How Animal Well and Lorelei and the Laser Eyes fostered puzzle-solving communities

How Animal Well and Lorelei and the Laser Eyes fostered puzzle-solving communities

If you’re a puzzle game fan, you’ve had one heck of a month. Within a span of two weeks, two of 2024’s best puzzle games — or, simply, best games — were released with Big Mode’s Animal Well and Simogo’s Lorelei and the Laser Eyes. The puzzles couldn’t look or play more differently: Animal Well is a platformer that prioritizes environmental puzzles, somewhat like a Metroidvania, while Lorelei and the Laser Eyes is a puzzle box disguised as a walking simulator, pulling together logic, math, physics, and language puzzles. And yet, both games are labyrinthian mazes with tons of mysteries and secrets; the way Animal Well gates off puzzles until you find a very specific item mirrors the way Lorelei and the Laser Eyes withholds a key piece of information until you’ve opened the right book or unlocked the correct door. For games that look nothing alike, the act of playing them — and solving their most mysterious puzzles — feels undeniably similar.

Despite these similarities, I’ve found there’s something different about these games that’s manifesting in their two very different online communities. In Animal Well, I look to online communities like Reddit or the official Animal Well Discord for hints — that kind of mass collaboration is actually essential to solving at least one of the game’s puzzles (more on that later). But for Lorelei and the Laser Eyes, I’m turning to individuals — friends and family — who are willing to talk through some of the game’s most devious puzzles.

It’s partly because Lorelei and the Laser Eyes doesn’t have an official Discord or an active Reddit page. I also think there’s something to the need for actual, real-time, one-on-one conversation and collaboration to solve Lorelei and the Laser Eyes’ complicated puzzles. Simogo co-founder Simon Flesser told Polygon via email interview that online interactions, like those in an official game Discord, tend to be questions with direct answers — not back-and-forth conversations. Solving Lorelei and the Laser Eyes collaboratively looks more like brainstorming answers for a crossword puzzle with your roommate, while Animal Well feels like digging for secrets in online forums.

“We definitely want to enthuse communication between players and internally,” Flesser said. “Solving puzzles and problems is much easier when you verbalize and reason about the issue at hand. We think this type of social aspect is really interesting, especially as it doesn’t even need to happen while you are playing the game.”

A screenshot of the disc altar in Animal Well, a massive dog statue that will spawn the game’s infamous creepy ghost dog Image: Billy Basso/Bigmode via Polygon

[Ed. note: The following paragraph contains spoilers for a late-game puzzle in Animal Well.]

Flesser said he was impressed by Animal Well and its necessity for collaboration with a larger community — at least 50 people. Basically, this game includes a 50-piece jigsaw puzzle, but a single player gets a single piece. A community of players must combine their pieces to put together the puzzle and unlock something else in the game. It’s impossible to complete alone, and it’s very unlikely you’ll be able to amass enough real-life friends to put this together. (At least, I certainly don’t know enough people playing Animal Well, let alone have that many friends to begin with!) A Discord server is not only nice to have when playing Animal Well, but downright necessary.

Meanwhile, The Gamer features editor Tessa Kaur called Lorelei and the Laser Eyes a party game — and I agree. There are lots of puzzles, and lots of different types of puzzles. While I may be good at some more standard, video game-esque environmental puzzles, I’m awful at math and word problems. Thankfully, I have two sisters — one who excels at word problems and another who specializes in logic, math-based puzzles. (Then there’s me, who can push buttons on my Steam Deck.) Playing Lorelei and the Laser Eyes with their help was a lot of back-and-forth, one of us suggesting a solution for me to input. No luck, and we’d try again, working through the logic of whatever puzzle we were on. At times, my sisters weren’t even in the same room as I was.

The first time I asked for assistance, I texted my family group chat with a screenshot of a word problem, captioned with just two words: “Please help.” (Unfortunately for my family, the text arrived before the screenshot, leaving my family worried I was in actual danger, not just mental anguish.) My sister, a teacher, quickly solved the actual problem, with an explanation of how it’s done. “Word problems are big in fifth grade,” she added. Like Flesser said, the social aspect of the game continued even though my sisters weren’t technically playing it — I was.

A woman stands inside an elevator in a mysterious, black-and-white mansion Image: Simogo/Annapurna Interactive

It was a really interesting exercise in understanding how each of our brains worked through Lorelei and the Laser Eyes puzzles. This sort of collaboration works in Animal Well, too, but it’s a kind of collaboration that’s only relevant to other people actively playing the game: I can’t ask my mom or sisters what to do with Animal Well’s yo-yo, for instance. There’s no way for them to understand the context, whereas in Lorelei and the Laser Eyes, I can easily screenshot a puzzle for help. Neither sort of collaboration is better than another; they’re just different. It’s something Flesser finds interesting about watching other people play Simogo’s games: “It’s always fascinating to learn how any mechanic or specific part of a game will resonate with a larger group of people. A lot of times a component that seemed very basic to us will feel really special to other people.”

He continued: “The level ‘Parallel Universes’ in Sayonara Wild Hearts was a good example of this. That applies to puzzles too: It’s interesting to see how people think, and if the puzzles do what they intend to. I think a real good puzzle should be like a good joke; they should lead the player down one straight path, and then suddenly have a funny twist or turn.”

If that’s the metric by which we’re thinking about Lorelei and the Laser Eyes or Animal Well, both are real good puzzle games — ones that their communities, regardless of whether they exist online with strangers or in the kitchen with your family, will be talking about for quite some time.