Fans of spot-the-difference puzzles will know exactly what to expect from EnjoyUp Games' latest release, iSpot Japan. Players are presented with two similar photographs, and they must identify any details that differ between them. It's simple, and it's a perfect fit for touch screen gaming.
Unfortunately, that's about all it is. The single player mode features a rotating selection of these puzzles, broken into three different difficulties. Each difficulty features an alternate number of differences to find, but the gameplay doesn't change at all between them. That's not necessarily a problem in itself, particularly for fans of the genre, but it can become pretty tedious pretty quickly for those who don't find themselves engaged off the bat.
Each photograph represents either a Japanese landmark, dish, or item of cultural instance, and if you successfully spot all of the differences you're able to read a brief description of what you've just seen, as well as see it pinpointed on a map of Japan. The educational aspect of the game isn't likely to sway any customers that are on the fence about a purchase, but it's certainly not a bad thing to include.
Other aspects of iSpot Japan, however, are less than great. The main issue has to do with the photographs used, a large number of which suffer from common photography issues, such as flare, washout, or poor lighting. While we're aware that we're not here to critique the quality of this photographer's work, in the case of iSpot Japan it significantly affects the playing experience, as these issues make it tougher to spot the differences. It's quite likely, for instance, that a gamer would have noticed a missing tree in the background, if that tree were not so poorly lit that it was nearly invisible in the first place. Instead, the difference can too easily go unspotted, and that's a bit disappointing.
Another small issue is that you can only identify differences on the touch screen. For obvious reasons this makes sense from a technical standpoint, but in practice, it can be problematic. For example, in one puzzle you may have a photograph on the top screen showing a home with four windows, and on the touch screen the same home has five windows. Clearly enough, you tap the extra window. In other cases, though, the home on the top screen might have five windows and on the touch screen it has four, meaning you need to tap where the window isn't, which is always going to be an approximation and may therefore lead to a miss.
Otherwise iSpot Japan is pretty sturdy. The touch screen is responsive and the music, while repetitive, is not bad. Where it really shines, though, is the local multiplayer mode.
Multiplayer pits two players head to head. They are each shown the same puzzle, and must compete with each other to spot the differences first. This mode adds an element of urgency that's noticeably lacking in the single player mode, and the competition makes for a far more engaging experience. For any gamers who have others to play with, this mode will justify the purchase on its own.
For its price, iSpot Japan is indeed a passable time waster. It has more than its share of frustrations, but ultimately it accomplishes what it sets out to do. Those who have others to play with will find the value of the game increased substantially, but even fans of spot-the-difference puzzles who play alone will find something to enjoy.