Tiger & Squid’s first foray into developing brings us Beyond Eyes, the touching tale of a young girl called Rae and her exploration of the world around her while in search of feline companion Nani. Plot twist: Rae is blind. As a result, the player must navigate a whitewashed world, seeing only what Rae can conjure up with her mind’s eye based on what she hears, touches and smells.
The first impression is of how pretty the title screen is, which sets the precedent for some really striking graphics. The game is so bright, it feels like walking through a fairytale, with no room for sepia in a gorgeous spectrum of colour. The game itself is much like a fairytale; Rae was blinded by an accident with fireworks as a child, and remains alone in her trappings but for the frequent visits of Nani. When Nani disappears, Rae goes out into the world to find her friend. To compound the fairytale idea further, each chapter is played out like the pages of a storybook.
At first, ambling through the world listening to the birds chirp and seeing them flash in and out of your vision is a delight. But as the game goes on, you start to realise that she is walking. So. SLOWLY. A little girl with the turning circle of a cruise liner is actually a bit concerning. But meandering through the world is a serene experience, marked by the sounds of nature rather than the overtures of a soundtrack. The music, a cheery piano track, only kicks in during important parts of the story. Exciting moments also incite the panicked plunks of the piano, such as when a dog barks or a car starts nearby.
You start off with a completely white world, but the more you explore, the more your world grows. Rae’s mind can ‘see’ what she imagines to be there, such as a field, but the ingenuity of the game comes into play when you walk through the field and the grass grows longer as reality meets imagination. Walls appear as you walk into them, which is incredibly frustrating, the trickling water gives away the location of the mirror, and you can locate bread by its sweet smell. But the mind can play tricks: what you first see as a woodpecker, thanks to the sound it makes, becomes a set of traffic lights when you get closer. That’s the sort of mistake only a blind person could make.
What Beyond Eyes does best of all is it uses the graphics to reflect Rae’s emotional journey. Her surroundings are bright and colourful as she wanders through the town, but when she gets scared the world loses it saturation. You can’t help but develop a real emotional attachment to this adorable young girl and the fantastic world she sees in her mind’s eye. It can be annoying when you walk into a wall or get lost, but you do end up making allowances for the fact Rae is blind. It’s not her fault. Getting lost is a major part of the game, as it refuses to hold your hand throughout. The lack of direction gives a certain sense of freedom, but as the game progresses, getting lost becomes much easier and certainly more frustrating. It seems at times that the game is missing a hint button. But I’m not a cheat, obviously.
What Tiger & Squid have created here is an entirely new game in the genre. Beyond Eyes portrays blindness to those with no experience of the condition, and what you can take from the game is a great deal of empathy. However, the gameplay itself needs work. While the game is charming at first, as it continues Rae’s movement becomes frustrating and the objective lacks variety.
When you finish the story, you have mastered Beyond Eyes. It runs the risk of being one of those games that gathers dust on your shelf (or perhaps digital dust in your Steam account). But Beyond Eyes is a fantastic stress tonic. Getting carried away into the whitewashed fairytale, led only by the noises nature makes and the gorgeous waves of colour you walk through, is the reason this game is worth playing. This is not one for adrenaline junkies – more for relaxation junkies, if there is such a thing. All games fulfil a purpose, and this tranquil, aesthetically delightful game is perfect for unwinding. Unless you keep running into walls. I hate those walls.