Lorelei and the Laser Eyes review: for the puzzle sickos

I’ve probably spent more time in Lorelei and the Laser Eyes jotting down notes and theories than I have actually playing the game. The latest release from Simogo — the Swedish studio behind eclectic titles like Year Walk and Device 6 — is a mystery game that is absolutely dense with puzzles. The sheer scale of it is initially intimidating. Everything in the game is locked behind a door of some kind, and figuring out how to open them involves navigating a deluge of cryptic, strange, and often confusing clues. But once I gave myself over to the game’s logic, it all made a certain kind of sense. Eventually, it was all I could think about, and I have the notebook full of scribbled solutions to prove it.

There’s very little setup. You arrive at a seemingly abandoned hotel in the woods, prompted by a mysterious letter from a cult film director, and from there, well, you’ll have to figure it out yourself. There are some overt goals, like finding some missing script pages for the director, but mostly, the job is to solve puzzles to open up more of this monochrome world and thus learn more about what the hell is going on. The story and puzzles are tightly intertwined, so each solution usually comes with a fresh nugget of narrative. Those nuggets get increasingly weird, full of ghosts, murder, mazes, and obscure movies. And coffee. It’s sort of like if David Lynch designed an escape room.

It’s intimidating at first because Lorelei and the Laser Eyes locks literally everything away. Once you get into the hotel grounds — which, naturally, involves figuring out the code for a padlock — virtually every part of the building is inaccessible, hidden behind some kind of puzzle to solve, which then leads to another puzzle. The first time I unlocked a door, I was so excited, only to discover the only thing inside was a locked safe.

It’s sort of like if David Lynch designed an escape room

Often, those puzzles seem to make no sense at all. It required some patience (and faith in the developers), but eventually, I was able to slowly start finding solutions, and each one brought a new insight. Here’s a small list of some of the things you’ll need to deal with to find answers in Lorelei and the Laser Eyes: Roman numerals, the Greek alphabet, modern art, obscure (fictional) Italian movies, the phases of the Moon, PS1-era video games, and, unfortunately, basic math.

It all sounds like too much until you realize that every solution is somewhere inside the game itself. Once I came to the realization that everything was a clue, it all clicked into place. It’s still incredibly hard, but that “ah ha” moment made it clear that it was at least possible, which helped me push forward. If I couldn’t solve something, it was almost always because I didn’t have the right information yet. Thankfully, Lorelei and the Laser Eyes gives you a lot of tools to find that information; the main character has a photographic memory, so you have a running list of every important document, image, and memory for future reference. Even still, I’d say a notebook is required for working out some of the more difficult solutions.

Image: Annapurna Interactive

There’s a remarkable cohesiveness to the game, where the various elements build on top of each other, and nothing is there by chance. Even the most obscure detail makes sense eventually. It’s hard to think of another game where every part seems to connect in such a natural way. The closest equivalent might be The Witness, but Lorelei and the Laser Eyes links its story and gameplay on a deeper level and does so with an enviable amount of style and personality.

That shouldn’t be a surprise coming from the team behind the slick Sayonara Wild Hearts. The studio’s new game has the dark undertone of noir but with visual influences ranging from classic video games to Saul Bass to Lynch. It’s also a surprisingly playful experience, full of delightful interactions; at a certain point, you can even mail-order playable cartridges for an in-universe Game Boy. It’s weird and unsettling and lovable, and it looks great doing it.

Lorelei and the Laser Eyes is also part of a truly incredible run of recent indie games, including the likes of Hades II, Manor Lords, Crow Country, and Animal Well. It’s a tough crowd to stand out in, but Lorelei and the Laser Eyes does just that with its seamless blend of puzzles, style, and eerie worldbuilding. Just make sure you have a notebook handy.

Lorelei and the Laser Eyes launches May 16th on the Nintendo Switch and Steam.