn’t sound quite so ominous that is. By extension, and if I’m to be completely blunt, the synth aspect sounded a little too much like it had been borrowed from an ancient sci-fi movie for my tastes. It’s just a little jarring as opposed to relaxing, but undeniably simple. That being said, it can become repetitive — and you can notice it loop if you’re listening intently.
The overall execution of Hiding Spot’s simple themes and style is both cohesive and enjoyable. But don’t assume anything about this title — it can fool you easily, and while its levels feature simple mechanics, they can be genuinely difficult. They managed to get me flustered once or twice, maybe thrice, you get the idea. But the simplicity of this game is again highlighted in its free form approach to levels. If you cannot complete a level, you can just move on to the next almost entirely unimpeded, which does double its play-ability — and who has to know you failed, right?
The only thing driving you to complete each level is your own burning desire for self-satisfaction which, unless you are addicted to these types of puzzle games, may pose an issue. Some may find that the lack of rewards, and lack of consequences, may mean that they do not feel compelled to continue to complete the game in its entirety.
I did enjoy the simplicity of this game (I may have mentioned it once or twice), but it does come with a cost. As expected Hiding Spot lacks any real depth; which to me undermines what we have come to think of as a “video game” now. Aren’t we spoiled! In the same respect, it is somewhat relaxing (if only in the fact that it can act as a distraction from life’s daily hardships), but I wouldn’t necessarily call it entertaining in the traditional sense — but it has a charm all the same.
The back-story to Hiding Spot is left open to interpretation — but I just simply think there isn’t one. And again, due to its simplicity, I’m perfectly alright with that. I even think the protagonist of the game actually helps with making that fact more palatable as it’s just hard, if not impossible, for the player to see him as a rounded character. He’s more like an inanimate object — if he didn’t look so sad then he frankly could be as good as wooden. Which is only made worse by his movements and animations; he moves like a stop-motion stickman —made nearly comical with Martin’s choice of corresponding sound effects. It’s silly, and a tad strange, but it does feel purposeful like they are in on the joke behind their dead-behind-the-eyes protagonist with the thighs of steel. Perhaps this lack of character is to allow the player to visualize themselves as a way to manage anxieties? I mean, it’s a nice thought but it’s a bit of a stretch for this title.
Controlling the character itself throws you off entirely and requires you to navigate a very steep learning curve. The best way I can describe it is you have to imagine that you are not controlling a person — or even a character — but a chess piece you are moving within a space. Just about the only thing that lets Hiding Spot down are its controls or more accurately, their orientation.
Movement is locked into the orientation of the game’s level; meaning that pressing up (which is most commonly the forward arrow) doesn’t always mean that you’ll move forward in the way your expecting. Which only disconnects you from the protagonist further. It is all about the orientation of the level, and it takes some getting used to. In fact, you will make many — I’m not kidding — many mistakes, and as if Martin knew this he has included an undo button. This CTRL-Z equivalent adds so much value to the ease and enjoyment of the game-play. I understand the concept Martin is going for with his controls, and once again it feels purposeful, but it just feels somehow strange — perhaps it’s just not my play style.
Unfortunately for those of you who like to use a controller, I’m sorry to say that the difficulty with movement continues — but tenfold. While having controller support does make Hiding Spot more accessible (and easier to play from your duvet fort), it does not make the gameplay any easier. For starters, I experienced latency and some unresponsive button pushes, but that can be overlooked when you consider the more major downside of playing this game with a controller. Perhaps it’s because you can only move in one direction at a time, or the lack of diagonal movement, but whatever it is makes a thumbstick with 360-degree movement redundant.
Maybe this was a choice to keep to the almost board game like puzzle nature of the game, but it’s infuriating — the character spent more time grinding against the invisible wall preventing him from moving diagonally than interacting with objects and traveling in the direction I actually intended — a thumbstick is just too sensitive to handle traveling on quite such a clearly defined axis. The controller also makes accidentally hitting the undo button so much easier — which once again is infuriating.
In terms of its internal accessibility (movement controls aside), this game passes easily if not unremarkably. The menus and level selection hub worlds, which in this case are floors of a building, are simplistic, uncomplicated, and importantly are not intimidating — the menus can, once again, be over sensitive when navigated with the controller and can cause trouble. Hiding Spot does have a lack of instructions, but the few hints and tutorials it does feature are none obtrusive and are rather bare-bones — but once again that is perfectly fine with me since (you know what I’m going to say next, everybody together) the game is so simplistic. New mechanics are introduced so seamlessly and subtlety, building on established principles, that no great deal of instruction is required.
The difficulty does ramp up — but not drastically — and each floor has a good mix of easier and harder levels. I do enjoy the level menu layout — just where you want to escape and unwind after a long day at the office… another office. At least that’s what it felt like to me. The repetitive and tiresome nature of the levels is to be expected with this type of puzzle game, but it’s the mechanics that are meant to keep you entertained — that is of course if you’re that way inclined. If you don’t favor these types of puzzle games then you have no hope of enjoying Hiding Spot to its full potential. And when playing, do not let the objects in the rooms trick you into thinking they are harder or easier than they look. Don’t become complacent with familiar objects and mechanics since they can alter and shift so subtly that you’ll be confused and frustrated within moments. That is part of Hiding Spot’s charm — you must think outside of the box you are so desperately trying to enclose yourself within.
If you are rather smart, or there are several of you working together, then this game would only take a matter of a few short hours — which is still rather worth the purchase price. The only thing that I find myself unsure of is whether I like the fact there is no reward or huge celebration at the end of a level or not. It’s unexpected — almost anticlimactic — it allowed all the levels to blend together until they are one larger experience rather than a level by level game and I’m not sure if I liked it or not.
It’s the type of game that makes you unsure. It’s so simple that when you physically cannot complete the level it is maddening — but the game’s mechanics are pretty much solid, so the only person you have to be mad with is yourself. Simply put; this is a simple game. You get what you pay for — and you’re paying rather little. It’s just well thought out puzzles presented in an intriguing way.
Personally, I would advise that should you play Hiding Spot, play it in dribs and drabs only; if played for any large stretch of time it becomes repetitive and bland — but I do believe that is how it is meant to be played. For want of a better word this game is a de-stressor and is best treated as a pick-me-up when your patience is wearing thin or your mind is racing and you need a focus. Don’t play it as a game — it simply isn’t one! At best it’s a virtual 3D puzzle environment, and I’m alright with that — you have that feel from the off — it’s upfront and you know that you’re getting. It’s rather refreshing.