Version tested: Android
Often the best game ideas come from breaking the rules. That's the case with Hidden in Plain Sight, a simple yet devilishly effective multiplayer party game for Ouya (also available on Xbox Live Indie Games) from solo developer Adam Spragg.
The rule being broken is that the player should know who they are. That's not the case here, as five different activities all hinge on the idea of hiding the players in amongst a crowd of NPCs, challenging you to work out which character is yours, and then fulfil objectives without other players working out who you are. Think of it as a fast-paced 2D riff on Assassin's Creed multiplayer, with a dash of Spy Party, and you'll be on the right track.
The Ninja Party game mode is the simplest realisation of the concept, with victory coming to the first player to kill the others or to touch five statues dotted about the screen. Catch A Thief splits players into two camps: thieves roam the screen collecting as many coins as they can, while other players act as snipers, picking out - and picking off - the thieves without killing NPCs. To prevent accidents, you can tag characters as innocent, highlighting them in green, if you're sure they're not players. Assassins is similar, with one team trying to kill as many NPCs as possible before the sniper players bring them down.
A more hands-on approach can be found in Knights vs. Ninjas, in which one team tries to protect royal NPCs while the other tries to kill them. Finally, and the weakest of the bunch, is Death Race. In this mode players and NPCs alike try to reach the other side of the screen, walking forwards with one button, running with another, and using the thumbstick to shoot anyone who looks like they might beat you. The twist: you only have one bullet.
Hidden in Plain Sight isn't going to win any awards for visual flair, with characters that are only slightly above stick figures and a fairly bland brown arena. In terms of gameplay, however, it's a blast.
This is a local multiplayer only affair, with absolutely no single-player or online play, and when played with four players the concept absolutely sings. It's so simple, yet taps into something so basic, that milling around in a crowd of pixel people, trying to act nonchalant while viewing everything around you with suspicion - it's just fantastic fun, the sort of immediate and engaging party game that transcends graphics and polish.
Being restricted to a single couch does throw up its problems, however, not least the fact that Ouya only comes with one controller. A wired Xbox pad can be plugged in via USB, and PS3 pads are easy enough to add via Bluetooth, but that all assumes that Ouya's owners already have such extra kit to hand. Most will, of course, but it still feels a little odd to have a game that literally won't work on the console as sold. If you can gather together the joypads needed, then Hidden In Plain Sight is a must have.
8 / 10