Unsighted is definitely something I’d qualify as a hidden gem this year, as it came out of nowhere for me, but ended up being one of my favorite titles of 2021. If you enjoy Metroidvanias and Zelda style games, this is definitely one you should take a look at! More on why after the jump. Though, I’m bolding this because it seems to always come up in conversation:
WHILE THE GAME HAS A TIME LIMIT AS PART OF ITS STORY/GAMEPLAY, IT CAN BE DISABLED. PLAY EXPLORER MODE AND DISABLE TIMERS IN THAT MODE.
GENRE: Topdown Metroidvania…yeah, it’s a thing.
Unsighted comes to us courtesy of Studio Pixel Punk, a new indie dev who has most certainly done their homework on the Metroidvania genre and the parts of it people love. Finding new places, using new abilities to find even more new places and find things in old places, but most importantly: Breaking the heck out of progression after you know how the game works. While I certainly recommend taking your time and using Explorer Mode for a first time playthrough of the game as this disables the time limit you’re normally under, this is a game that is absolutely meant to be speedrun and played faster and faster on subsequent playthroughs, with some people having clear times of 15 minutes or less (Note this is ingame time, and doesn’t count loading and other realtime elements that happen outside of the game’s internal timer).
So, first off, one thing you might say off the bat: “Wait, how is this a Metroidvania? It’s a top down perspective! Isn’t this more like Zelda?” Well, I’ll let Aardman Studios answer that one:
Unsighted is more a Metroidvania than a Zelda at the end of the day despite its perspective, due to several factors: The big one being that you can jump to climb ledges and cross gaps like you would expect in a more traditional sideview. Also, the world does focus on an interconnected design, even with the various “dungeons” that litter the landscape: Said dungeons connect to other parts of the world beyond their main entrances, making it more of a Metroidvania style map than an old style Zelda one. You’ll also likely be re-exploring old areas, even the “dungeons” as you gain new abilities in order to collect more of the items lying around them, especially once you discover shortcuts connecting one dungeon to another, whereas in Zelda, once you finish a dungeon, you’re typically done with it and never go back.
So, now that we’ve got that little explanation out of the way, let’s look at the actual game in more detail, starting with its premise:
Unsighted is a world in which a meteor made of a crystalline substance called Anima has impacted on the planet of Arcadia. Anima’s most notable effect when introduced to the world was that it made all robotic life (AKA Automatons) sentient beings with feelings and emotions, capable of acting outside their original programming (And said original programming basically was no longer a thing). Humanity…Did not take it well, resulting in an all but expected war between mankind and robotkind, although some humans did side with the machines. You play as an amnesiac automaton who doesn’t even remember her own name, but knows she has someone she has to find. Not that finding said someone will be easy thanks to the fact a strange tower has been placed over the Anima meteor, cutting automatons off from its sapience granting energy. Those who run out of Anima become Unsighted, effectively robot zombies that try to claim Anima from any other source that still has it, like our heroine.
Thankfully, you’re far from defenseless against your foes, and now we get to go into my favorite element of Unsighted: The combat! Unsighted does take a few pages from a similar game known as Hyper Light Drifter, in which you mix up melee and gunplay to deal with your foes accordingly. Blade for up close, gun for far away. But that’s where similarities end, as Unsighted’s combat is all about turning defense into offense via its parry system. As long as you’re wielding a melee weapon, you can tap a parry button at any given time to deflect attacks from an enemy so long as that attack has them glowing red before they shoot or swing. And with a perfectly timed parry (IE, right before you get hit) the enemy is stunned and left vulnerable, with your next melee strike against them being a critical hit. But it doesn’t stop there! You can hold your melee weapon’s attack button down to charge up a powerful spin slash which will do extra damage normally, but does a *TON* of damage if used against a foe deflected by a perfect parry. And thus we get to the “Rhythm” of the combat: Perfect parrying into devastating counterattacks to win fights in an instant.
And winning fights quickly is a major focus of Unsighted due to its storyline having a time limit on both its main character, and all supporting characters. As I said: Anima has been cut off from them, they only have the internal supplies they’ve absorbed from the meteor before it was cut off. Once those supplies run out, they become Unsighted. That means you and every supporting character in the game is on a timer where they become a robo-zombie once it hits 0, which means you want to be as quick as possible, hence the focus on quick kill combat. We’ll get back to the time limit aspect in a moment, I just wanted to mention it’s a thing and why the combat focuses on speed. Oh, and I said it before, but I’ll say it again: IF YOU DON’T LIKE TIME LIMITS YOU CAN TURN THEM OFF BY PLAYING ON EXPLORER MODE AND DISABLING TIMERS. THE TIME LIMIT IS NOT MANDATORY IF YOU WANT TO TAKE YOUR TIME.
Right, so back to the combat and why it’s so flipping good. While parrying for quick kills is obviously the focus, it’s not the only tool you have at your disposal. Guns can prove to be quite effective at picking off ranged foes, or even finishing off one that’s on the verge of death. And that’s where another unique aspect of combat kicks in: Resource management. While you do not have finite bullets and can reload freely, reloading takes time. On top of that, you also have a limited stamina gauge that is expended by attacking and dodging, but can be quickly refilled if you double tap the Dash button while stationary, stopping you for a brief moment and leaving you vulnerable but letting your stamina instantly refill instead of waiting for it to slowly recharge. This, and the reloading which can be either quick if you time it right, or slow and bullet by bullet if you don’t, means resource management in combat is all about split second decisions. “Can I afford to botch a perfect reload here and reload slowly? Do I *HAVE* to perfect reload this? Is it safe to do a quick stamina recover? Do I have enough time between the incoming enemy attacks to perfect parry them both?” And that leads us to the next key of this game’s deep combat: What happens when you screw up and how you recover. The first item you’re given upon waking up is easily the most important: your Syringe. This device injects a steady supply of life giving plasma, healing your wounds. But how do you refill it? Well, either by breaking tanks of plasma (Which aren’t so common aside from before big fights) or more likely: Absorbing plasma from wounded enemies. Every hit you land with a blade or gun will absorb plasma and feed it into your Syringe, which will be capable of fully healing you with a quick injection once it’s at 100% charge. This plays well into the game’s focus on an aggressive approach, as you’ll need to deal damage to repair your own rather than sit back and wait. You do get a brief invincibility window after getting hit, so getting in an emergency heal after being hurt is not too difficult, and I’m quite thankful for that as it means you won’t be getting hit by cheap feeling deaths where you needed a heal after a bad hit and couldn’t pull it off.
The depth of the combat is also helped by the Chips and Cogs you locate: Cogs provide temporary bonuses such as being able to nullify 3 hits regardless of the damage they deal, or a % boost to your melee damage: You’ll be able to buy and craft them with the resources you find around Arcadia, so they’re something that’s meant to be used as you need them, as opposed to something you hoard. Chips are a more permanent form of enhancement, providing bonuses like extra health and stamina, or bonus damage to a weapon type, and plenty of other effects. The downside of Chips being that you can’t use many at the start, but you can spent the game’s currency (Bolts) to upgrade your chip capacity and use more chips to create a type of character build. Bolts are plentiful, but easily lost if not careful: You drop half your bolts when you die, and have to retrieve them after. Dying again means those bolts are gone forever as you drop another half at your new death location, though an early item can help mitigate this if you want to avoid losing anything on death. Chips can give you a ton of different customizing and building options though: You can focus on damage mitigation to keep you alive longer, make your syringes charge up faster, or go all in offense and focus on avoiding damage entirely in exchange for lots of hitting power, it’s really all up to you.
I mentioned the game has a time limit, but it’s not entirely set in stone, but it absolutely adds some weight to choices you’ll have to make throughout the game. If your own Anima time runs out, game over. If an NPC’s anima timer runs out, any services they provide will no longer be available! That means if the guy who upgrades your weapons goes Unsighted, you can’t upgrade your equipment any longer. If the Chip vendor goes Unsighted, you can’t buy chips from him any longer. This looming time limit adds to the weight of choice as I mentioned, because there is one way to delay the inevitable: Meteor Dust. You’ll find this precious resource throughout Arcadia as you explore it, with the ability to sense any nearby Meteor Dust after you find your first instance of it. Meteor Dust can be used to add 24 hours to the remaining time of yourself or any NPC in the game, given them one extra ingame day before they turn: With most characters offering some kind of special reward if you give them enough Meteor Dust. So the question becomes: Who do you save? Who are you willing to sacrifice? Whose life is worth more? And it can be a very difficult choice to make, knowing that at the end of the day, it’s game over if your own time runs out.
Thankfully, you have a decent amount of self sufficiency: Even if all the Vendors turn Unsighted, you have the ability to use crafting tables throughout the world to turn all the junk you find in your travels into new weapons and Cogs, and there’s a plentiful supply of Chips to be discovered as well. That said, there’s some great stuff you’ll absolutely miss out on if everyone goes Unsighted, so again, that Meteor Dust and who you give it to becomes one of the toughest choices in the game. Even if you disable time limits, Meteor Dust still has value due to most NPCs providing some kind of permanent reward/bonus if you provide them with enough of that precious dust, so there’s still weight to the choice even if you don’t have the timer looming over your head. I particularly respect this design decision, as I initially feared Meteor Dust would be a useless collectable on a No Timers run, but it’s still just as important then.
So, much like the combat: Exploring the world of Arcadia is all about speed and efficiency. Since time is against you, you want to move as fast as possible, and you’ll discover plenty of tools to do it. Right off the bat, you have the ability to sprint and cover more distance, with a sprint jump letting you move even faster at the cost of more stamina. Additional items you discover will make the process even faster, letting you cover more ground quickly, as well as crossing terrain you normally couldn’t like water and lava, and of course open pits. Exploring Arcadia is definitely a joy, which is good since that’s the key element of any good Metroidvania: The reward of exploration. Treasure is everywhere, be it Meteor Dust, Bolts, crafting resources, or new equipment to make use of, so checking every nook and cranny is absolutely something you’ll be doing. Though there’s risk in exploring, since a lot of the game’s loot is guarded and you’ll have to fight your way to it, with some loot being protected by extremely strong enemies that you probably shouldn’t be fighting yet, but can still defeat in theory if you have the skill to make up for your lack of an appropriate weapon. At first glance, it’ll feel like you can’t go off the beaten path because a lot of optional paths are blocked by the aforementioned “extremely strong enemy.” You’ll eventually gain a way to deal with them, but again, if you’re willing to risk it, it’s possible to kill them early and reap the rewards they guard that much sooner.
And thankfully, traveling back to old areas is far from a chore thanks to Terminals. Terminals throughout Arcadia act as checkpoints where you can change your Chip loadout, and most also have crafting tables nearby to let you make any supplies you might need. But most importantly, those terminals double as teleporters that let you go to any Terminal you’ve found, meaning if you need to head back to a place you’ve partially explored, it’s just a terminal teleport away.
And that leads right into the other great element of a good Metroidvania: Sequence breaks. Nothing feels more rewarding than getting past an obstacle outside of the “intended” method, and reaping the rewards earlier than normal. And that’s something Unsighted has in spades because sequence breaking in the game is by design, as opposed to accidental. Unsighted does have an intended means of progression and will gladly tell you what it needs to for new players to stay on it and not get lost: But those used to exploring off the beaten path in these kinds of games will absolutely be rewarded if they’re willing to experiment and try things outside of intended progression. In fact, once you learn certain techniques, one progression item can be entirely ignored and never used, as other items can get past the same obstacles. It’s one thing to explore the game while being given a rough idea of where to go Metroid Fusion style, it’s another to ignore that and find an even more effective, faster way to reach that same destination. Unsighted is a game that rewards this kind of approach, when so many Metroidvanias seem to try to do whatever they can to prevent it, so this is a very refreshing thing to see.
So, like any good Metroidvania, all that exploring and finding new stuff culminates in the form of boss encounters, and that’s one area where Unsighted can actually go one of two very different ways. You can absolutely focus on dodging and landing blows normally against a boss, or plink away at it with a gun to do safer damage from a distance. But what’s kind of crazy is at the end of the day, Unsighted wants you to absolutely *DEMOLISH* bosses with as few attacks as possible via the parry system. Just like normal enemies, enough perfect parries will leave a boss immobile and vulnerable to a critical hit. And with the right setups, you can do absolutely ridiculous damage to a boss, taking off over half its healthbar in a single strike. Does it feel overpowered? Yes. Does it also feel rewarding as heck to learn a boss to the point you can parry it and then kill it with 3 attacks or less? You better believe it does. Despite parrying being the key to quickly killing every boss, they’ll have plenty of other attacks you *cannot* parry that you have to learn and deal with while you wait for your chance to exploit them, keeping each boss encounter feeling fresh and new despite the universal approach of ‘Parry and wreck.’ At first, I thought parrying bosses was overpowered and unbalanced, but looking back, I realize now it plays into one of the key elements of the game: Saving time. Being quick and efficient is again, the focus of the game because of the fact you are on a time limit by default. So it only makes sense to allow even the boss fights to be ended quickly by a skilled player, rather than being long, drawn out affairs.
There is one exception to this, but for spoiler reasons, I’ve marked it as such. Highlight if you don’t mind: it doesn’t spoil the fight as a whole, just which one is the exception and why.
This is admittedly downplayed somewhat in the final battle of the game, but it’s forgiven there as for reasons I won’t spoil, your timer stops counting down during the fight. Thankfully this means the final boss can feel like a proper final struggle as it will be a fight that is likely going to be longer than others, even if you’ve gotten good at the parrying mechanic. That’s not to say you *can’t* parry it, but you will find very few chances to do so.
Now, there’s no way I can leave the music of this game untouched, because my goodness it’s good. You’ve got plenty of different genres, from more electronic tracks to hard rock to softer pieces, but it’s all a joy to listen to. And funny enough, available from the devs themselves via Youtube! I’ve timestamped the below embed to my favorite boss track in the game, just to give you an idea of how much this stuff can slap. And boy oh boy does it slap. Honestly, just give it a listen and you’ll see why I love this music so much.
The pixel art is also gorgeous, evoking some some obvious similarities to Hyper Light Drifter’s style at first glance, but clearly doing its own thing as you take a longer look at it. Each major area of the game has its own distinct look and feel, be it the rainy city ruins you begin in, the calm forest outside the game’s main hub, to the eventual depths you’ll face such as a blazing hot factory full of molten liquid. Character designs are also great, with every automaton having their own distinct look that sets them apart from the rest. There’s no question you’ll enjoy looking at every part of Arcadia as you explore it, with something new to see around every corner so to speak.
The story is also a good one, giving you insights into what led up to the current state of Arcadia via flashbacks as our heroine regains her memory, letting you put together the pieces of what happened, how she ended up in an underground lab with only a single unit of health, and how things got as bad as they did overall. There’s also plenty of lore to be found via journal entries, some of it meant to guide you, other bits just adding to the history of Arcadia and what it was like before everything went bad. You aren’t going to find something admittedly as deep and thought provoking as Nier Automata with its question of “What does it mean to be human” as the Automatons, despite having emotions, clearly do not want to emulate their creators and for good reason. The story is about them wanting to forge their own identity and decide their own agency, and it works for what it is. Not every story has to be as thought provoking (and depressing) as Nier Automata, and that’s just fine.
At the end of the day, Unsighted is basically everything I could ask for in a Metroidvania, despite it using a perspective one doesn’t typically associate with the genre. You’ve got places to see, zombie-robots to kill with a very fun combat system, and an overall rewarding experience where you’ll feel great pulling off things that didn’t initially feel intended: Be they quick boss kills or time saving sequence breaks. This is up there with Rabi Ribi in terms of my favorites in the genre, and for good reason. Now go get it and play it already!