If you’ve got a local newspaper within reach, chances are there’s a Spot the Differences puzzle somewhere within its pages. Even with newspapers struggling to hold on to readers, Spot the Differences puzzles, along with the Blondie cartoon and the Dear Abby column, are well-nigh unkillable. Spot the Differences puzzles will probably survive the end of print journalism, the crumbling of Western Civilization, and perhaps even Armageddon.
In case you’re among the uninitiated, a Spot the Difference puzzle features two virtually identical images placed side by side. Of course, the images aren’t completely identical—there are usually a handful of subtle differences you’re supposed to spot, marshaling only your keen powers of pattern recognition and the occasional furtive glance at the solution.
And now a Spot the Differences puzzle game has made its way to the iPhone, courtesy of EpicTilt. The game, ESPN Cameraman, puts an athletic spin on the Spot the Differences conceit, challenging you to find subtle variations in images supplied by the self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader in Sports. If your morning routine includes a check of the Sports section and a few minutes matching wits with a Spot the Differences puzzle, this is, quite obviously, the game for you.
Gameplay in ESPN Cameraman is pretty simple—you’re charged with finding five differences between two otherwise similar sports images. When you spot something that looks out-of-place—a missing logo, a cropped out letter, an inconsistent jersey number—tap on the area of the image. If you’re right, you’ll hear the sound of a camera clicking while a red circle appears over the spotted difference. If you’re wrong, the image will shake and you’ll hear the sound of a crowd jeering your incompetence. A red timer bar counts down along the left side of the screen. Each time you guess wrong, more time disappears, so there’s little value in just stabbing wildly at one of the pictures, hoping you’ll tap one of the differences through sheer luck.
Once you correctly identify the five differences within the alloted time, you move on to the next image. Fail to do so, and you lose a life—you only have but three lives to give for your ESPN Cameraman game. You get points for each difference you correctly spot, plus bonus points for finishing a level quickly.
ESPN Cameraman adds one other element that dramatically improves gameplay—a hints feature in which you get three hints per game. Tap the hints icon, and the game will highlight one of the differences in an image—that’s one less you have to spot on your own. Because you’ve got a limited number of hints per game, you’ve got to hoard them for when you need them. I like to only use mine when I’ve already found four of the five differences and I’m running out of time. In that way, ESPN Cameraman adds a modest strategic element to an otherwise straightforward casual game.
There’s a soundtrack to the game—the peppy music that plays under the highlights of ESPN’s SportsCenter program. You can mute that sound if you find it annoying—if you’re like me, you will rather quickly—though you’ll still be able to hear the camera clicks and the crowd jeers.
The game remembers your scores, which you can sync online to see how you compare to other players. (I compare quite poorly, thanks for asking.) The score-syncing feature requires you to set a user name and e-mail address and, of course, to be connected to the Internet. The price of being connected is that a short ad appears when you launch ESPN Cameraman and when you conclude each game. That doesn’t happen when you play the game offline.
ESPN Cameraman offers a fun enough way to pass the time, particularly if you enjoy the Spot the Differences concept. I wish the game would provide more of a countdown at the start of each level—instead, the images appear and the timer starts running down immediately. Some of the differences were a little hard for my 36-year-old eyeballs to identify on the iPhone’s screen—I find crowd shots in which one fan, seated among multitudes, is wearing a different shirt in one of the images particularly maddening—but I suppose that’s part of the challenge.
My biggest complaint with ESPN Cameraman is that the more you play, the more likely you are to come across the same images. There’s a shot of three Arizona Cardinal fans—perhaps the entire Arizona Cardinal fan base—that must have appeared half-a-dozen times in the course my testing this game. That makes ESPN Cameraman less about your ability to spot differences and more about your ability to memorize the differences you’ve already spotted, which sort of defeats the purpose. The most recent update added 10 new photos, according to the game’s App Store page, and since many of the photos are from recent events like the World Series or the just-completed college football season, I assume that EpicTilt and ESPN will introduce new images fairly regularly.
Complaints about repetitiveness aside, ESPN Cameraman is a clever take on the Spot the Differences genre and just the sort of casual game that you can pick up and put down as the mood strikes.
ESPN Cameraman is compatible with any iPhone or iPod touch running the iPhone 2.1 software update.
[Macworld.com executive editor Philip Michaels apologizes to all three fans of the Arizona Cardinals for his cruel laugh at their expense earlier.]