Sometimes you just need a game that will be relaxing. Nothing that requires immense accuracy. No jump scares or paranormal entities. Just something that you can sink down into your plush couch and play with tranquility.
If I am describing you, then you should check out Under Leaves.
Coming to us from a small developing team based out of Prague, Circus Atos, Under Leaves, is a picture book come to life! Venture into six different locations around the world to discover over 20 different animals to help. A hidden objects game at its core, Under Leaves tasks you with helping each animal find a certain object within the environment. Find all the objects, and you get to move on to another area.
The thing that kept me coming back was the fact that different animals build upon a location. So say that you start out in the ocean helping a sea turtle search for shells. When you circle back around to help the sting ray find snails, you will run into that charming sea turtle in the sector that you left it. This detail was sweet and made the game all the more fun.
Under Leaves is completely void of dialogue or any other text. The only thing necessary for comprehension is an understanding of numbers. This not only opens up the game for people in any part of the world but children of any age.
The watercolor illustrations that are the foundation of the game are done by designer Barbora Podhorska. Under Leaves was born unintentionally while Podhorska and programmer Michal Berlinger were working on another game. To unwind after a particularly stressful day, Podhorska would paint monochromatic watercolor images of animals. Berlinger became inspired by her work and sought to create a game that would incorporate the lovely paintings and calming worlds. The rest fell into place rather quickly and a year later, Under Leaves was ready to share with the world.
The animals and their habitats are completely charming. It is as if you are opening a magical children’s book and diving into the pages. Each leaf is delicate, each animal unique. The devotion to the project is evident in every detail.
To complement the art style, sound designer Marek Poledna created an absolutely incredible soundscape. Filled with chittering birds and sweeping lilting melodies, the sounds that you experience in Under Leaves exemplify the word atmospheric.
At one point when I was playing, I opened the windows in my house. I actually had to mute the game to see if I was hearing birds from outside or birds from the game. Turns out, it was totally the game. That is some realism!
To make it even better, the sounds change based on your location. If you are in the woodlands, you will hear leaves rustling and birds chirping. Venture down into the ocean deep and hear swirling water. The method of changing music based on your locale only added to the immersion.
As stated before, Under Leaves is a hidden object game. That certainly entails a lot of searching around different screens to see if you can find that one particular shaped leaf or those pesky crawling lizards. The challenge level wasn’t outrageous. While I hit a few bumps in the road, I found most objects just fine. Which is perfect considering Circus Atos is anticipating a high popularity among children.
If you do get stuck there is a help button…sort of. After searching for what the game considers to be an unusually long time, a question mark appears. If you click on it, you are taken to a slider puzzle to solve. Solve the slider puzzle and an object’s location will be given.
The concept of this help feature is interesting as it doesn’t give you the answer for free. No just continually clicking on the help button until everything is uncovered. But in most cases, I found the slider puzzle to be more difficult then taking another look back at the different scenes. If a child were playing and looking for help, I could see how that could be frustrating and overwhelming.
Putting it To the Test
The developers anticipate that this game will be the most popular with children who come from nature loving families. Having a vivacious six-year-old who could live outside, I decided to put it to the test.
I set her up with it on the iPad as I figured the touch nature would be a lot easier for her to navigate than the onscreen version. She did surprisingly well. She breezed through the first few levels with no problem. When things got difficult, I showed her how you can click the question mark and it will take you to the slider puzzle, a concept I was sure would be over her head. To my surprise, she sat and worked on it until it was completed. In fact, once she saw there was a slider puzzle, she kept wanting to go back and do it over and over again. The thing that I thought would be the most difficult for her was her favorite part of the game! Go figure.
She sat and played Under Leaves for about an hour before her attention started to wane. In our house, that’s a pretty impressive feat. She is very active, not liking to sit down for long periods of time. If she can sit down and play for that long without asking for help or needing to get up and move around, then that’s a resounding thumbs up! When I asked her what her favorite part was, she said that it was helping all of the animals find their food. Her favorite animal? All the animals, but she was particularly fond of the deer.
Under Leaves was a great way to spend a couple hours. The environment was relaxing with it’s expertly crafted soundscape and beautifully designed watercolor features. It tested well with its ideal audience, allowing me to get a few loads of laundry done while my six-year-old journeyed through the different parts of the world.
If you are looking for a game that will allow you to unwind for a bit and enjoy some true beauty, then check out Under Leaves.