Pixel Hunt


"I mean, there's a reason the expression 'needle in a haystack' is used for a hopeless task no one in their right minds would undertake unless they had hours to while away in mindless drudgery. An excellent adventure game has no haystacks. A good adventure game probably gives you a magnet. A bad one makes you look at straw for seven hours. This game is nothing but haystacks, and sometimes the needles are made of straw."

A Pixel Hunt is an annoyingly common Fake Difficulty of graphical Adventure Games, where a hotspot or object that the player has to click on is only a few pixels in size, and hidden in the scenery. Since many such games do not tell you what is under the mouse cursor until and unless you actually click on it, this can make for frustratingly lengthy searches, or Guide Dang It moments if the player never realizes there was an object to begin with, and thus can't solve the next puzzle. Also known as "pixelbitching".

Greg Costikyan discusses this in his article on game design "I Have No Words and I Must Design":

Or let's talk about computer adventures; they often display information failure. "Oh, to get through the Gate of Thanatos, you need a hatpin to pick the lock. You can find the hatpin on the floor of the Library. It's about three pixels by two pixels, and you can see it, if your vision is good, between the twelfth and thirteenth floorboards, about three inches from the top of the screen. What, you missed it?"

The equivalent in Interactive Fiction (text adventure) games is You Can't Get Ye Flask. The opposite is Notice This. A contributing factor behind Empty Room Psych. See also Needle in a Stack of Needles.


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    Action Adventure 
  • In Assassin's Creed II, Subject 16 encoded data which you have to decode with Pixel Hunt puzzles by finding either Pieces of Eden in historical photographs or Renaissance paintings. At least in the paintings you are trying to find something which was already in the painting (a staff, a sword, etc) which can be recognized. In the photos, you are looking for a little sphere the devs added and thus have no frame of reference. Just hunt and peck.
  • Mr. Little from Cave Story is exactly what his name implies, at only five pixels tall. What's worse is that he's wearing green, and standing in grass that's about the same shade and height. At least he walks around. If not for his family, located elsewhere in more conspicuous surroundings, you would never know he was around. Fortunately, he is not needed to advance in the game. You need never even realize he exists.
  • Many puzzles in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time Master Quest consist of locating torches and switches embedded in walls, boxes, cows, or which are otherwise very well concealed or hidden in plain sight.
  • Metroid: Other M has several forced first person segments, where you're trying to find one small detail in a much larger picture.
    • The cybernetically enhanced Zebesian, where you have to find the small Galactic Federation logo on its chest. You are given no hints about this, and after finding Lyle's body, you have to turn around and look at a spot of green blood, again without hints. Worse yet, you have to spot it on a field of green grass. It's hard enough find the spot without it blending in with its surroundings. Even worse, it happens while all the soldiers are remarking how notably gruesome his death was while standing in a way that obstructs your view of the body, while the natural response is to find a way to move the soldiers or find some way to examine the single most striking thing in the area... but no, the game wants you to completely turn around and look at an odd puddle.
    • Other enjoyable hunts include spotting brown grubs against a brown background, spotting one moving leaf among a whole forest of leaves, and spotting a bridge that is ABOUT to be burned down. Of course, there's also that one where you have to find the one tiny little pixel that activates a light source - IN PITCH BLACK!!!
    • There's a fun one at the end of the game, which, while obvious in hindsight, can be counter-intuitive the first time around because it averts one of the usual conventions of gaming, to wit: You have to target MB rather than trying to dispose of her minions first. Made all the more confusing by the fact that said convention is in full force for the previous boss fight, where you have to kill all the small Metroids before you can damage the big one. Considering her massive minions are right in your face the whole time (and do take damage, but never seem to die) and she's way in the background while her henchmen attack you viciously, it's a particularly mendacious example, as the game uses intentional trickery to misdirect you from thinking it's even a Pixel Hunt at all.

    Action RPG 
  • Avalon Code is ridiculous in this regard. Every map has a single spot that will give a small description if you press A to examine it. Said spot is invisible, so if you want full points on a map, you'll have to run around frantically pressing the A button at every suspicious nook, and you also need to do this in areas where there's enemies, which means that pressing A instead causes you to attempt to uppercut a nonexistent enemy every time you press it and aren't close enough to a piece of scenery that you can examine.
  • The first Diablo does not have the key that highlights all items on the floor. Good luck finding that tiny ring. This is so frustrating that the third party Hellfire expansion adds both a spell and a character power to illuminate all items.
  • A less onerous example comes in Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. Plot-critical items are rarely difficult to find, but some switches, doors, or bonus items can very easily blend into the Real Is Brown background and assorted junk. This gets extremely annoying when they are laying amongst owned items, and it can take a minute to find the exact angle to avoid stealing someone's toothbrush and being attacked.
  • While not necessary for completion, finding the Daredevil and Black Panther action figures in Marvel Ultimate Alliance (which are required for unlocking the respective characters) can turn into this. Both are fairly dark and can end up being near-invisible in levels like Mephisto's Realm.
  • Mega Man Battle Network has a number of invisible items, usually key items such as "Dentures", "Beetle", or "Firewood", that require a bit of pixel-hunting.
  • Parasite Eve suffers from some incredibly obnoxious moments where the player simply has to "search the area for clues" or some such. Often the player can search the same object three or four times without triggering a necessary cutscene because Aya has to be facing just so and interacting with the exact right pixels. Worse was the fact that you can't run and search at the same time, so button-mashing a search ends up with Aya's running animation going on and off like a strobe light.
  • The World Ends with You uses this during the battle with Tigris Cantus. At one point, she deactivates all of Neku's pins, turns invisible on a white screen while she summons illusions of herself, and equips the player with only the Rhyme pin. You need to find a tiny little yellow glint to attack so that you do damage. Luckily, you can track said glint by examining the direction of the player character's shadow.

    Adventure Game 
  • This is commonplace in free online games of the "escape the room" variety.
  • Amazon Guardians Of Eden requires the player to find a decoder ring in a recently-trashed room. In a literal example of this trope, the ring is precisely one pixel—hard to find even at the game's low screen resolution.
  • Another Code has this occur twice. Once you have to examine a specific window in a cabinet to find a glass with the key to the next room, but there are no clues as to which one to pick. Thankfully, once you find the right one, you get a big old close-up on the key you were looking for. Later in the game, you have to pick one book out of a huge bookshelf spanning a wall hiding yet another key and if you hadn't solved the puzzle on the nearby table, you could be at it for a while. Once again, picking the right area gave you a nice close-up on the book you were looking for.
  • Broken Sword, a game based on legends of the Knights Templar, was released in the United States as Circle of Blood, but has so many tiny and impossible to find things in it that it's better known as "Circle of Mouse". You (almost literally) have to move the mouse over every pixel in a picture to find something you need to continue.
    • The Director's Cut version goes great lengths to avert this trope. As soon as the player's mouse pointer is within half-inch or so of an object that could be interacted with, that object is highlighted by blinking circles. This gives no hint about how exactly are you supposed to interact, but it does remove the "haystacks" factor almost completely.
  • The Bud Tucker in Double Trouble adventure game presents this problem twice. First, in the park there's a teabag in the floor, and you can't beat the game without it, but it's just 4x4 pixels, and in the middle of scenery. Later on, you need to look for a nail, that is even smaller, and you don't know you can't advance without it. The sad thing is that even after you look up the solution and know you need a teabag and a nail, and where they are, they're still very hard to click, and you may need to search for different guides that are more specific on exactly where you're meant to click. There's a third instance in the kitchen with the gorilla, but the area to click isn't that small, it's just that you don't know where you have to click. You know they overdid it when a guide isn't enough to help you solve it.
  • Clock Tower aka Clock Tower: The First Fear has the cursor change from an arrow to a target box whenever it's moved onto anything that can be interacted with, averting this trope.
  • Averted in Death Gate — no item is too small to be noticed, and everything shows a text description when you mouse over it. Still, they managed to hide at least one item in plain sight by making absolutely sure that the player sees it, dismisses it as unimportant and forgets about it. When you realize you need these items, you're likely to not even check that room again, and even then you may still overlook it. Finding it is way more satisfying than finding a Pixel Hunt spot.
  • The Discworld games sometimes have this. Yes, the usable items are captioned, but only once you have the mouse on them, and the Josh-Kirby-lite insanely detailed backgrounds don't help. Discworld Noir, as in many things, is an improvement ... except when you're locked in jail, and have to find the right brick in a pitch-black room to escape.
  • In the Japanese room escape game Doukoku for the Sega Saturn: if you want to save a particular female character when her leg gets caught between an iron grille, in-between utilizing some quite obvious items on screen, you have to click on her hair, where you find a hairpin to unscrew the grille. Not only is this not hinted at, the hairpin is also completely invisible (you don't even get to see it as an item), and all other similar clicks have actual items drawn on screen for you to see. Not to mention you get the impression that you have to go to other places to find the suitable item, since most room escape games (including this one) require players to do so. Do that, and the girl dies the most horrible death in the game (foreshadowed by the chainsaw next to her, which you can actually use to try to set her free, only to find out that the iron grille is just too strong for the chainsaw without putting her into harm).
  • Towards the end of Full Throttle, not only do you need to find a tiny little spot on a gigantic rock wall to kick so you can open a secret passage, you have to kick it at just the right time. So you'll be kicking the wall all over the place and still not knowing if you're kicking the wrong spot or if you just haven't gotten the timing down.
    • The fluff makes the clue particularly unhelpful—Mo mentions that she used this guideline when she was six, so you're trying to kick spots on the wall where the crack matches the eyeline of a little kid. The crack that's supposed to point you at the right spot to kick lines up with your own, grown-up, six-foot-tall eyeline.
  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade has several examples.
    • There is a library filling five to ten screens, in which three individual items labeled "book" have to be found in a large generic mass labeled "books". However, it at least has a command ("What is") that displays item names when hovering the mouse over them, even before a click. Eventually the SCUMM engine would just do that all the time without a command.
    • Even worse is right near the beginning of the game, where you need to find a piece of "sticky tape" stuck to a fallen bookshelf, as said object is only a few pixels wide.
    • There's a puzzle towards the end that, initially, can seem even worse. Just like in the movie, the buzzsaws in the Grail temple have to be passed by kneeling...however, there is no "kneel" command. The actual solution is to click the walking cursor on a small, specific patch of ground when trying to pass through the trap's trigger zone; while this seems like unfair pixel hunting at first, it's actually a meta-puzzle. The game comes packaged with its own Grail diary, a booklet containing veiled hints on a number of game puzzles; one of the drawings in the diary is an illustration of the tunnel floor, with an X mark clearly indicating where to stand to avoid being decapitated. This is meant to be a parallel to the movie; just as Indy uses his father's diary to solve puzzles throughout the movie, the player is meant to use the diary booklet to assist in their own puzzle-solving. It doubles as a brutal piece of Copy Protection, if you give up too quickly.
  • Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis can be just as bad: undoing screws on a book shelf, trying to find an Atlantean flashlight, a ladder, and etc. in the dark. Fate of Atlantis has also one scene that subverts this. When Indy searches an underground dig site in the Egyptian desert, it's pitch black and everything is labeled "round thing", etc. If the player waits, Indy's eyes will adjust to the darkness and the puzzle becomes much easier to solve.
  • Innocent Until Caught has obtainable objects that are literally two (VGA-)pixels small (such as a tiny piece of chewing gum under a table). Dream Web, however, ups the ante by not only having 3x3 pixel objects, but also cluttering the screen with a zillion pieces of random junk that can all be picked up... Of course, your character Ryan only has so much space in his inventory. Finding the right objects that are actually needed later can be real fun when your apartment looks like a family of bums lived there for a year... Talk about searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack. And yes, you can even pick up peas from a leftover TV dinner lying on the carpet. To be fair, in some cases, Ryan utters something like "I think I left something important here" when you want to exit a room.
  • The Polish game Kajko i Kokosz has many occurrences where you need to pick up a very small item which doesn't at all stand out against the background. For instance, you have to pick up a stone hidden among a stack of identical stones. Or you need to pick up a black rock... which is 1 x 1 pixels big. Even worse - it's on a background of almost the same color. And skipping one of these very small items makes it impossible to finish the game, as you cannot get back to the location it's in, leading to Guide Dang It.
  • King's Quest V is rife with these. Examples include the locket, the crystal and the piece of cheese. It also includes an actual needle in a haystack (a gold needle, just to make things worse.) Luckily, you don't have to hunt the pixel to get it, although some people doubtless tried.
  • King's Quest VI contains a one-pixel coin you have to find. This is actually easy because it has an animated sparkle every few seconds. It turns out the harder pixel hunt on the panel is a board that manages to blend perfectly into the scenery; after the coin fiasco, who would look at it?
  • Limbo of the Lost, just as well as it displays many, many other common design flaws of adventure games, fails to disappoint in achieving this one too. Have fun looking for flasks and bottles in the shadows, hunting sheets of wool mere footsteps out of normal view, and picking up pieces of wood with one-pixel-tall hot spots! To be fair, if you're making your graphics by taking screenshots of other games, there's a limit to what you can do in the way of object placement.
  • In Maniac Mansion, if your character is captured, the cell door can be opened by pushing a particular brick - one in a wall of hundreds. This one's pretty easy though, considering the (primitive) engine makes every hotspot at least 8x8 pixels in size.
  • True to its name, McPixel takes advantage of its intentionally low resolution yet high color depth to make clickable objects nary a single pixel in width and/or height while only a single shade different from its surroundings.
  • The Monkey Island series has some fun with this trope. But like all latter-day LucasArts games, it displays item names when you hover the mouse on them.
    • In the first game, you're required to get a rubber chicken to go somewhere. The problem? It blends in with "cursed" chickens the player character says something to the effect of "I'm not going near those" if clicked on the wrong one. Thankfully, this was fixed in the special edition.
    • In the second game you are, at one point, completely in the dark. It turns out there's a light switch on the wall. The problem is, both the room and the switch are completely black, and thus invisible.
    • In the hard version of the second game (and the only version of the special edition) you at one point have to pick up a piece of string that blends in perfectly with the mise-en-scene.
    • In the third game, if you carefully move your cursor over every pixel in the Plunder Island beach area, you can locate a "secret button" hidden inside a column on a bridge. Pushing this button remotely activates the nearby fort's cannons, which is absolutely useless but, according to Threepwood, "fun".
    • Also in the third game, repeatedly using the beach water on Blood Island will make Guybrush get in, and appear in the water scene from the first game. You only get a brief look before Guybrush comes out again. Afterwards, you can click on a certain spot in the water to go under and have a proper look. There's only about a 3 pixel square to click on.
    • There's a lucky penny hidden on Lucre Island in the fourth game. You have to run to an area of the city that you've got no business being in and carefully walk around until Guybrush is standing right next to it, facing in exactly the right direction. It's been glued to the ground.
  • Myst is in many ways a game of pixel hunting—case in point, finding the secret room in the Stoneship Age. This is actually an accidental case of this trope: the secret room in Stoneship is clearly marked in the Mac version. Due to palette changes when porting the game to the PC, the mark became invisible and finding the secret room is much harder. The problem of clues hidden in dark shadows is also why the games have a gamma calibration built in to run at first startup.
    • Riven: The Sequel to Myst also has its points of pixel hunting, with switches hidden in tiny decorative buttons on lamp posts looking exactly like every other lamp post you encounter on your way there. Good luck hovering over the whole screen in the hopes of seeing the cursor change.
  • The creative team at Neopets loves this trope. Their plots (site events) often feature adventure games in which you have to find and click on a very small and almost unnoticeable feature of a picture in order to advance the plot. Here's an example, from this walkthrough. It's not always as bad as it may seem. The tab key in some web browsers allows you to toggle through every clickable object, which usually thwarts any web-based Pixel Hunts. This technique was listed on a fansite as a "secret" for one of Neopets' Mini Games. It can also be used in other places, such as when hunting for Easter eggs in Strong Bad Emails.
  • One puzzle in Out of Order requires you to steal a guard's ID card from his back pocket. Said back pocket is extremely small and hard to click on, and the guard only stays turned around for a very short amount of time.
  • The scene in Sam and Max: The Devil's Playhouse: Episode 5 where you control Maxthulthu in Manhattan is a Pixel Hunt sequence. Your goal is to find buildings that trigger memories, which, with the exception of the Red Herring BoscoTech Lab, are not signposted at all. You are given no indication as to what direction you should be going in. To make matters worse, the city you wonder around in is huge, and the camera angle is pointed upwards, meaning only a few buildings at a time are visible. Also, in the old LucasArts game (Sam and Max Hit the Road), one of the items you're supposed to get in order to modify a set of binoculars is a magnifying glass, but it's hidden so well in one of the carnival booths that you will easily mistake it for the background.
  • Scratches has several items to be picked up and used in puzzles, but they blend well into the environment and are easy to miss. Particular mention goes to having to pick up a specific rock, which most people wouldn't think about, given its location. It's in front of the caskets in the crypt.
  • The Lovecraft-inspired PC adventure Shadow Of The Comet has an interface that works by showing a visible line of sight to any item that can be picked up. Problem is, it only works if you're facing the item in the right way, and is incredibly frustrating if you don't know what you're looking for, and you usually don't.
    • The sequel, Prisoner Of Ice, requires you to find a single book on a bookshelf labeled "A book" in a sea of "Books" to open a secret door. Thankfully, this time, object labels will appear when you highlight them with your cursor regardless of where you're facing.
  • The Shannara adventure game has a strange variation: at one point, you end up in a room that is pitch black, and you have to move the mouse pointer around until the text at the bottom of the screen indicates that you're pointing at something that can be used as a light source. (And the room is filled with lots of completely irrelevant junk.)
  • Sherlock Holmes adventure games tend to fall into this trope, as they try to recreate Holmes' ability to make deductions from tiny clues. In one example, you can't move on until you click a specific footprint to take a closer look, then hold your magnifying glass over just the right spot on just the right clump of grass near the footprint, to find a nearly invisible fish scale.
  • This trope is avoided in the Simon the Sorcerer games, in which you can hit F10 at any time and have all the active objects on the screen highlighted for you. The same doesn't go for exits from the current location, meaning you can still miss a couple of rooms, but otherwise it completely avoids the need to carefully sweep the screen for tiny items that you would otherwise miss.
  • Space Quest 6: Roger Wilco in The Spinal Frontier lampshades this by having the narrator comment on a certain very small item when you look at it by saying, after identifying the item, "Good eyesight! Now we'll have to do one of those puzzles where you have to find a one-pixel coin or something. But hey, who'd design a mean, unfair puzzle like THAT?"
  • Still Life 2 has two chapters of crime scene analysis using a forensic kit. Both of them have at least a couple small target zones that could require any of a half-dozen tools from the kit - wrong tool won't do anything.
  • Teen Agent requires you to dive into a lake and grab an anchor from its depths. Except the anchor is tiny and barely visible, there are no in-game hints that would suggest its existence, you only get to see it for a couple of seconds at a time (that's how long the character can dive,) and to pick it up you have to click on it right after you begin diving—otherwise the character will simply ignore your command. That, and also yet another bookshelf with only one usable book.
  • Torin's Passage, a Sierra adventure game developed by Al Lowe, features one scene with this trope implemented quite literally; it involves locating a pixel-sized glint that occasionally flashes on the screen, and in the middle of a maze, at that. And the game's hint system is no help; it merely tells you to look for the glint on the screen...
    • The game also has another example of a pixel hunt; at another point there is a moss-covered slope that is extremely slick (and yes the game does use the associated pun), and if you attempt to climb it you fall off and die. You can enlist the help of the nearby grass to tell you places that are safe to go to, but the grass only tells you where a safe spot is while your cursor is on it, and the safe spots are ludicrously small as well as visually indistinguishable from the rest of the slope. Add this to the fact that you have to find six or seven spots to cross the slope, constantly assaulted by the grass's high-pitched cries of "not there" and "no", hoping for the occasional "yes", it makes for an extremely frustrating experience. Al Lowe has no idea how to play Hot and Cold, apparently. A review showed a screenshot of this game captioned, "See that wrench? Neither did we. For three hours."
  • Old-timey point'n'click game Ween The Prophecy has a couple. At one point you lose three grains of sand in a grass field. You shrink yourself to get a better view, and the end result isn't quite as bad as it sounds because you know you have to look for them in the first place, they're shiny, distinctly off-color with the rest of the screen, and are 3x3 instead of one pixel, and the game is old enough that individual pixels are still pretty big and noticeable. Later on though, you're thrown in a jail cell and have to Pixel Hunt a nail lodged in the wall. Unlike the previous example, you don't know you have to be looking for it in the first place, it's almost the same color as the rest of the blank wall, it is exactly one pixel, and the first several times you click on it nothing noticeable happens because it's stuck and you have to wiggle it out with several clicks.
  • The X-Files Game has a required clue in the form of a bullet that is 2x2 pixels big (in a game that runs at 640x480), making it probably the most egregious example of (quite literal) pixel hunting on this list.
  • Thimbleweed Park:
    • Parodied with the 70 tiny specks of dust scattered throughout the game which the characters can hunt for and collect.
    • Played straight with the books in the Mansion mansion library. Every pixel is a different book, so it can be very difficult to find yours among the hundreds and hundreds of them.

    Eastern RPG 
  • Parodied in EarthBound. In the desert, there's a small side-quest involving two lovers separated in the desert. Ness can find them, speak with them, and relay their messages to each other. The catch? The lovers are white and black sesame seeds, and both are only a single pixel big. Your only reward for finding and speaking with them is the satisfaction of knowing they may someday be able to continue their relationship. In MOTHER 3, they are reunited in the Hall of Memories.
  • Final Fantasy VI has the Optional Boss Deathgaze. He's hidden in random locations on the world map, but is notorious to find due to being invisible. He doesn't have an overworld model, so your best chance of finding him is flying around and hoping that you get lucky. There are over 4000 tiles on the map. Deathgaze is on one of them. As if to rub salt in the wound, he runs away after each battle, meaning you have to relocate him all over again, slowly whittling down his HP until he's weak enough to kill.
  • While not necessary for game completion, there is a lot of Pixel Hunt action in Final Fantasy VII. Some of the notices on the boards which you may otherwise just take as background actually contains messages, and in the case of the Turtle's Paradise newsletter, nab you some pretty sweet items. One of the most hidden examples is the back of a signboard in Sector Seven containing a message about Avalanche. If the Ultimania Omega guide is any indication, there are probably a lot more.
  • In Final Fantasy VIII:
    • There is an interesting case near the end of the first disc, in which you are required to go to an ancient ruin to recover the sword of the previous person to enter the ruin. Problem? The sword is lying on the ground in the first room you enter, and could easily be mistaken for a patch of light.
    • Disc 2 of Final Fantasy VIII is more or less a continuous series of pixel hunts. And there's also the Chocobo forest where you need to stand in precisely the right spot if you want to catch the chocobo.
  • Final Fantasy X: to find all the Al Bhed primers, you need a guide, a big-screen TV, a magnifying glass, and possibly a deerstalker. In addition, there are several locations on the world map that can only be found by randomly spinning the Global Airship's search cursor around and mashing X, including - just for fun - one that can only be found after unlocking three items that can theoretically be found using clues within the game, but only a dozen people in history have ever done so.
  • Koudelka (the first game in the Shadow Hearts series) is built around a number of what some would call obtuse puzzles. Objects that can be picked up usually give some kind of visual cue such as being shiny or a different color, but other times, they're completely nondescript and look exactly like the pre-rendered background they're placed on. This devolves into the player mashing X constantly to find things that can be picked up to solve the current puzzle, sometimes rooms away with no indication of where to look. Guide Dang It!
  • The Stardust in The Legend of Dragoon is not only well-hidden, but sometimes requires the player to take some very particular placement just to get Dart to notice it with the X button.
  • In the game Legend of Legaia there is a very well hidden item called the "Platinum Card" which can only be found after reviving the second Genesis tree and then returning to Drake Castle and checking a specific section of a wall. Another example is the "Mettle Goblet", which grants a character infinite AP.
  • Rune Factory has a most fiendish one in the form of a chalice of some sort. It serves no purpose outside of one easily ignorable side quest, with the NPC that kicks it off giving the player EXTREMELY little hint where it is at all. (He just states that he tossed it somewhere while drunk!) It's even invisible! There's absolutely no indication to searching eyes where it is- you only know you've found it when a dialog box pops up saying you just did. One has to feel sorry for the very first person that had to actually walk around and check every square tile in that particular dungeon before finding out which one has the item.
  • Shining the Holy Ark has 50 (thankfully optional) Pixies to be found. They're hidden throughout the world, and all you have to do is inspect the section of wall they're hiding in. However, there is no indication whatsoever that a pixie may be hiding in a solid brick wall/pond/pot/statue meaning the only way to find them is to search every single section of wall in the game. Unless you have a guide of course.
  • In Super Mario RPG, there are 39 chests distributed all over the world. They are completely invisible. You don't have to find them to beat the game, but it's still a huge Guide Dang It quest. You do get an item that lets you know that there's a hidden chest nearby, but you still have to hunt it down yourself.
  • Parasite Eve has its items distributed through boxes scattered around the city. You can also find items in boxes, drawers, or other places within the scenery. Unlike boxes, which have a 3D model and stand out very easily, items hidden in the scenery have no indication that they can be interacted with and naturally, most of the really good items are hidden this way. The sequel toned it down a bit, but it's still very common.

  • In M.U.L.E., if you go Wampus-hunting, you're searching for two or three blinking pixels. Fortunately, it's an entirely optional way of making a little extra money.

    Interactive Novel 
  • Some of the Ace Attorney games use this trope during the investigation scenes, particularly in the last case of the third game where it's necessary to find a tiny, tiny note slipped almost completely under an ottoman in order to break a psyche-lock and advance the plot. For the most part, clues in the Ace Attorney series are quite obvious, with only a few hidden. The point of the game isn't to hide the clues, but hide their meanings, after all. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Dual Destinies alleviates this a little by having your cursor flash whenever you hover over something of significance, and display a checkmark when hovering over a particular item or area that you've already examined.
  • Star Trek: Borg has one annoying sequence where you have to press the button on the bottom of a phaser in order to change its frequency setting; if you fail to do this, a passing Borg will show up and kill both you and your partner. Unfortunately, the hotspot that allows you to push the button is either in the wrong place, approximately two pixels wide or is otherwise programmed to work only 1 out of 256 times. The game's developers did release a patch that fixed one of the game's hotspots... unfortunately, this is the hotspot for punching your partner in the face (a necessary action nonetheless).
  • The dark setting of Virtue's Last Reward makes some items in puzzle rooms go unnoticeable or plain invisible, which will drag on the investigation and create much frustration because one of the features of its prequel yields a yellow outline whenever you click something examinable, and in this installment it's gone. One of the major offenders of this trope in VLR is the binder in GAULEM Bay, which is dark grey in a black area next to a blatantly noticeable white coat, making it impossible to see if your console screen is obscured by a bright light in whatever place you're playing at. There's also the shelf in the Laboratory, which has tons of bottles and beakers and only half of them are useful, yet you can't tell which is which until you click in every one of them.
  • In Zero Time Dilemma, the bio-lab holds a bookshelf that- if the protagonists take a closer look at it- takes up about two-thirds of the screen. All of its books are dully colored, have no visible titles, and have several nondescript cardboard boxes scattered among them. Clicking on any of those things will not help. You are supposed to click on the one sheaf of paper, lying atop one box, in this giant bookshelf. And may God help you, because the game's actual controls will not.

    Massively Multiplayer Online Game 
  • In Kingdom of Loathing, there used to be one (and only one) form of choice adventure that required you to click the graphics instead of the buttons. Sure, it's a trope (Bookcase Passage), but unless you use the tab key to select buttons in your browser, you're probably not going to figure it out without spoilers. Also, lampshaded with a literal Pixel Hunt, where you collect pixels from slain Nintendo monsters to make quest items.
  • An early version of World of Warcraft played this straight. A valuable herb known as Sungrass is a golden color, and, not surprisingly, looks like tall grass. Unfortunately, it's often surrounded by slightly shorter tufts of similarly-colored grass. Blizzard patched that one up in a hurry. Now all herbs (and quest items, and a few other things) give off bright sparkles, turning a full 180 degrees into Notice This.
  • The sightseeing log in Final Fantasy XIV is a nightmare with this. Not only do you need to fulfill certain conditions like using the right emote or having the weather in a specific pattern, you also have to be standing in a very precise spot. The game doesn't tell you that you're on it unless you're on top of it. The sightseeing log used in Heavensward alleviates this by having every spot marked with a glowing orb.

    Misc Game 
  • The M.O.A.B. in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 actually can be shot down with a rocket launcher like the Javelin. It is extremely difficult to do so, however, partly because the plane is only a tiny little dot, which appears at the opposite edge of the map of who ever activated it, and partly because you only have a few seconds to shoot it down (if you don't have at least four seconds on the clock by the time you fire, it still detonates before the rocket can reach it).
  • The Katamari series has any number of tiny items that must be collected for 100% Completion. The most annoying ones are low (and thus have to be rolled up exactly), in corners (and thus you have to be the exact right size to get them), or unique (and thus might look exactly like the Non-Unique version - but only appear in one level). Good thing you don't really need 100%.
  • The 99 Rooms has some of the most aggravating examples to be found. Special mention has to go to Room 6. You click the switch on the wall. What switch? Um...just click around. Eventually you'll find it. We hope.
  • The archery game in Wii Sports Resort contains Easter Eggs for you to shoot, granting you an achievement if you get them all. They are very far away to begin with (thus occupying only a few pixels at best), but, even worse, some of them are literally impossible to see from where your Mii stands. It requires paying attention to the arrow cam and other camera idiosyncrasies to learn where they are.

    Mystery Game 
  • This is the entire premise of Cate West: The Vanishing Files. You fish around with your DS pointer (or Wiimote) looking for items hidden among a background picture. To add insult to injury, there's quite a lot of foreign objects that you aren't looking for also hidden in the picture, and you get penalized for clicking around wildly. There's also a background plot about how the eponymous protagonist is somehow using her ability to notice details to help police, but the stuff you're hunting for never has anything to do with the case in question.

  • Delphine Software loved this one. Near the start of Future Wars, you have to put a flag in a hole on a map which is literally one pixel large, which is fiddly even at the chunky resolution of the time. Another World and Flashback both like putting pixel-high crucial items on the floor.
    • To be fair, Another World contained almost no such items (perhaps only the pistol?), and Flashback showed the item's name with large letters as soon as you stepped on it. Don't forget that "mouse-pointer" was unheard of at the time of these games' releases.
  • The Kirby series does this ever so occasionally.
    • Kirby Nightmare In Dream Land has numerous hidden doors which you have to find to finish the game 100%. One of them is a little red star, no more than 5x5 pixels, which looks like just another star in the outer space backdrop. It helps slightly that the checkerboard pattern of the blocks is missing a block for that spot, and that it moves with the camera. That this is a remake of Kirby's Adventure doesn't help. The example is the same, but some of the other secrets were actually changed so they can't just be remembered. There is also a secret entrance into the level 7-2 Boss Rush tower that starts you several floors up. You'd never know you could go through it because it's barred.
    • Kirby Super Star, in both incarnations, has a hidden planet in the Milky Way Wishes section that can only be found by moving over a specific star in a far off section of the screen, which you can't normally see because the screen pans. The planet's name doesn't show up the first time you select it, either. It's where two of the Copy Essences Deluxe are found and the only way to get 100%, making it a Last Lousy Point.
  • The 2D Metroid games after Super Metroid have pixel hunting to find hidden tunnels and holes in the ceiling (especially with the ones that can't be detected by shooting or releasing bombs at the wall/ceiling).
  • Anyone who's tried to go for 100% Completion in Rareware games such as Donkey Kong 64, Banjo-Kazooie and Jet Force Gemini will know of the joys of trying to find the last tiny banana, musical note, tribal or whatever the collectable of the week is, in absolutely massive levels. Also in Jet Force Gemini, there's a section early on in the game where you have open up a cell that the second playable character is trapped in. Shoot the cell all you want, but you're not going to break it open with brute force. The only way to open the cell is to shoot a tiny and hard-to-spot panel on the wall in a completely different room.
  • Rayman: Half the cages appear out of thin air, and you have to find every single one of them to beat the game. To clarify, cages are invisible until you find the triggers for them, which are also invisible. Not even knowing the sound cue helps, because they can also trigger other things. And there are a LOT of cages.
  • Super Mario Sunshine has the infamous Blue Coins causing you to have to spray very precise areas in order to obtain 100% completion. Hitting the "Z" button will allow you to see how many blue coins you've collected in every area. Of course, you will still have to know that there are 30 apiece in the normal courses, 20 in Delfino Square, and 10 in Corona Mountain. And even that doesn't help you figure out which of the area's episodes you should be looking in.
  • Most Green Stars in Super Mario Galaxy 2 are hidden in the most obscure and hard-to-reach places, such as under vanishing platforms, behind towers, and far out of camera viewing range. Fortunately, the stars emit rays of light and a sparkling sound, making finding them somewhat easier. Getting to them, not so much.

    Puzzle Game 
  • The home page of the Archie Comics website has such a puzzle, changed often to reflect the season or an upcoming holiday.
  • Professor Layton and the Curious Village's low point is searching for all of the hidden puzzles. Some of them are very easy to find and hidden on prominent things you'd search anyway... while some of them are hidden in bizarre and arbitrary places (a sliding box puzzle in the open manhole above you? What?). What makes it worse is that beating all the puzzles in the game unlocks the hardest of Layton's Challenges, the Puzzle Master's House. Hint coins are a more minor form of this trope, being optional (unless you suck at puzzles). Luckily, making the robot dog makes this much easier - he sniffs around any place a puzzle or hint coin is hidden.
  • In The Talos Principle, connector puzzles gradually become this as they increase in difficulty. The hardest puzzles require finding a specific spot to place your connector so that it can draw an appropriate line of sight through different elements. In puzzles like "Time Crawls", the margin for error is minimal and putting the connector a few centimetres away won't work.

    Simulation Game 
  • Ace Combat:
    • Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception has the mission "In Pursuit II," where the way to unlock a custom part for your planes involves destroying certain Special Vehicles. The problem is that thanks to radar jamming that only flickers off every now and then, you mostly have to go hunt them by eyeballing. Even during the lull phases in the jamming, if you're in the wrong place to lock on you will only be able to get a rough idea of where to go. These vehicles are also quite tiny and hard to see, especially given that you can't stop and slowly sweep the ground since you're in, y'know, a plane? It also has the mission Joint Operation, where you need to hunt down transport planes with the same radar jamming. So if you aren't in a position to take advantage of the lull in jamming, you have to squint to see the targets and get them before they get away. That's before you even factor in taking down the optional ace.
    • Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies has the 13th mission "Safe Return" where you need to kill radar-jamming blimps.
  • In Animal Crossing:
    • Finding some bugs is like this. If you don't pay close attention to some aspects, you won't notice the extremely small ladybug or snail on a flower, and if you get too close they run away. And snails are hard to notice, because they only appear on rainy days where the sky is darker and less vivid, making the snail practically invisible.
    • There's also the walking stick, which has camouflage skills so advanced it fades in and out of reality on trees, unless you see its tiny shadow. And, since the game works in real time, if you miss it you can have to wait MONTHS to get it again.
    • The mosquito. This one makes an obnoxious sound, but is literally so small that when you catch it with your net and your character holds it up in the air, it literally makes a red circle around it to show that your character isn't holding nothing. And if you miss the mosquito and it bites you, it goes away, making you have to search more.
    • Animal Crossing really has a ton of these. There's also fleas, which are indicated by tiny dots occasionally coming from your neighbors' heads. Though their Verbal Tic will change if you talk to them into saying things like "itchy" and "bzt" if you talk to them.
  • In Lost in Blue, you have a glossary that has info about various tools/materials/plants/animals/recipes/items as you come across them. The last slot in the plant section of the glossary is a dandelion located in a corner of a certain area of the island that is inaccessible until you get really far along in the game. You have to go hunting for a little weed that is almost indistinguishable from the background. And even though a little box pops up whenever you walk over an item, it's still agonizingly hard to find.
  • One of the activities available in The Sims 3 is finding seeds, which spawn randomly on the ground around the town. The seeds can be pretty hard to spot unless you're deliberately scanning for them or have a close zoom, and of course they're hard to click on. And don't think you can get away with ignoring them - there are a fair number of in-game challenges that require plants grown from special found seeds, so you're going to have to start picking them up sooner or later. The saving grace is the Collection Helper lifetime reward, which makes the collectible seeds, bugs, fish and rocks show up on the map and give off a highly visible glow. Plus, it's usable by everyone in that household once you've gotten it.
  • The Virtual Villagers series of casual games is very prone to this trope. The player has to pick up a sprite and drop it on a hotspot to get a particular reaction, such as starting a villager working on a task. This is even harder than clicking on the hotspot, since when clicking, the cursor gives a more accurate indication of screen position. The hotspots in the ports to iOS Games and Android Games are possibly even more difficult to find than in games played on desktop or laptop computers because of the smaller touch screens.
  • Reunion has a rather mild example, but it's a real-time 4X strategy that shouldn't even have any. Most commands are available via icons in the top panel (similar to the panel in Sierra VGA adventures), but it is possible to give commands by clicking objects in your command centre and in a ship's cockpit. The former is just a gimmick, because all commands are also available from the top panel. But the latter does not have panel icons for commands, giving the player a few awkward minutes to figure how to use the cockpit. There are many buttons, levers and indicators, but only one joystick and one lever actually work.

    Survival Horror 
  • The SP items in Resident Evil Outbreak are hidden in the scenery this way with no visual indicator. Finding them is a real chore, especially since what items are loaded up can change between instances.
  • Silent Hill doesn't have the "protagonist's head turns to look at interesting stuff" mechanic of the later games, and the items are as low-poly as the whole scenery. Health items and ammo boxes are quite distinctive color-wise, but key items (like keys themselves) are usually a small nondescript mass of pixels you will most likely glaze over.
  • Theresia: Dear Emile demonstrates how to make this trope even worse. It's a rather low-budget game, and gameplay outside of cutscenes is represented as a series of 2-D sketches. Usually there isn't a "before and after" for picking up an item—the item simply doesn't appear on-screen, and you have to use the "look" command on every single object to tell whether, say, there's a key stuck in the middle of those chain links. To make matters worse, there's no visual distinction between items that can be "looked" at and background items that give a generic "there's nothing here" message.

    Web Comics 
  • morphE is a comic designed to play like a visual novel and has "Investigation Mode" updates where, in order to move to the next update, you must find the object that the characters are looking for in the comic. Other items can be viewed for quick conversations.

    Western RPG 
  • The developers of Age of Pirates 2: City of Abandoned Ships had the bright idea to make this this an actual quest where you go into the jungle and look for a marble-sized gem in the grass. Or a tiny brown key somewhere on the brown decks of a dozen ships.
  • In Baldur's Gate, every outdoors map has some form of treasure hidden somewhere in it within an area only a few pixels across. There is never any indication that they are there, you have to find them by chance. None of the items are ever plot relevant though, only valuable bits of loot.
    • One of these contains a Ring of Wizardry, possibly the most powerful item in the game. The size of the hidden area is exactly one pixel. Good luck finding it without a Guide Dang It moment.
    • Baldur's Gate 2, thank God, averts this trope by allowing you to hold down alt to light up all such tiny treasure chests in impossible-to-miss luminous turquoise.
    • The Enhanced Edition also has the highlight feature, as does running the original game in the Baldur's Gate 2 engine using BG Tutu.
    • Planescape: Torment, which uses the same engine, does this, too, but outlines clickable objects if your mouse strays over them. Still, its absolute best item is found in a warehouse before you fight Trias, in a pixel on the top left of the room. It's literally finding a needle in a haystack.
  • In Diablo, you can hear the sound of a ring drop from a monster, and spend the next 10 minutes carefully searching the ground around you. Thankfully, in the sequel you can hold Alt-key to show all items on the ground. Hellfire added the Search skill/spell. Also, since you can pick up something as soon as the cursor is in the same square, you have to search much less than you'd think at first.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • Morrowind
      • The first mission of the main quest sends you to a bandit-infested Dwemer ruin to search for a particular Dwemer Cube. The cube is small, dull in color, and sits on the corner of a bottom shelf in a dimly lit room, which makes missing it very easy.
      • One side quest asks you to retrieve a ring that has been dropped into a small body of water. It can be tricky to spot even under good light conditions, so good luck if you happen upon this quest at night or during a rain storm. (Your character needing to periodically surface for air doesn't help matters.)
      • On the Odai Plateau, there is an Ebony Shortsword available which has clipped through some boulders and is only barely visible.
      • The only Daedric Right Pauldron available in the game (without killing Divayth Fyr) is found in the Castle Karstaag tower, barely visible in an ice crevice.
    • In Oblivion, the useful enchanted helmet Fin Gleam is on the seabed off the coast of Anvil. Even if you know where to look, actually finding it can be a challenge in itself.
    • In Skyrim, some enemies have the ability to disarm your character and send their weapon flying in a random direction. Depending on the angle of the attack and the geometry of the room, it might be right by your feet where you'd expect it, off in some dimly-lit corner obscured by a pile of Vendor Trash, or it might have clipped through a floor or wall and be irretrievable. Many players choose to Save Scum when facing these enemies rather than futz with it.
  • The first two Fallout games are terrible with this. Combine dated graphics with a zoomed out topdown view and you can be standing right next to a pickup and have no idea. Taken Up to Eleven when your view is obscured by a wall.
  • The three Mass Effect games have this in different degrees while exploring on the Normandy the different solar systems:
    • Mass Effect: For finding resources or Prothean disks or Asari writings you will sometimes need to move the cursor all over asteroid fields hoping to hear the *ping* of an object, although sometimes an object of interest will also glint briefly on your display.
    • Mass Effect 2: Some moons and dwarf planets are considerably obscured or hard to see, and to detect them you will need to come close to them and hear the distinct *ping*. However, since they can be much smaller than your ship model, your only clue of their existence will be the percent explored display.
    • Mass Effect 3: The third game incorporates a scanner which can detect pixel-width objects of interest in a solar system. The caveat is that using it too much will attract the Reapers, so it's very common for players to bombard whole areas of a solar system quickly and then get the hell out of there.
  • NetHack, sort of. Instead of Pixel Hunt, there's Vibrating Square Hunt. In order to get to the final dungeon below Gehennom, you need to find and stand on a certain square on the bottom level. This wouldn't be so annoying as it is, but the level (and around the twenty previous levels before that) is a randomly-generated maze.
    • UnNetHack makes this a bit easier by informing the player when they're a few spaces away, rather than having to step directly on it.
  • The early Warhammer video game Shadow of the Horned Rat features magic items lying around some of the battle maps that you can pick up and use. The problem? These items are represented by a single pixel that occasionally turns white. Pretty much the only way to discover them is by chance (and some of them are hidden well out of the way), and once a unit has picked one up, it's stuck with it, thus usually rendering the item useless anyway. Frustrating? Oh my yes.
  • The SNES version of Shadowrun has a limited palette, small sprites, and muted colors to boot. On the bright side, your cursor will "stick" to items when you move over them. On the incredibly frustrating side, you control the cursor with the gamepad, which means a slow, fixed scrolling speed in the rare case where you have to perform searching-by-frantic-cursor-hunting.
  • Absolutely every single object in Summoner that can be picked up is in the form of a generic brown sack about the size of a football, and is always on traversable ground. Now, imagine that you have to stumble on some objects in order to get critical quest items, often in generic-looking random encounters, in some of the biggest maps in any RPG. That, and you have to be practically on top of the bag before its graphics work. It doesn't matter how eagle-eyed you are, you can't see what it won't show you.
  • Ultima VII has a very well hidden switch in a dungeon and the key to the shack holding the Hoe of Destruction. It's inside a dead fish in an area covered with identical-looking dead fishes. And the right one is hidden under some debris that you need to move out of the way first.
  • The released-without-being-finished add-on to Ultima VII Part II: Serpent's Isle, The Silver Seed, has the most powerful item in the game—a ring that makes spell components unnecessary — hidden on a dead monster that can barely be seen under an avalanche in a section of the dungeon that seems to go nowhere. Even knowing the area to look in, it's hard to find find it until you look at a screenshot.

    Wide Open Sandbox Game 
  • Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas has this too; surprisingly, on it's map screen for turf wars. One of the turfs is a single sidewalk on the north edge of the map. On the in-game map this becomes a barely visible line, usually yellow against the green of your gang.

Alternative Title(s): Hunt The Pixel, Pixel Hunting, Pixelbitching