The Eyes of Ara (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Josh Di Falco 16.12.2019

Review for The Eyes of Ara on Nintendo Switch

Originally released in 2016 by an Australian developer, The Eyes of Ara is now making its way to the Nintendo Switch. Created by one person over a few years, this is a first-person point-and-click adventure title that seems to be built from the same ingredients as Myst. When a mysterious castle on an island suffers signal interference, a technician is sent to investigate the matter. 100 Stones Interactive has crafted a meticulous castle filled with countless puzzles and collectibles, designed to test even the strongest of wills. With secrets hidden in every room, The Eyes of Ara does a splendid job of building a world of mystery, as the technician tries to decipher the recent happenings within this brooding structure. Like similar entries in the genre, the less that is said about the story, the more rewarding the experience will be.

While the similarity to Myst is visually striking, it's clear from the outset that this is anything but a carbon clone of the '90s hit. This fits snugly in the point-and-click genre, as the technician traverses the castle through a series of screens - each one represents a new area, and the technician can rotate 360 degrees around the room to try and spot objects or environmental 'hotspots' to interact with. Due to the restricted nature of the gameplay, and the lack of being able to freely move around the castle, this places a lot of emphasis on getting the perspective right.

For the most part, points of interest scattered throughout the rooms can be easily discoverable. There were only a few items that were hard to find due to being placed in awkward spots, where vision was severely limited due to where the character was standing. In fact, the idea of perspective plays out well in some rooms. Few rooms have various vantage points that depend on which door the technician entered the room from; and these vantage points can reveal previously hidden items or 'hotspots' that are worth investigating. However, the technician can't just switch vantage points if already in the room - so a minor issue is having to leave the room through the right door that corresponds to the desired vantage point upon re-entering the room.

Screenshot for The Eyes of Ara on Nintendo Switch

The puzzles in the beginning are pretty tame, and they do a great job of introducing the possible concepts that are to be expected in the rest of this adventure. In The Eyes of Ara, nothing is explained. Like the back-story that surrounds the circumstances of the castle, the puzzles and the solutions to them have to be pieced together. Searching through every nook and cranny within each room unlocks potential solutions to some of the puzzles, or may unlock more of this mysterious story, or also contain some filler material that may mean nothing at all.

While the puzzles might seem easy at the beginning, it all soon begins to descend into some really painful moments of despair. To be fair, most of the puzzles in the early-to-midway point of the adventure are pretty easy to figure out; and the solutions lie in various documents or journals that are found within the castle. Generally, if a puzzle is too hard to figure out, it's probably because the answer lies within one of the documents that the technician has found - or it's hidden in one of the rooms waiting to be found.

It's only in the late-game where the difficulty truly ramps up - and even the most puzzle-hardened veterans may be hard-pressed to discover the answers without trying to consult a walkthrough or guide. Countless hours have been wasted trying to find the answers, only to realise with the help of a guide that the poor technician may never have founded that solution otherwise. Where completing puzzles can spark moments of joy, it can also plant seeds of doubt when the puzzles become much too hard.

Screenshot for The Eyes of Ara on Nintendo Switch

The Eyes of Ara, originally a PC title, tries to emulate the same experience when playing on the Nintendo Switch. While in docked mode, it requires only one joy-con. The controller acts as a mouse, with motion-control being the means to move the on-screen cursor around the scenes to select objects or solve puzzles. While in theory this makes sense, the mechanical limitations of the Switch can make the puzzles much harder than they need to be. Some puzzles involve having to rotate a sequence of jigsaw pieces or discs to align up various pieces together.

Due to needing to be pixel-perfect with some of these puzzles, the 'jaggedness' of the motion control can cause the simplest of tasks into an arduous chore. Oftentimes, the on-screen cursor will move off-centre, though this can be fixed by pressing a button on the controller to re-centre the cursor. However, when the puzzles require a delicate handling of things, the cursor moving off-centre can cause basic errors that just hamper the experience.

From personal opinion, The Eyes of Ara is best played in handheld. When undocked, the Joycon are thrown out the window in favour of touch controls. Simple swipes across the screen allow for a quick and easy way to rotate the screen, while solving puzzles has a more hands-on approach. Simply rotate jigsaw pieces or pull levers using touch and swipe movements. Pinching the screen can also zoom in on journals to enlarge text, making them more readable.

Screenshot for The Eyes of Ara on Nintendo Switch

While all these can be done on the docked version, it can take longer to perform due to having to think about which action is mapped to which button, whereas on the touch screen everything seems easier to do. The touch controls are akin to what's expected on mobile phone titles - thus the whole process feels more natural. The main drawback with the handheld mode is that some screens may require squinting to try and find small items in the environment. This part plays better on the bigger screen as the pixels look visually better than they do on the handheld version.

Besides the puzzle-solving aspects, the world building here offers a meta-stories similar to other titles like Gone Home or The Station. Journals and diary entries are left behind by the previous owner of the castle, as well as his daughter and her two kids who came to stay there. Without being told the full story, instead each character explains their own versions of events from their own perspective, and at times this throws up more questions than answers. What really happened within the castle? What has caused this recent disturbance with the signal failures? Is this a ghost, or a science-fiction story?

The Eyes of Ara is similar to Gone Home in how it leaves red herrings around the place to try and insinuate different things as to what may have happened. Similar to the gameplay, it all boils down to 'perspective'. The technician is a non-player in this story, and is merely a witness to the aftermath that the castle finds itself in. The castle itself and its many secrets is the main character of this journey - and it is a fascinating tale for those who wish to explore every secret possible and apply oneself to the various texts that can be found. This is just another great example of an adventure that doesn't need cut-scenes to tell a good story.

Screenshot for The Eyes of Ara on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

The Eyes of Ara is a fascinating journey through a haunting castle, that hides many secrets within its walls. The meat of this experience is to explore the various rooms and interact with every object or journal entry to decipher clues for solutions to the puzzles. For those who don't care much about storytelling and are wondering if this makes for a great puzzle title, well, the plot and the puzzles are intrinsically linked - finding the answers to a puzzle may depend on whether the technician read a specific journal entry that seemed otherwise unrelated to anything. However, applying oneself to this world is ultimately a rewarding experience, and puzzle-lovers will find plenty to enjoy in terms of solving these challenges.

Developer

100 Stones Interactive Pty Ltd

Publisher

100 Stones Interactive Pty Ltd

Genre

Puzzle

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date None   North America release date None   Japan release date None   Australian release date None   

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