Lorelei and the Laser Eyes review: A notebook puzzler with spooky vibes

I think the marketing for Lorelei and the Laser Eyes might have done it a bit of a disservice. When you watch the trailer for the first time, you’re left with the impression of some kind of game-shaped media of uncertain genre and style. They draw focus to its avant-garde French New Wave-film aesthetic and its vaguely spooky, borderline survival-horror vibes. That’s all well and good — and all of that is present and accounted for in the game — but Simogo’s Lorelei and the Laser Eyes really is an old-fashioned, mind-bending puzzle game.

Lorelei’s story is told with minimal exposition and no introduction — you play a mysterious woman who arrives at the Hotel Letztes Jahr with a letter in her purse and a mission even she doesn’t seem to understand. You, the player, must help this woman piece together who she is and why she’s here, and what exactly it is the hotel’s strange denizens want with her. None of this information comes without effort — when I say, “piece together,” I mean in the almost-literal, jigsaw puzzle sense.

The hotel itself is replete with puzzles in every single room, every lock and safe requiring you to solve a brain teaser in order to access its rewards. The game tracks your progress and catalogs every scrap of information you receive within its menu (which is explained in-universe as the main character’s eidetic memory). So you can access any clues you may have found elsewhere in the hotel at a moment’s notice. There’s a kind of Metroidvania feel to it, in the sense that you often won’t have the tools to solve each puzzle immediately, meaning you’ll have to backtrack once you find the relevant clues.

Lorelei (or LatLE) is what I like to call a notebook puzzler, in the sense that it’s best for you to have a notebook on hand at all times to keep track of the clues. The game does a good job of keeping clues and information available at all times, but most players will likely need their own system for keeping track of which clues go with which puzzles. That’s either going to be your jam or it isn’t. But if you’re like me — a veteran of ye olde point-and-click adventure games — then it’s likely going to engage your brain in a satisfying way.

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Worth a thousand words: What to like in Lorelei and the Laser Eyes

The art design in LatLE is its most distinctive feature, with almost everything in black, white and shades of grey. The only color that seeps through is bright, pinkish red neon light that is usually used to indicate something important or noteworthy. It’s striking, especially the shades of red start to bleed into and overpower the monochrome world, making one question the reality around them. The longer the game goes on and the more you progress in the story, the redder and harsher it gets.

LatLE’s puzzles are by far its greatest strength. They’re difficult, but not impossible to solve, and reward clever thinking and careful observation. You don’t have to be a genius, and the game gives you most of the tools you’ll need (including an in-universe calculator built into a handheld gaming device) to get the solutions. I won’t say anything else about them, because even if I avoid spoilers, I don’t want to give any unintentional hints to solve the puzzles when they could otherwise work them out yourself. It’s a real pleasure to do, and I wouldn’t want to rob any player of that.

LATLE Screenshot 04

One of LatLE’s strengths is the consistency of its puzzles and its early hints on how to solve them. This is something I noticed throughout my years of playing everything from Nancy Drew games to hidden-object adventures: Having consistent puzzle mechanics is an unsung piece of game design. You shouldn’t be introducing new kinds of puzzles hours into the game, especially if you haven’t prepared your players for them. One of LatLE’s big set pieces is a massive maze, and by the time the player gets to it, they’re ready thanks to the copious foreshadowing that screams, “You’re going to have to traverse a maze.”

Lorelei and the Laser Eye’s story is perhaps its biggest surprise. I was prepared to write that part of the game off, even if it was good. The puzzles were my main focus, and a good story would be a pleasant bonus. But the game’s story isn’t just good; it’s excellent. Without spoiling, it incorporates the puzzles and atmosphere into the central narrative, dropping contradictory clues about what’s going on as reality bends and twists, to the point where the story itself feels like one big puzzle — the ultimate puzzle, even.

Sketchy on the details: What not to like in Lorelei and the Laser Eyes

In a game as functionally straightforward as LatLE, the simple mechanics are both a strength and a weakness. When they work — and they do work, for the most part — they provide a smooth, enjoyable game experience. However, any small flaws can feel like huge problems relatively speaking, and LatLE has one flaw in its design: The menus function on a single button press. Granted, the entire game (bar the movement) functions on a single button, but it’s mostly in the menus where this becomes an issue.

As I said before, LatLE saves and catalogs all information you find, including random symbols, book pages or conversations, all neatly filed by category in your menu. However, when you want to navigate through the subreddit, there’s no “back” button. Since you have only one button to work with, you have to navigate to the previous menu by finding the “back out” symbol on the submenu and tapping it with your one button.

LATLE Screenshot 03

Considering how much time you’ll spend scrubbing through the clues looking for that one piece of info that’ll help you solve that one puzzle you’ve been stuck on, having to navigate to an in-menu back button, rather than having one tied organically to the mouse or controller, can be a pain. It’s almost like a backhanded compliment to the game’s puzzle design that no matter how stuck I got, I never got frustrated with the puzzles, but the menus had me ready to chuck my Switch out of a window.

The only other main issue I had with the game is that there’s a hint system teased that doesn’t exist. Personally, I wouldn’t mind if the game had a perfunctory hint system. I don’t think it would have taken away anything. But the game doesn’t have one — instead it has a phone line the player can call for “advice,” which is often not advice but some obtuse phrase from an untrustworthy character. By incorporating a hint option that doesn’t offer hints, it feels as though the devs are tricking players into feeling stupid. It’s cruel, for all I don’t think it was intentional.

Should you play Lorelei and the Laser Eyes?

Any gamer who’s a fan of puzzle games, brain teasers or adventure games will enjoy Lorelei and the Laser Eyes, especially if they’re not afraid to pull out a notebook and get writing while playing. It’s a fantastic story wrapped in a solid foundation of gameplay, and what few drawbacks there are don’t take away from the experience in any way that matters. Lorelei and the Laser Eyes is a game that’ll challenge and reward you equally, and it’s one of the best overall experiences I’ve had in 2024 so far.

Modern Warfare 3 gets 4.5 out of 5 stars.

(Lorelei and the Laser Eyes is currently available on PC and Switch. Annapurna Interactive provided GamesBeat with a review code for the purposes of this review.)

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