A solid Myst-like adventure, perfect for mobile.
As first-person adventure games like Myst and The Journeyman Project moved from mainstream success to niche curiosity, the genre has struggled to remember its once held depth. In the early to mid nineties, games like these stood at the forefront of atmospheric storytelling. Eyes of Ara attempts to tap into that largely lost art and returns with a surprisingly engaging and thoughtful point and click adventure.
Eyes of Ara is a first-person, point-and-click adventure game set in a castle on a remote island. You arrive by boat and find the castle empty, save for strange blue lights that move with a ghostly freedom through its many rooms. Throughout the castle you’ll pick up journal entries and notes that serve to flesh out the story of the man who lived here. While supplementary reading in games usually doesn’t hold my attention, the story is very well presented in small bursts that quickly drew me in. On top of this, these notes often serve as hidden hints for solving complex puzzles.
The puzzle design in Eyes of Ara is, overall, some of the best I’ve seen in quite a while. I never found myself trying to use everything on everything as is so common in these sorts of games. I did occasionally find a clue to be a bit vague in that I knew what it wanted me to do but couldn’t always pick out some arbitrary detail. For example, one note gave me an equation using filled in and outlined stars. I immediately understood where this equation needed to be applied but the puzzle it related to had white and black stars. It took some trial and error to figure out if I was supposed to be paying attention to the color of the stars or whether or not they were filled in. In general though the puzzle designs were excellent. They were challenging without being needlessly obtuse. I felt like a genius every time I solved one but I never felt the desire to throw my Switch in frustration.
I noticed as I progressed through the castle that there were a multitude of rooms I hadn’t solved, yet I was given access to the next area anyway. The castle is separated into unique segments that load in separately. Moving between them brings up a somewhat lengthy loading screen. This isn’t a problem for the majority of your journey since you’re moving in a single direction with little need to backtrack. You will also spend quite a long time in each area so the loading screens feel rare and almost became a sort of reward making it clear that I had progressed. However, at the very end of the game it becomes clear that some of those rooms that seemed optional were absolutely necessary. This isn’t uncommon for this type of game, but as I slogged back through a swamp of loading screens, the affection that I had only moments before held for Eyes of Ara started to slip somewhat. Playing it was an absolute joy, finishing it was a chore.
Eyes of Ara is somewhat unique in regards to its controls. When playing on the television, you’ll use a single Joy-Con as a motion controlled pointer. While at first you’d think this should work about as well as point-and-click games on the Wii, the Switch’s reliance on a gyroscope with no IR tracking leads to a need for constant recalibration. Handheld is definitely my preferred way to play. In handheld mode, the game is played entirely with the touch screen. In fact I found it most comfortable to remove the Joy-Cons entirely and play as if I were using a tablet. Here you simply drag the screen to look around and touch objects to interact with them. While it is strange that there are no more traditional control options, I understand the developer’s desire to supply as close an analogue for mouse controls as possible, given the genre’s roots on PC.
Eyes of Ara is an excellent point-and-click adventure that gets bogged down in its final moments. Up until then, progress is smooth with excellently designed and balanced puzzles throughout. The docked controls are functional but handheld play is where Eyes of Ara really shines. If you’re part of the ever more niche crowd who still enjoys clicking their way through a complex environment, reading journals, and solving deep puzzles, Eyes of Ara ought to satisfy.