The Eyes of Ara is a first-person puzzle game that is heavily inspired by some of the landmark titles in the genre, such as Myst. The puzzles and subtle story-telling of The Eyes of Ara are top-notch and the game is only let down by the obtuse nature of some of its mechanics, as the game has issues with adapting its controls to the Nintendo Switch.
The story of The Eyes of Ara puts the player in the shoes of a technician who is dispatched to a remote castle. The locals have been complaining about a signal that is being broadcast from the castle that is affecting telecommunications for miles in every direction. The last owner of the castle disappeared years ago, so it's unclear who started the broadcast in the first place. It's up to the player to enter the castle and find the source of the disturbance. The only problem is that the castle was clearly built by an offshoot of the Umbrella Corporation, as most of the entrances and exits are locked with puzzles. As the player searches the castle, they will find notes from the previous inhabitants which mention supernatural lights that have been seen floating through the halls...
A Puzzling Castle
The player is tasked with exploring the castle and solving the puzzles that have been designed to keep out unwanted visitors. The puzzles in The Eyes of Ara are the highlight of the game and they can span multiple rooms worth of clues and items. The difficulty of the puzzles can vary wildly, with some of them being basic slide puzzles, while others involve matching symbols in order to solve maths equations. The desire to solve these puzzles and uncover more of the story of the castle is the driving force of the game, which can keep players going for around 7-10 hours, depending on their skills (and how quickly they give up and reach for a walkthrough).
The castle in The Eyes of Ara is beautifully realized, with gorgeous furnishings contrasted by piles of junk and half-finished science experiments. One of the biggest joys of playing The Eyes of Ara is searching the castle for clues, as well as finding items that are hidden around each floor (such as action figures or coins) that can be gathered for the 100% completionists. The story of The Eyes of Ara is told in a similar manner to games like Gone Home, with the player having to piece together clues left by the previous inhabitants.
A Little Too Controlling
The Eyes of Ara has previously been released on smartphones and on Windows, which means that it used both touchscreen and mouse controls in the past. The Nintendo Switch version of The Eyes of Ara uses two different control schemes and neither of them work as well as they should. If the player is using the Nintendo Switch in handheld mode, then they can use the touchscreen of the system to control the game, while people playing it in docked mode can use a Joy-Con as a combination Wiimote/mouse.
The touchscreen controls the same as that of a phone touchscreen, with the player needing to pinch in order to manipulate specific items. The issue with the touchscreen controls is that moving the character's perspective feels loose and imprecise, while the benefits of the HD rumble are absent. If the player chooses the Joy-Con, then they can use the HD rumble to vibrate whenever the cursor passes over an interactive object, which cuts down on the frustration factor by a great deal, as the player isn't stuck clicking on everything in order to get a reaction. The downside to the Joy-Con method of control is that there are a lot of puzzles that involve pushing, sliding, or twisting an object, and the Joy-Con has a hard time maintaining any of these motions for long. It might have made more sense for The Eyes of Ara to allow the player to control the cursor using the joystick and buttons. One benefit of porting The Eyes of Ara to the Nintendo Switch is the ability to take screenshots of clues, as the game usually only archives clues that are found in books.
Pixel In A Haystack
The other major issue with The Eyes of Ara is that the game doesn't do a good job of conveying which items can be interacted with. There are times when the solution of a puzzle is just out of arm's reach because an item needs to be altered in a way that the player wouldn't expect without prior knowledge. The Eyes of Ara also brings back the occasional pixel hunt, where the solution of a puzzle can be difficult to see among all of the junk in the castle. These issues aren't a constant nuisance, but they come up enough that they are worth mentioning.
The Eyes of Ara is a highly-entertaining game for fans of puzzle games. There are some frustrations regarding the control options for the Nintendo Switch and the game could be clearer in letting the player know how certain items function, but it's still a great puzzle, especially for its low price tag.
A digital copy of The Eyes of Ara was provided to The Gamer for the purposes of this review. The Eyes of Ara will be available for the Nintendo Switch on October 15, 2019.
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