The gameplay in Where's Waldo? is as simple as the concept behind the books it was based on. Players are shown a picture of a large, crowded area, and they must locate Waldo. Unfortunately, it lost a lot in translation: because of the extremely low resolution of the NES pixel graphics, it was often difficult to tell the difference between Waldo and any of the other characters in the image.
In where's Waldo? you control a magnifying glass which you control using the D-pad. When you think you have Waldo highlighted you press the A button. If you press the A button while not highlighting Waldo you will lose time off of your timer or every wrong hit. The time is shared across all levels of the game up until the Launch Pad. At any time if you fail on any level you will restart the game from the beginning. There are three different difficulty levels in Wheres Waldo? On easy mode you get the screen in one fixed location and 959 seconds of time. On medium difficulty the screen will scroll and you get 659 seconds of time. On the hard difficulty you get 459 seconds of time.
In an issue of GameInformer, they gave Where's Waldo a 1 out of 10 citing it as being "a game for those too lazy to turn a page."
A short film titled "Terrible NES Games: Where's Waldo" was created by a student named Eric Turner and uploaded onto YouTube in 2006, achieving widespread views soon after. The video exposes many of the game's irreparable glitches, including one in the "Subway" scene that has the potential to "trap" the cursor altogether and stop players from even progressing.
There are nine different locations in where's Waldo? Some of the locations are basic levels where you search for Waldo like in the books, and some levels are other mini games.
| The Train Station is the first level in the game and is a look and find level like the books.|
| The forest is another level that is a look and find level like the books.|
| The cave is the first level in the game where it is not like the books. In the cave you have to find Waldo in complete black, when you find him you must guide him to the exit.|
| The fairground returns to the look and find book style levels.|
| The City is yet another look and find book style level.|
| The Subway is the next level that is not a normal style level. In the Subway you have to guide a blue arrow through various tunnels and try to make it to the exit.|
| The Castle is a return yet again to the look and find book style level.|
| The Launch Pad is a slot machine where you must match 3 pictures of Waldo in a short amount of time. If you fail to do so you must start the game over from the beginning.|
| The Moon is not a playable level. When you reach the Moon Waldo jumps out of the space shuttle and does a Moon jump, then the game ends.|