Unsighted Review

A few months ago, at an otherwise underwhelming video game conference, publisher Humble Games announced that a slew of their upcoming games would be day one releases on Xbox Game Pass. As a lover of indie games, this was fantastic news for me, and there were two games in particular that I had high hopes for. The first game, Flynn: Son of Crimson, was released at the beginning of September, but after playing it I couldn’t help but feel disappointed – nothing about it stood out, and I thought it was kind of underwhelming. Perhaps I tapered my expectations a bit for the second game, Unsighted, a top-down pixel-art Metroidvania developed by Studio Pixel Punk – a two-person development team from Brazil. I was worried that I’d be let down again; however, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

The plot of Unsighted is somewhat simple, but it works very well thanks to the way it is told and because of the in-game mechanic that adds to the tension and makes you think about your choices. I’m not that big on story in games. I tend to focus on the gameplay, but I like how the story is presented in Unsighted; through a series of short cutscenes shown at certain points during the game. Most look similar to the regular in-game art, but a few feature higher fidelity pixel art which I thought looked fantastic. Because of the presentation and gameplay, Unsighted feels very much like a long-lost SNES game – I had a similar feeling while playing CrossCode last year.

The game takes place in a war-ravaged landscape, which has a unique mix of modern and sci-fi elements. There was a war between the humans and the automatons they created because the humans wanted to strip all the resources from the planet, take control of the mysterious meteor that had recently fallen, and essentially force the automatons to work for them. You play as Alma, an automaton, who wakes up in a recovery pod after being placed there during the battle because she took critical damage. Her memory is a little hazy, but the remaining automatons help her to recall her past experiences. Her best friend, Raquel, went into the nearby meteor crater to confront the humans but did not return. In order to protect their home from the evil humans, the meteor was broken into five shards and each one was given to one of the five strongest automatons, located across the game world. Alma needs to recover those shards if she wants to have a chance of finding Raquel and saving the automatons. This is where the game’s hook comes in, each of the automatons – including Alma – only has a limited amount of time left before they become unsighted; basically losing their mind, becoming a husk of themselves, and causing them to attack anything in their path. This timer is directly related to how much Anima each automaton has left. Unfortunately, you are told that the five guardian automatons have most likely become unsighted, and pretty much every other automaton not at the main village has as well.

This time limit is woven into the gameplay, when you talk to an NPC it shows the time they have left next to their character picture. Most start out between 300 and 600 hours, so I thought “hey, that’s plenty of time” but time passes very fast in this world. A minute of real-world time seems to be equal to an hour in-game. This mechanic has been the primary cause of criticism for the game, which is understandable. When playing Metroidvanias and games that encourage the exploration of their large intricate maps people want to take their time and find everything, this is backed up by the fact that many of these games, including this one, have achievements for exploring 100% of the map and finding all the items (treasure chests in this case). I have to give Studio Pixel Punk credit though, while it’s not a brand new mechanic, it makes the game stand out. It adds a lot of tension, and it fits in perfectly with the story. There is an item that will increase your time limit by 24 hours (meteor dust), and it can be used on Alma and most of the NPCs you meet. There is quite a lot of it to be found in the game world and you even get a handy tool that informs you when there is a treasure chest containing some nearby. But there likely won’t be enough to save everyone, especially on your first playthrough, forcing you to make some tough decisions – you can also use it to purchase additional permanent healing items, syringes (a very helpful item) – so there are even more choices to be made. I know most players, myself included, like to get the best outcome, and best possible endings when playing a game, but to tell you the truth most of the NPCs are expendable. The story tries its best to make you get attached to some of the characters, but you shouldn’t feel like you need to save everyone. However, in an attempt to appease the consumer, the developers added the option to turn off the timer. I think the best course of action, for achievement hunters at least, is to get all the 100% achievements on a save file with the timer turned off, but I also think playing through with the timer on is a worthwhile and unique experience.

When I first started playing Unsighted I was taken aback at all the features and mechanics within the game. I thought it might suffer from feature creep. In addition to the regular story mode, there is a boss rush mode, and a Dungeon run mode. Both modes are a lot of fun, and each time you play you should get a different experience because you are rewarded with different items after clearing a room/boss. The game also has co-op, dog companions, fishing, treasure maps, crafting, a day/night cycle, interesting exploration mechanics, and a fun, fast-paced combat system. Exploring the world of Unsighted was definitely my favorite part of the game, and the movement mechanics really stole the show. It’s a top-down game, but there is a great deal of platforming. You can obtain a pair of boots early in the game that allow you to jump up small ledges and do a decent-sized running jump in all directions. There is also a really cool spinning top item, the spinner, that you need to travel across rails in various areas, but you can use it at any time to fly across the ground; although it is a little tough to control. Perhaps my absolute favorite thing about the game is the hidden uses these items have that greatly expand your traversal capabilities. The game will eventually tell you about them if you read the correct journals, but you can also figure them out on your own, which was such a rewarding feeling. I admit I didn’t figure them both out on my own, because one is hinted at in the achievement list. So I’ll tell you about that one – you can use the Spinner to skim across water or lava. Once you become proficient with this maneuver it is by far the fastest way to get around.

Unsighted borrows mechanics here and there from a lot of games, but the one game that seemed to influence the gameplay more than most is Dark Souls. When you die you lose a portion of your money which can be re-obtained by returning to the spot where you died. Also, there are large computers that sort of act like bonfires. You can warp between the ones you’ve discovered, and you can use their recovery function to heal your HP and refill any empty permanent syringes. When you do this, however, just like in Dark Souls, all the enemies will respawn. The game also features a souls-like combat system with stamina and parries. The combat in Unsighted is a lot of fun, especially the bosses; however, there is a big focus on the parries. You pretty much have to get the hang of them otherwise you will hit a wall and get hit yourself, many times. Luckily the parry system is pretty forgiving; they are much easier to execute here than in Dark Souls. 

The only downside of the combat system is there are only two types of melee weapons: Swords and Axes. There are elemental versions of each of them, which adds some variety, but I couldn’t help but wish there were a few more weapon types. I guess you could say they made up for the lack of melee weapons by including a large number of ranged weapons, but this makes sense because all of them have dual purposes. The regular guns are used to shoot switches. The grenade launcher is used to blow up large rocks blocking the path (the spinner can also be used for this, it’s so versatile!). There is a sweet shuriken that also has elemental versions; when thrown you can temporarily control them with the right joystick. These can be used to hit switches that you cannot hit with your regular gun as well as for a few other purposes. I thought the most interesting thing about the ranged weapons and abilities, in general, was how they gave you multiple items that did the same thing, but in different ways. For example, you get an ice grenade launcher that when shot into the water creates ice platforms for you to cross the water, but there’s also a cryoblaster that can be shot over water (or lava) to also create ice platforms, and additionally, the ice shuriken can be thrown over water and it will create an ice path for you to cross over. Each one has its benefits, and I love how they have given the player so many choices.

There are a few other systems in the game that work really well, such as equipable chips that increase your stats (health, stamina, sword damage, etc.) and the crafting system. At first, I thought the crafting system was overkill, but I’m somewhat biased, I normally hate crafting. However, it is crucial in subsequent playthroughs allowing you to sequence break the hell out of the game. I think there are more sequence breaks and alternate paths in this game than any other Metroidvania I’ve ever played.  

In the past few years, I’ve noticed more and more indie games coming out of Brazil. I think this is more than just a coincidence; there are some highly talented developers there and I hope to see the output expand even more. Perhaps the reason I noticed this is because so many of them feature pixel art graphics. Unsighted continues this trend and overall the artwork in this game is fantastic. The high point for me is the environment art. There is a great deal of variety in the different areas of the map, and each one has its own unique look and feel. Like the dreary downtown area filled with dark blues, in part due to the rain, but the dark asphalt covered in stains gives off the same gloomy feel, but then you notice the neon signs and contrasting dark pink on some of the buildings that haven’t crumbled yet, and you know this is a beautiful game. The highway area on the top level with all its oranges is also a great example of the variety. I don’t know if I could pick a favorite area, I really liked the forest area that has reddish-pink eastern Asian architecture which stands out against the green grass and light blue water. The aquarium area is also pretty neat, with its underwater tunnels. I don’t know if it’s because the environmental art is so stunning or what, but the character art doesn’t seem like it’s on quite the same level. I have to give them credit for designing an interesting cast of characters, and some great enemy designs as well, but the main character, Alma, and the main NPCs just don’t seem to have the same level of detail as the rest of the art; although the character pictures and some of the cut scene artwork is higher quality and looks especially good. The only other qualm I had with the art design is how during some combat scenarios the screen can get a little hectic or overcrowded, especially if you have Iris (your robot companion) and a dog with you. Overall though, the art is top-notch, if you’re a fan of pixel art then the art design is reason enough to give this game a try.

A lot of time I don’t really pay attention to the music in games, although I’ve tried to take notice of it more now that I’m reviewing games. Before I reviewed games if I didn’t notice the music that meant that it was decent or average, and if I did notice it that meant it stood out because it was either very good or very bad. In this case, the sound design is very good. I thought the scoring did a great job setting the tone in all the different areas, and I liked how it picked up in intensity when an enemy spotted you and engaged you in combat. The soundtrack also sounded like it could have been featured in a SNES game, and overall it seemed like it had a good production quality. There was a nice mix of different instruments used, but the tracks featuring pianos and stringed instruments stood out to me the most. 

Conclusion

I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing some great games this year, and I’ve played dozens of other releases, but right now Unsighted might be my favorite game I’ve played in 2021. It’s truly a love letter to Metroidvanias, Zelda games, and action-adventure/RPGs. Studio Pixel Punk went above and beyond packing the game with interesting and unique content, taking design elements that work from classic games, and combining them with their own ideas. They also went out of their way to accommodate all sorts of players, by implementing multiple difficulty levels, assists, and additional gameplay modes. This game is a steal at $20 and for those of you with a Game Pass subscription, you’d be committing a crime by not trying it out.

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This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.
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Good
  • Great movement mechanics make the game world tremendously fun to explore
  • Environments have a good amount of variety and the pixel art looks great
  • Fast-paced combat system is enjoyable, boss fights are satisfying
  • Lots of items and abilities to expand your exploration, and find sequence breaks
  • Extra modes are fun and add a good amount of replayability
Bad
  • Controls take a little while to get used to, but make sense.
  • Character art isn't on the same level as the environment art
  • Sometimes the screen can get a little hectic during battle if you have multiple companions
9.7
Excellent
Gameplay - 9.7
Graphics - 9.5
Audio - 9.5
Longevity - 10
Written by
I started my gaming odyssey playing 8-bit console and arcade games. My first Xbox was the 360 and I immediately fell in love with achievement hunting and the overall ecosystem. That love was cemented with my purchase of an Xbox One. I play a bit of everything, but I usually end up playing fast paced games that remind me of my days spent in dark, smoky arcades spending quarter after quarter, telling myself "one more try!". Gamertag: Morbid237.

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