Lorelei and the Laser Eyes Review - A Mastery of Illusions

  • First Released May 16, 2024
  • NS

Lorelei and the Laser Eyes is one of Simogo's finest achievements, expertly interlocking its cryptic puzzle design with a chilling narrative.

I've never really given much thought to the differences between a labyrinth and a maze. That is, until I played Simogo's Lorelei and the Laser Eyes. A labyrinth, as I know now, is a singular path, twisting and turning, constantly changing in direction. It invokes the illusion of feeling lost, despite the fact that its path always leads to a center. A maze, on the other hand, has multiple paths, filled with dead ends, wrong turns, and requires trial and error to reach its end. The former can be a meditative and reflective journey for some, while the latter is a trying experience that requires patience and perseverance to see it through. Despite these differences, Lorelei and the Laser Eyes brings them together through mechanics, themes, and narrative. The result is a gaming experience that masterfully interlocks storytelling with design, making it one of Simogo's finest achievements, and one of the most impressive narrative puzzle games in recent memory.

Lorelei and the Laser Eyes is a psychological horror puzzle game that sent me on a winding journey through a black and white, neon-red-accented hotel, to untangle a mystery that blurred the line between fact and fiction. It is dense with puzzles, heavy on story, but both are interwoven, and that is key to the way it unravels. I was consistently thrown off the path to the truth, led astray in what I perceived as a maze, when in actuality, I was being armed with knowledge that led me through a labyrinth to the game's heart-wrenching conclusion.

Lorelei and the Laser Eyes
Lorelei and the Laser Eyes

With no setup or direction, the game simply begins. You take control of a suave, sunglasses-wearing, 1960s mod-style dressed woman, standing alone in the woods at night, just outside the historic-looking Hotel Letztes Jahr. Like its main character, you are thrown into this world with no knowledge of who or where you are, or why you're there. The goal of the game is to find the truth, as said verbatim in the game's manual, which is found within the world itself as opposed to being accessible by default. This obtuse direction set the tone for the game--foreshadowing that I was going to have to work to understand anything and everything on the journey before me. It pulled me right in, feeding into my natural curiosity and love for mysteries. The discovery of its hidden truths is tracked via a Truth Recovery percentage in the game's menu. It isn't long, though, until you find a letter with a vague and mysterious message signed by Renzo Nero explaining that you were invited to be at this hotel, on this date, in the year 1963.

You are left to your own devices to investigate, unlock, and unravel every aspect of the game, with your progress starting at 0% and tracked throughout the game. No piece of information is simply handed to you, but rather uncovered. The manual, for example, is locked away and requires a key to obtain it. However, the game can be completed without ever actually finding its manual at all. This is a small example of the game's nonlinearity and the trust it instilled in me to find things on my own. Recovering every piece of the story is not necessary to complete the game, but doing so deeply rewards those who take the time to investigate every nook and cranny of its cryptic world.

As it turns out, Renzo Nero is a rather eccentric artist with a taste for theatrics and has invited you to partake in an artistic project. When entering the solemn hotel, you begin to slowly uncover the story of your larger-than-life host, who has seemingly prepared everything for you in a hotel that is as much a maze as it is an intricate puzzle box. But like all good puzzles, nothing is what it seems and you're thrust into a sprawling and complex maze of mysteries. You must explore its labyrinthine halls and peel back the story of your involvement in this artist's project one piece of evidence at a time. As this incredibly cool looking woman, you can freely walk through a series of scenes viewed through fixed camera angles, which depict a black and white world made up of vector-style 3D graphics through a cinematic lens.

Each piece of information is not only necessary to piecing together the story, but acts as knowledge to solve the game's dozens upon dozens of puzzles. Whether it's news articles, books on Roman numerals, strobogrammatic numerology, or the Greek alphabet (just to name a few), all serve as tools used to venture further into the hotel. Unlike most puzzle games that establish their own language and style of puzzle, Lorelei and the Laser Eyes instead uses real-world concepts and logic, like math and brain teasers, contextualized by story information that invites you to push forward. Where a puzzle game like The Witness uses its puzzle mechanics to teach the player about its world, Lorelei and the Laser Eyes leans on the player's existing knowledge and understanding of basic problem-solving. In that regard, this game could be a barrier to entry for some players, but it also builds on the knowledge players have to expand their understanding, which greatly rewards veteran puzzle lovers like myself.

It's a lot to remember, and certainly an education in a lot of areas like Latin terms or the meaning behind Greek symbols, for example. Thankfully, the main character has a photographic memory that saves everything you pick up, and can be viewed at any point in the game. But her photographic memory will only get you so far in finding the solutions to its puzzles, and your very own pen and paper (or a notebook, in my case) feels necessary in order to find and remember the solution for all its obstacles. In my actual day-to-day life, I'm already an avid notebook user. At all times, I have one on me to jot down notes and ideas, or plan ahead--sometimes I use my notebook to work through problems in my life. This need to use pen and paper to solve the game's problems fed directly into how I manage my everyday life. It's incredibly satisfying and cool to have real-life habits overlap with playing the game in a way that is tangible and sincerely helpful in progressing through Lorelei and the Laser Eyes.

Lorelei and the Laser Eyes
Lorelei and the Laser Eyes

As you move through the ghostly monochrome hotel, every door, drawer, gate, passageway, diary, and just about everything else, requires a solution to be opened or unlocked. Some doors are locked from the other side, while others require a specific key found elsewhere (often after solving another puzzle), or are padlocked with a code yet to be discovered. Sometimes the solution comes by way of the environment around you, so examining posters, or looking for riddles or brain teasers nearby is necessary. Other times it requires cross-examining information you've already gathered, like a specific year mentioned in a telegram, or scanning over astronomical objects. If it sounds dense, that's because it is. But the game paces out information, and gives the players all the right tools to allow puzzles to be solved without overwhelming you. In most cases, if you can't find the solution around you, or in any of the documents you have in your photographic memory, it's safe to say you haven't discovered the clues necessary for the solution yet, but this deduction is also left for you to make.

There were a few instances where I felt I had hit a wall, having found several puzzles that I simply couldn't understand. It added several hours of experimentation to my journey, as I tried to find logic in anything, only to realize that I had forgotten about a note I grabbed at the beginning of the game that alluded to a small detail elsewhere in the hotel that I had completely overlooked. It was frustrating, but also a valuable lesson in realizing that if something didn't make sense to me, I likely didn't have what I needed yet. After I had that realization, navigating the maze became more of a meditative journey--it was a moment of self-discipline and a reminder to myself that I didn't have to solve everything the moment I had discovered it. There was peace in that realization; in stepping back, being patient, and taking my time.

The puzzles are difficult, and while many of them left me scratching my head for hours sometimes, they never felt impossible. Thankfully, the game's nonlinear nature makes it a practice in simply knowing when it's time to take a break and move on to another puzzle. That also means keeping track of every bit of information you come across, which is one of many reasons why having a notebook is vital. During my 34-hour playthrough, I had filled 31 pages of my notebook with hectic scribbles, noting down any information of importance, such as dates noted in documents or names, which could be used to either decode one answer, or used to combine with another. My notebook became a companion in my playthrough, filled with numbers and equations and cryptic symbols, often involving Roman numerals, lunar phases, or astrology, and I loved every single second of it.

Lorelei and the Laser Eyes bombards you with so much information, so many puzzles, and so many enigmatic problems, that having my notebook by my side only managed to pull me into the experience of the game further. Oh, and also, with a cup of coffee there too.

I consumed a lot of coffee while playing this game. This meant having to use the bathroom a lot. While this may seem irrelevant to the game itself, it's actually an important thing to note. This game will require patience, and oftentimes, getting up and physically walking away from it to process its many puzzles, as many of the solutions will not appear magically. Sometimes all it takes is a break, clearing your mind (or bladder), and coming back with a fresh pair of laser eyes to have that satisfying eureka moment.

This reliance on writing in a notebook and cross-examining my own notes was alleviated by the fact that the game, if you're playing on Switch, can be played with one Joy-Con. The control scheme is incredibly simple, as everything can be interacted with using a single button press, making holding a pencil in the other hand (or a cup of coffee), an engaging way to play the game. As a result, it makes playing on the Switch my preferred way to experience it.

As the game and story progress, you unlock more halls and areas of the hotel, and with it, a discovery that what you've been perceiving as reality is being bent and molded to drag you deeper into its chill-inducing horror. These moments and the revelations that come from them are better experienced than explained, so I won't go into detail. But there are several scenarios in the latter half of the game that subverted my expectations so effectively that they had me pulling at my hair in shock.

The game's horror is also emphasized by using the medium of games itself exceptionally well. Much of Lorelei and the Laser Eyes' biggest themes center around the relationship between art and technology, and its direct correlation with the artistic medium of games. Through this lens, Simogo uses game development as a narrative throughline that guides you through different eras of games, like the low-poly horror of the first PlayStation or the lo-fi charm of 1-bit point-and-click adventure games. There's a meta narrative under the hood of Lorelei and the Laser Eyes that will deeply reward those intimate with gaming as a medium, as well as Simogo's previous works. Crucially, these aren't necessary to understand and enjoy the game as whole, they just enrich it further.

Lorelei and the Laser Eyes
Lorelei and the Laser Eyes

Similar to The Ring's use of VHS tapes, PlayStation 1-style graphics are used at times to evoke the rudimentary, degraded presentation of yesteryear to establish an unnerving tone--a jarring contrast to the game's usual clean and modern graphics. Witnessing this whiplash of bygone style of games and seeing it recycled in a rather menacing way was awesome. It felt as though it was cleverly using my existing knowledge of PS1-era games to its advantage. Not just in a way that captures nostalgia, but to elevate the game's more horror-like tones. Similarly, even the role of playtesting games becomes its own topic, extending its meta themes, and even acting as satire in certain parts.

Lorelei and the Laser Eyes is a massive achievement in using the games as a medium and an art form to tell a story that can only be experienced in a video game. Over the course of my time with it, I was surprised and astounded at Simogo's ability to subvert my expectations to convey a story that touches on art and technology, and the magical illusion of storytelling, all while using the foundation of puzzle design to not just arm me with knowledge, but use it to find the truth. It can often feel like a harrowing maze built on riddles and deception, but through perseverance, you can find your way to the center of this labyrinth and a truth worth knowing.

Back To Top

The Good

  • Interlocks design and narrative in awe-inspiring ways
  • Novel use of the medium of games to elevate its themes and concepts
  • Necessary use of a notebook elevates the immersion of the experience
  • Challenging puzzles that are consistently rewarding to solve

The Bad

  • Missing small details can also lead to feeling lost and unsure where to go next, which can be frustrating

About the Author

Kurt Indovina filled 31 pages of his notebook over the course of 34 hours exploring the cryptic and foreboding halls of Lorelei and the Laser Eyes' Hotel Letztes Jahr on the Nintendo Switch, Joy-Con in one hand, and a pen (or cup of coffee) in the other. Code provided by the publisher.