The Eyes of Ara
Developed By: 100 Stones Interactive
Published By: 100 Stones Interactive
Category: Adventure, Puzzle
Release Date: 10.15.19
I can still remember what a huge deal Myst was when it was released; everyone I knew was playing it. My friends, the people at Babbage’s (better than Gamestop ever was), even my aunt who had never played a video game before in her life gave it a spin – she beat it before me, too. In my defense, I had other games I was playing at the time whereas she just focused on the one. It wasn’t really a game; it was a phenomenon. Watching the trailer for The Eyes of Ara for the Nintendo Switch, I saw a game developer who had been hugely influenced by Myst, and who can blame them? The Eyes of Ara is largely the brainchild of Ben Droste, who was the “predominant” developer of the game, according to its press. I don’t know what that means in terms of outside assistance during development, and I honestly don’t care. Playing The Eyes of Ara makes me feel like I’m nine years old again, trying to figure out what the heck is up with that damn planetarium.
You play as a technician sent to a creepy castle to investigate radio signal interference seeming to originate from within said castle. The story of the castle’s former residents is told via exploring the castle, and developed through notes and pictures found while exploring. You’ll learn the story of the castle’s owner, his sister, and her two children who had come to live there through scattered journal entries and letters. It’s a neat story about family dynamics and the castle’s mysterious history, but the storyline is a side attraction at best. What you’re really coming to this game for are the puzzles. And let me tell you, there are plenty of puzzles.
You are able to move further into the castle by interacting with the environment to solve puzzles. Sometimes you will need to find a missing item to insert it into a mechanism and sometimes you’ll need to directly interact with a puzzle object. If you’ve played Myst or any of its imitators, you know exactly what’s happening here. Puzzle difficulty ranges from very easy to “WTF am I even looking at?” You’ll often be cruising along and then just get freaking stonewalled by one extra-hard puzzle; they’re more satisfying when you do eventually solve them, but man can things get frustrating if the puzzle isn’t making any sense to you. One area has multiple paintings that have to be rearranged to reveal several secret items; the one with overlapping circular rotating portions was a particular beast for me.
An uncomfortably high portion of my frustration with the game’s puzzles has to do with the control inputs. The Eyes of Ara uses only touch controls if you play undocked or only motion controls if you play docked. It’s actually a really cool input method that recreates the feel of using a mouse on a PC much more accurately than using a controller, and for the most part it works just fine. However, if you get to a puzzle that requires especially fine control, that’s when the problems start to pile up. For instance, in the painting puzzle I mentioned in the last paragraph, one of the biggest stumbling blocks was just getting the right circle to move! If I was too close to another circle, that one would move instead, and then I’d have to move the wrong circle back before I could move the right circle.
Your inventory is based on location; items collected in one area do not show up in your inventory when you move to a new area. They do return if you go back to the previous area, however. It makes inventory management easier, and even makes the puzzles somewhat simpler, since you know any item you pick up has to be used nearby. The inventory-based puzzles are never the truly difficult ones, however, so it doesn’t make things that much easier.
Things look very smooth, especially considering the mostly one-man team. Frankly, even if there were three or four people working on the game it would still be impressive to see such a small team produce such a stunning game. The 3D graphics aren’t AAA level, but they are detailed, clear, and attractive. The music is presentable, but a lot of the times it fades into the background. It is rather satisfying, however, when you hear the familiar swell of music when you solve a puzzle.
I hate to reduce my opinion on a game to comparing it to a different one, especially one as universally revered as Myst; every game deserves to be evaluated solely on its own merits. The Eyes of Ara just reminds me so much of Myst, however, that I can’t avoid making the comparison. The good news is that it compares very favorably; the puzzles are well-crafted, challenging, and feel rewarding to solve, and that’s true whether you have any nostalgic affection for Myst or not. If you enjoy solving puzzles and uncovering mysteries, The Eyes of Ara is a can’t-miss experience.
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*A game code was provided for review purposes.