In case you missed it, the platform roguelite Eyes in the Dark: The Curious Case of One Victoria Bloom released last week. The game’s reveal caught my eye thanks to its striking artistic direction and unique gameplay. I’ve spent the last few days fighting the darkness as Victoria Bloom, a precocious young girl who searches her ancestral home for her missing uncle after it was taken over by shadow monsters. Armed with a powerful flashlight, you fight against a living darkness in an ever-changing mansion full of mysteries and secrets.
I’m enjoying the game, but it took me longer than I wanted to get used to the strange control scheme. Eyes in the Dark plays like a twin stick shooter, with players using the left stick for movement and the right stick to aim their self-damaging flashlight beam. If your thumbs are busy, jumping is on the right trigger. The left trigger fires a slingshot sub-weapon, and hitting the left bumper performs a dodge.
It’s an unorthodox setup that feels like patting my head and rubbing my tummy, largely because I’m conditioned to hitting a face button, namely A, to jump. It’s probably the best approach given how aiming works, but expect to feel like you’re clawing the controller as you awkwardly jump the stages in the first few runs. Even after getting used to things, I still have moments when I want to treat the jump button like activating the flashlight, which causes me to hop around like an idiot.
The navigation and progression of Eyes in the Dark reminds me of the early years of the Roguelike renaissance, like The Binding of Issac or, for a deeper cut, Our Darker Purpose. Players traverse parts of the house, like the foyer, attic, or garden, each containing a bite-sized maze of shops, upgrade rooms, and a boss fight that grants a key to unlock the next area. Defeating enemies is rewarded with Sparks, a currency used to upgrade the flashlight, slingshot, and maneuverability. These improvements reset after each run; In order to get permanent upgrades, you must spend knowledge, a resource that is accumulated after clearing a zone, based on your achievements and achievements.
If you’ve played a roguelike in the last decade, Eyes in the Dark is pretty straightforward, which makes it easy to get started but also repetitive. Fighting the same bosses and re-doing the small zones wears out after a few hours, and I’ve seen repeated instances of the randomized rooms before. However, I’m still unlocking parts of the mansion, so I haven’t seen every location the game has to offer. Thankfully, Eyes in the Dark is easy on the eyes with a beautiful black and white art style that’s sharp despite its limited palette. The chiptune soundtrack, which has an upbeat arcade vibe, feels surprisingly appropriate given the Victorian-inspired setting.
In typical roguelite fashion, swiveling the flashlight to incinerate monsters and clear fog of darkness feels solid at first, but limited. Business increases as you collect more upgrades. For example, equipping the flashlight with different bulbs will change the nature of its output. So far I’ve fitted bulbs that create a blob-like beam that slows incoming projectiles, one that focuses the beam much like a lightsaber, and, similarly, one that emits light at the opposite end to make it a darth Maul style dual bladed flashlight. In a game that uses a flashlight imaginatively, I almost feel bad to say that my favorite lightbulb so far is one that quickly fires balls of light like a machine gun. But I do like the shooty shoot bulb, and something about how it behaves vaguely reminds me of Cave Story’s main weapon. That is a compliment.
Her slingshot serves as a limited-use projectile weapon that fires illuminated projectiles that change depending on your loadout. It’s a useful backup for crowd control, and my favorites are cherry bombs, which stun targets, and firecrackers, which explode into smaller projectiles. Movement upgrades include the ever-useful double jump, boots that let you slow and control your descent (another good one), and more general buffs like increased speed.
Unlocking additional upgrade slots to carry multiple upgrades can transform Victoria into a fun, shadow-erasing terminator, which is why I’m depressed that after completing the first chapter of the game, she’s still lost everything. I expect that will be the case for each new chapter, which scares me of having to start over again and again after working so hard to assemble my ideal skill load.
Despite these shortcomings, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to put down Eyes in the Dark. There’s an old-school arcade charm to the design, and I felt an undeniable urge to embark on one run at a time, even if it means enduring the slow skill build-up again. Sure, these games are my bread and butter, but I enjoy the creative approach to combat. While it may be relatively easy, dodging shadow blobs and deftly fending off monsters with my light feels satisfying, and the challenge has enough snap to keep the action engaging. I intend to stick with it and could see myself committing until I finally find Victoria’s shadowy uncle.
Check out Eyes in the Dark if you’re stuck between big games and crave a solid roguelite experience. Unfortunately, the game is only available on PC (both Steam and the Epic Store). Eyes in the Dark would particularly rock on Switch, so Steam deck owners would do well to check if it’s playable on the device. I will continue to wander in the meantime and look forward to seeing if Victoria’s journey shines brighter.
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