“I’m gonna play this game,” I thought to myself. “It’s just about looking at things, how hard can it be?” Well, I did play it and now I’m waiting for my optician to call me back with what I can only assume is going to be very bad news. It’s the arcade I-spy-em-up Search Eye, released in 1999 by the Korean developer Yun Sung!

What a colourful title screen. It looks like the logo for a fake search engine in a TV show that didn’t want to pay Google for image rights. That seems appropriate, because Yun Sung were not worried about taking things they don’t own and slapping them into their videogame.

The gameplay doesn’t take much explaining, but the intro gives it a go anyway: Search Eye is a hidden object game. You search for objects with your eyes, but they are hidden within a larger picture. Once you’ve spotted an item on the right-hand list, use the joystick to move the cursor over to it and press the button. Find all the items to move on to the next stage, but if you click on something that isn’t a hidden item you lose a life. There’s also a time limit, and if you run out of time you lose an amount of lives equivalent to the number of objects you haven’t found yet in the scene. That’s pretty much it, so let’s start the game, shall we?

Stage number one: an old couple cause a scene in a restaurant. Why are they both wearing sunglasses indoors? And he didn’t even take his hat off at the dinner table. Debrett’s would have a field day with these two. Anyway, back to finding items. Over on the right, you can see we need a pair of shorts, a spoon, a pinwheel and a mushroom. I found the shorts right away, because they’re barely hidden at all – they’re near the cursor in the screenshot above. I found the pinwheel soon afterwards, camouflaged amongst the foliage of that tree. After that, it all went horribly wrong. I just could not find the other items. I searched, I scoured, I went section by section but for the life of me I could not find the final two items.

In the end, I had to fall back on my magical genie assistant. She looks rather familiar, but I can’t place where I might have seen her before. I’m sure I’ll remember who she reminds me of (or what game she's been ripped from) in a couple of months, when it’ll feel too late to come back and update this article. Oh well!
Every time you use a continue, you’re given a few hints to use: simply press the second button and the genie will appear and show you exactly where one of the hidden items it located. In this instance, and indeed many instances during my time spent playing Search Eye, the resulting revelation made me cry “what?! Man, this is bullshit!”

I have circled the offending articles for your benefit. Both the spoon and the mushroom are part of the old man’s jacket, with the mushroom being especially fiendish because it doesn’t look much like the picture of the mushroom I was given besides them both sharing a common overall mushroominess. So that’s how you’re going to play it, Search Eye? Asking me to find items that look different in the object list than they do in the picture? Well, I’m wise to your shenanigans now, I’m sure I’ll have no trouble from here on out.

As I moved on to stage two – an image of two blokes regretting coming to Antarctica on a camping trip – the knowledge that Search Eye will hide its objects so sneakily actually did help me out. I found the fishing hook in the guy’s sleeve right off the bat, quickly followed by the realisation that the other guy’s hat was shaped like an upside-down sock. Sort of. If you squint, and you have very oddly-shaped feet. Still, it took me a while to find the duck hiding in the guy on the right’s coat collar.
With this, you’ve seen pretty much everything Search Eye has to offer. One hidden object scene after another where the objects might not even look all that similar to the ones on the list. It does get slightly more difficult as you progress, but only because the number of items you have to find in each stage gradually increases from four to seven: the puzzles themselves start off tough and stay that way for the entire game.

“Camping trip gone awry” is a surprisingly common motif amongst these scenes (and I do love that angry bear). Other common themes include, weirdly, people being ill, bedridden or otherwise injured, and various types of interaction between men and women.

My favourite of that latter category is these scene, where a young lady has presumably given this man a swift kick in the knackers. I’m certain he deserved it. I’m not saying he was harassing her or anything, but just look at that horrendous coat and tie combination. Any violence done to this man is fully justified.
All these scenes rather beg the question “who drew the artwork for this game?” Every scene is in the same style and is thus (presumably) the work of the same artist, but I don’t know who that is. It might be because I’m looking at it through a Westerner’s eyes, but it’s got something of the feel of a newspaper comic strip to it, or maybe a comedically-inclined artist: they do remind me of works by noted British painter Beryl Cook, she of the larger ladies and slightly bawdy scenes. I did try to find out who Search Eye’s artist was just by trying to check out as many Korean cartoonists as I could, but I didn’t get very far. They do bear a slight resemblance to works by a cartoonist called (apologies if I get this wrong) Gil Chang Duk (길창덕), but his style is much rougher and even more cartoony than this. The thing is, I really don’t think the art in Search Eye was drawn specifically for this game. It’s got the digitised look of something that’s been scanned in, it’s far more artistically ambitious and well-executed than the rest of the game’s cheap-and-cheerful pixel work, and Search Eye is not subtle about ripping other parts of the game off from different sources, so why should the artwork be any different?
When I say ripping things off, I mean the game’s music. That’s where I can say definitively that Yun Sung didn’t put their own work in. For example, here’s the stage theme that first made me think “hang on a minute...”

If this track sounds familiar to you, that’s probably because it’s Cammy’s theme from Super Street Fighter II. It sounds a bit wonky due to being on different sound hardware, but it’s definitely the theme of everyone’s favourite leotard-wearing amnesiac British spy.

Or how about this track, which is “Free Flyer” from the original Gradius? These were the two that I immediately recognised, but I’m fairly sure that all of Search Eye’s soundtrack has been pilfered from other games. That’s why I have trouble believing the developers came up with all the graphics themselves.

I do like the art, though. It’s a very different style to most videogames, that’s for sure, and there is something quite charming about it. However, I suspect I’m missing a lot of context for many of these scenes, what with me not being Korean and all. That said, I think a person of any race, ethnicity or nationality can look at the image above and see that ox is about to get punched right in the snout.

But then you get things like this indecipherable scenario, where a burly policeman is taking a young man away to do… something? I’m sure there are a lot of videos on, erm, less salubrious video streaming websites that start in the same way, but I don’t think that’s what’s going on here. The thing that’s throwing me off is the cop’s livid face and particularly his bright red nose, both things I would associate with being super drunk in a “Western” cartoon. Maybe he’s just trying to drag his friend along on a pub crawl.

Maybe you’d prefer the sight of a father, furious with his son for gift-wrapping a cooked chicken? Okay, so maybe that’s a takeaway box, but still, that guy is not pleased about poultry. Is this a Jack and the Beanstalk type situation, and that kid’s traded the family cattle for a single roast chicken? Did dad order the seafood? I haven’t got a bloody clue, folks.

This bloke’s face just makes me laugh. I see a lot of myself in him. Give him a shitty beard and he’d look just like me trying to read my bank statements.
Now, it’s no secret that I do genuinely enjoy playing hidden object games, as anyone who’s read my articles about the Halloween Trick or Treat games can attest. I generally find them very relaxing. So, am I enjoying Search Eye? Not really. It seems I much prefer a hidden object game that gives you a list of items and then expects you to find those items, rather than showing you a selection of images and asking you to find something that may only bear a slight, tangential resemblance to said item. I also really don’t like having a time limit, but as this is an arcade game I suppose it can’t be avoided.

I did make some headway against the game’s rather vicious object-hiding tendencies, though. It was still difficult, but I figured out a few techniques to make my life easier. One was knowing that it likes to hide objects in the negative space between elements of the background, so that’s a good place to start looking. I also realised that some objects are drawn in a slightly different style (or maybe a different resolution) to the backgrounds, so if you can spot a patch that looks slightly off in general then there’s probably something hidden there. It’s like when you’re watching an old cartoon and you can tell when something’s about to move because it’s on an animation cel rather than the painted background.

These tips and tricks don’t help when Search Eye pulls some of its more ridiculous nonsense, as seen in the screenshot above. Check out the third item on the list and you’ll see that the developers have stopped bothering with the “object” part of this hidden object game and now expect you to find A Blob. What an absolute crock of shit.
Oh, and the blob is a blue patch on that blanket, just above the end of the pipe. You know, in case not knowing was going to keep you up at night.

Is there anything else of note in Search Eye? Well, “of note” might be pushing it a bit, but you do get to play a bonus game after every five stages. There are two variants, and this is the first – the game asks you “who are in the same action?” and you have to match the pairs of monkeys that are performing the same animation. That’s it, it’s the same old pair-matching minigame you’ve seen a hundred times before, except this one has dancing monkeys. Those monkeys are either traced from or directly ripped out of Virgin’s Disney’s The Jungle Book game. I’m beginning to suspect that the only part of this game that Yun Sung actually made themselves was the title screen.

The other bonus game is a shooting gallery, where you control a crosshair and must shoot down twenty UFOs in the time limit. The first three times I played this minigame – after which I stopped bothering because it wasn’t worth even the minimal effort of moving the cursor – I managed to shoot down exactly nineteen UFOs. This feels like a metaphor for something in my life, although I’m not quite sure what. Also the UFOs appear to be piloted by the worms from, erm, Worms.

And so goes Search Eye, for seventy stages and thirteen minigames. Even if you knew exactly where all the items were hidden in every stage, it’d still take you over an hour to complete. I’m imagining doing that in an arcade, standing over the cabinet with a small mountain of coins piled up next to me for when I can’t find a goddamn hidden blob, and Search Eye is getting to sounding like torture. And least you probably wouldn't have to worry about a queue forming behind you. So, I’m going to say that this is not a good game. Is it a terrible game? I don’t think so, you can have a little fun with it, up to a point. Just not seventy stages worth of fun.

I believe I already covered this, ending fairy. Yes, it was hard and yes, I sort of enjoyed it, although I must confess most of my enjoyment came from seeing the sheer, brazen cheek of the developers as they nicked assets from all and sundry.
So, that’s Search Eye. An interesting game, but I’ll admit it might only be interesting to me. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and give my search eyes a good, long rest.

VGJUNK Archive

Search This Blog