Are Hidden Object Games Puzzles?

I’ve been on a puzzle game kick as of late and something I’ve found irritating when trying to find new ones is how Hidden Object Games get classified as puzzle games.

I don’t have anything against Hidden Object Games and I really enjoyed I Spy as a kid but to call them puzzles feels like a stretch.

Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines puzzle as

: to offer or represent to (someone) a problem difficult to solve or a situation difficult to resolve : challenge mentally


: a question, problem, or contrivance designed for testing ingenuity

Wikipedia defines it as

A puzzle is a game, problem, or toy that tests a person’s ingenuity or knowledge. In a puzzle, the solver is expected to put pieces together in a logical way, in order to arrive at the correct or fun solution of the puzzle.

By these definitions I would like to argue that Hidden Objects are not puzzles. Hidden Objects are about staring at an image until you recognize an object, there’s no solving anything.

So do Hidden Object games count as puzzles to you?

Eh, Where’s Wally (Or Waldo in the US I believe) has always been considered a puzzle book. Hidden Object games aren’t my cup of tea either, but I think it’s very difficult to split hairs on genre definitions at the best of times.
I mean, a lot of point and click adventure games are pixel hunters as well. You might draw a distinction between logic puzzles and other kinds of puzzles if you’re comparing something like Sudoku to a maze. But at the top level I don’t think it’s valuable to separate hidden object as a different thing.

I’d consider them to be puzzle games, for sure. A sub-genre, but definitely puzzle games.

Mazes are definitely a good comparison. Most people feel comfortable considering them puzzles, but the heuristics for solving a maze are incredibly simple, definitely on the same level as like pixel-hunting.

Jigsaw puzzles are often considered the quintessential puzzle, and the main form of interaction there is staring at the pile of pieces until you recognise what you’re looking for, so I’d say Hidden Object games definitely count as puzzles.

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So my kind controversial take is that jigsaw puzzles aren’t really puzzles in the modern sense of the word. Though my bias is that I don’t really like jigsaw puzzles.

There was a debate about this on the Discord, but my definition is:

A puzzle is a non-trivial intellectual task with a finite number of intended solutions.

However, I don’t consider this to be an exclusive definition, and edge cases exist. In this conversation, we are focusing on whether or not the puzzle is “trivial”. Jigsaw puzzles are an edge case for me because they are in many ways solved by brute force. I would also consider connect-the-dots, duck conundrums, and word searches to exist in this edge space.

As for this question, I think Hidden Object games are a kind of puzzle game, but kind of exist in that edge space. They do frequently require ingenuity in how you see objects in images. However, they are also similarly solved by brute force (looking around the image to see the thing you’re looking for). So it’s a kind of gray area.

I want to be clear that whether or not something is a puzzle is not a value judgment. While I don’t enjoy jigsaws, I recognize why people enjoy them as an activity. And the term I’m using (“non-trivial”) isn’t an assessment of value, either. I’m using it to describe problems that are solved primarily without deduction, induction, or what have you. I, for one, love Tetris, but do not think it technically counts as a puzzle.

I also know this is a spicy hot take and many people will disagree with me! :sunglasses: This is incredibly subjective, and blah blah blah prototype theory blah blah blah prescriptivism. Perhaps we need a model like Jesper Juul’s traditional games moel for puzzles?


Sure, why not. The puzzle game genre is already broad enough that just saying a game is “a puzzle game” doesn’t say much about it so a deeper categorization is needed for everything. Both The Talos Principle and Spacechem are puzzle games, as are Hitman Go and Murder By Numbers.

I don’t follow how the applicability of brute force by itself says anything about triviality of a puzzle. Many solving algorithms for things like sudoku, chess & go often use brute force.


It’s interesting that you bring up chess and go because up I was thinking about tsumego (go problems/puzzles) earlier in the thread. Because this kind of describes the experience of solving tsumego even if it’s a bit of a simplification:

certainly experienced players solving simple tsumego will see where to play to solve without logically deducing it. instead of “if black plays, then white responds,…” you can train yourself to recognize common shapes and their critical points, which is partly the goal of practicing tsumego

I also think it’s interesting to pick apart the phrase “brute force”… although you wouldn’t want to actually use brute force techniques to program a go or chess AI, I can certainly see using a really simple tree search to solve go puzzles (you probably don’t even need Monte Carlo tree search, just a breadth-first or depth-first search) and I’m not sure there’s much practical difference between a tree search and brute force for a human. I suspect this would apply to many things that we call puzzles and puzzle games.

Chess puzzles make me think of Into the Breach, which I’ve seen denigrated as being not a “real strategy game” but just a puzzle game, because supposedly the levels are random but constructed within some bounds to be solvable with your current squad + loadout. Sorry this is a bit off topic… if I think about these genre debates too much I just get tired

Wait … are puzzles games? :grimacing:

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Are moving-block puzzles puzzles?

Sandwiches are puzzles. It’s several pieces that come together to make a whole and you can look at it to see the pieces. Puzzle.

I do not think MOST hidden object games are puzzle games because a lot don’t actually have problems to solve, which is central for there to be a puzzle. The least of them just give you a list and then you see if you can see the listed items on a screen.

HOWEVER, a lot of these sorts of games are now incorporating more traditional point and click elements and more traditional puzzles.

We’re reaching a point where the genre title is becoming less and less fitting, defined more by general aesthetics and structure (highly detailed 2D art with limited animation, old school style PC game menus covering the screen, going screen to screen to solve at least one puzzle in a given screen with a very blunt series of instructions to follow to make progress, weirdly dark and messed up elements that we strangely don’t talk enough about I mean there was this one game about a woman possibly nearly being murdered by a coworker and exploring her fractured headspace to help her overcome her various complexes it was weird).

A lot of games that are considered hidden object games don’t have hidden object activities anymore. It’s where I’m at with stuff like Tormentum, which has no such hidden object moments, but uses a lot of the structure and trappings of the “genre” instead of more traditional point and click game aesthetics and design norms.

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This. If I can’t eat it it’s not a puzzle.


hidden object games are one of those classes of games that’s consistently been ignored by mainstream games because they’re not for “core gamers” (read: people who aren’t white nerd dudes) so uh, yeah, I think they’re definitely puzzles, and I’d go as far as to say they’re more deserving of the term than anything john blow makes, lol.


This is basically the crux of my argument. Most hidden object games are not puzzles because there isn’t a problem to solve other then can you spot the object. I think if you are not told what object it is you are looking for in an image and are instead trying to solve something like a riddle where the answer is an object in an image then that to me would make it more of a puzzle (e.g. I Spy).

But what makes them to you a puzzle? I think a better question probably overall is what makes a puzzle a puzzle? At a certain point anything could probably be considered a puzzle which would mean what is the point of the label to begin with? Which honestly I would be all for relabeling everything in that genre into better subcategories to make sorting easier.

And I definitely agree that Hidden objects are a type of game that has not had great modern attempts at it. According to Wikipedia neither I Spy or Where’s Wally/Waldo have had a new book since 2009 which seems like a real shame as those were some of my favorites as a kid.

I think they’re puzzles in the same way jigsaws, spot the difference, memory or match 3/4 games are puzzles, where the obstacle is object / pattern recognition as opposed to logic. And yeah, “hidden folks” is the only one I know of that’s anywhere near being mainstream.


I completely agree with this assessment: if spot the difference and jigsaws are puzzles, then so is a “hidden objects” game.


This is the case with all puzzles, and technically speaking all problems. You can brute force any problem that a puzzle presents by simply giving it every possible input. The difference is that a “non-trivial” puzzle, in my view, can be solved by different means that do not require trying every input, and brute force is not the intended method of solving.

So, I actually would really like to slow down and consider this critically. Whether or not something is a puzzle is not a value assessment, right? Whether or not you like a hidden object game has nothing to do with whether or not they are puzzles. Similarly, whether or not Jonathan Blow is a trash monster has nothing to do with whether or not his games are puzzles either.

So I want to say unequivocally that whether or not one classifies Hidden Object games as puzzles should not be attached to any assessment of quality.

Okay, but there is a divide in this thread centered around whether or not spot-the-difference or jigsaws are puzzles, too. So let’s address that.

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Eh. I think the one major difference is that they both present a problem hidden object often doesn’t in video games. Spot the difference tests on your ability to understand a visual and give you a clue with the initial image, and jigsaws still offer guidance through giving you the full picture and you having to eye where certain pieces could possibly come together.

This doesn’t really happen in hidden object games very often in the actual hidden object bits. Most items are plain in view, and there’s not really clues you can figure out, verbally or visually, to spot them. You just spot them.

This isn’t a bad thing, I must stress. I like hidden object games a lot (I’d personally highly recommend Tormentum, Backstreets of the Mind, and that one christmas one where you try and get Scrooge laid and yes I did make famous youtuber Brutalmoose laugh by posting this in a stream once this is a fun thing I did once), but calling a lot of them puzzle games feels disingenuous.

They’re games, but often not based around problem solving like puzzle games are.

This is exactly my thought of what makes a puzzle a puzzle!

A problem that has a solution that can be solved through means outside of brute force” would be what would fall under Puzzle if I were to write a dictionary.

Using Sudoku as an example, yes you could brute force it but there are strategies that will make it much faster to solve for both a human and machine.

I never did a lot of spot the difference puzzles so I do not know if there is a strategies you can apply to them but I feel like there are strategies you can apply to a jigsaw puzzle.

Growing up I did a lot of jigsaw puzzles with my grandmother and the way we would always start would be to separate all pieces by color. Then depending on the puzzle if it’s the traditional type where only edge pieces have a straight edges you separate all those out and being assembling those together to form the frame. From there we would pick landmarks in the picture and then position those roughly inside the frame and being trying to fill in the parts in between. That is a strategy.

Originally when I wrote this comment I began by saying I did not know of any strategies that exist for hidden object games but then I found this 2015 blog post by a guy who created an optimal search strategy for finding Waldo based on his placement in all the books. But this strategy I do not think works for all hidden object games as it was based around the constraints of the Where’s Waldo books and it’s creator. So I’m not sure if it counts as a hidden object game strategy or if it’s more so a strategy for only finding Waldo because you have enough data to know the likeliness of the person creating the puzzle to place Waldo in certain sectors of the image. I do not think this would work for an I Spy book as an example because the pages are laid out differently and they were created by different people.

So with that said I think you could develop a strategy based around knowing who created the hidden object game and their constraints but that isn’t a really feasible strategy nor is it the intended strategy of solving these. The intended strategy is you sit there and stare at the image until you recognize the object you are looking for.

I’d say a puzzle is any problem intended to entertain you, relying on an intended skill (like logic or shape recognition) to be solved. I wouldn’t say hidden object games are logic puzzles, but I also wouldn’t say logic puzzles are the only kind of puzzles that exist, y’know.


A lot of this thread is still people trying to find retroactive justifications for intuitions, which is fine.

There are, of course, strategies for hidden object games - partitioning space, for example, is a trivial search optimisation - and just because they don’t involve logical analysis, that doesn’t make them not puzzles. (The word “puzzle” seems to come from a root word meaning “a perplexing thing”, and you can be as perplexed by an ingeniously hidden object disguised by great graphic design and artistic skill, as you can be by a complex logical puzzle. Now: there’s a lot of bad hidden object games, which require less ability at pattern recognition to solve, or which “cheat” in various ways - but it’s as unfair to use them to attack hidden object games in general, as it would be to use a bad logic puzzle which uses clues which are badly written to attack logic puzzles.)