Originally an offshoot of the point-and-click adventure genre, hidden object games have since become one of the most ubiquitous genres in all of casual gaming. One quick glance at the best-selling titles on websites like Big Fish Games will tell you just how popular hidden object games, or HOGs for short, really are.
If you've ever wondered just what these games are all about, well you've come to the right place. Here's a run down of the basics of HOGs, as well as the many different variations on the genre. It's everything you need to get yourself started finding those objects that don't want to be found.
All HOGs follow the same basic formula: you're given a list of objects and presented with a scene in which to find them all. The list usually consists of a text description of the item you need to find, but some games will give you subtle clues instead, or even show a silhouette of the object in question. Most of the time you'll also be provided with a hint system that either gives you clues as to where an object is or just shows you outright. Normally these hints recharge after a certain amount of time, but in some games you're actually given a limited number, forcing you to use them carefully. Most HOGs also give you two different options when beginning a new game: timed or relaxed. The timed games force you to find all of the necessary objects within a specific period of time, while the relaxed mode lets you find them at your own pace.
Because these games usually consist of a number of different still scenes, one of the major selling points is their art. HOGs often feature beautiful, very detailed artwork that's absolutely packed with objects to find. Sometimes, as with games like The Tarot's Misfortune, they even feature multiple layers of depth. A lot of players also enjoy these games for their stories. Games such as Love & Death: Bitten feature intricate narratives told in between the different object finding scenes. Sometimes these are relayed via text-based dialogue, but much of the time the story scenes are fully voiced as well.
HOGs are also, for the most part, quite short, as most of them can be beaten in around three hours. There are a few notable exceptions, however, such as Brunhilda and the Dark Crystal, which provides a very lengthy adventure spanning multiple hours.
From this basic concept, HOGs can go in several different directions. Traditional games in the genre will consist of nothing but a series of different scenes, moving you along a straightforward path from one to the next. Other games, however, offer the freedom to jump from scene to scene. And in most games this is often necessary to solve puzzles. In some cases what happens in one scene has an effect in another. So pulling a lever or pushing a button in one scene could have an important impact on another scene. The more traditional games will also have you searching for items just for the sake of finding them, while other games will actually force you to use what you've found. For example, you may be looking for a key to unlock a door or ingredients for some sort of magic potion. Games that combine both of these features -- usable items and the ability to move between scenes -- often feature very intricate and challenging puzzles.
Another twist that some games offer is what's called fractured-object gameplay. Instead of asking you to find whole objects, these games have you searching for bits and pieces of objects, which can only be used once they're complete. These games are frequently more difficult, as the pieces of object tend to not be as easily recognizable as a whole object. Snark Busters: Welcome to the Club uses this type of gameplay exclusively. Many HOGs also feature simple mini-games to add some variety, which normally consist of relatively simple puzzles. In most cases these mini-games can be skipped after a given period of time.
There are also numerous examples of games that combine HOG gameplay with that of another genre, as well. For example, Settlement. Colossus merges a city building simulation game with a HOG. In order to build up your empire you'll have to gather materials, such as food to feed your people and bricks to build houses. So whenever you're in need of new materials, the game switches over to a HOG where you can search for what it is you need.
Now that you know the ins and outs of the genre, why not try out some of the best HOGs out there.