Playing Hollow Knight this year whet my appetite for other outstanding entries in the world of Metroidvanias. After doing some research about other games that people considered to be standout entries in the genre, I was drawn to Unsighted for a few different reasons. Created by a pair of trans developers in Brazil, the game is a sci-fi action title about automatons trying to reclaim from humanity the Anima that serves as their lifeblood. This sounded like a cool premise, and the fact that it is a 2021 title also encouraged me to check this game out. Hollow Knight is four years old at this point and many of the recommendations I saw for Metroidvanias were contemporaries with it. I liked the idea of seeing what a new entry in that genre would bring to the table. How are these games evolving and influencing one another? With all this in mind, I scooped up Unsighted for the Nintendo Switch.
At the time of writing, I have played Unsighted for two hours. In that time I have cleared one of five dungeons that precede the endgame and experienced a variety of the game’s mechanics including chip upgrades, crafting, combat, puzzles, and the looming threat of becoming one of the Unsighted. In this article, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on all of these elements and how they work together during the early hours of the game.
Unsighted begins with the player character Alma waking up in an abandoned laboratory with many of her memories missing. After finding a sword in one of the lab’s rooms, she is chased out of the building by a horrifying shadow creature covered in yellow eyes. When she united with more automatons in a place called Gear Village, she learns that the source of their life – Anima – has been contained in a tower by humankind and the shadow creatures. With a limited supply, more and more automatons are becoming unsighted, a term which represents their loss of sentience. An unsighted automaton will ruthlessly attack others in search of anima, stripped of its identity and concerned only with survival. In order to prevent the unmaking of herself and all people like her, Alma has to collect shards of the meteor from which the anima originated to create a weapon that can defeat the shadow creatures and open the tower to reclaim the full meteor from humanity. Once you’ve completed the prologue and learned this basic premise, the game releases you into the world to search for meteorite shards.
The location of each shard is marked clearly on the map along with a recommended order, although the game makes it clear that you can ignore that recommendation if you wish. Each of the shards is located in a dungeon-like complex guarded by a particularly powerful unsighted. These dungeons and the overworld areas leading to them are broken up into distinct regions with different aesthetics and enemy types as well as challenges to deal with. And in classic Metroidvania fashion, bringing gear from one region into another allows you to access secrets and solve puzzles that were previously out of reach. New weapons act like upgrades in other Metroidvania titles, giving you a significant new action to take or at least upgrading what an existing action is capable of (higher jumps, ranged attacks around corners, etc).
Alma’s basic abilities allow her to walk, run, and jump through the environment. When she’s got a sword equipped (and possibly other weapons as well) she can parry enemy attacks to prevent herself from taking damage or send projectiles back at their source. Alma can also equip up to two weapons at a time, each of which is swung or fired with a different button. For example, having both a sword and a gun gives you a melee attack and ranged attack option during combat. All of the actions I just described require stamina. When your stamina runs out, you are significantly slowed and you can’t attack, dodge, or parry until your meter is restored. This means stamina management is very important in combat. Press the offensive too aggressively against an opponent who can survive your onslaught and you’ll be left totally vulnerable to attack. Spend all your energy running and jumping around the environment and you’ll be starting battle on the wrong foot. The game rewards carefully making your move when the time is right, but makes that challenging with hectic combat full of obstacles to dodge.
You’ve got a few tools to tilt combat in your favor. A syringe of healing fluid can be consumed at any time during combat to restore your health towards maximum and recharges slowly as you damage enemies. You can also find containers of the fluid out in the environment, or can purchase either disposable or permanent additional syringes to add to your stock. As you explore the environment you’ll find a number of chips which can be equipped to Alma in order to give useful stat boosts like increased damage, stamina, or health. These can also have more specific effects like restoring health after a certain number of kills or even apply bonuses that only impact specific weapons. You have a limited number of slots at first but can pay bolts (the in-game currency) to expand the slots available to you.
There’s also a crafting system for building a more temporary resource called cogs. Cogs only last for a short amount of time (20 attacks, three times getting hit, one death, etc) but there are a ton of them in the world and they are cheap to craft. Whenever a tough fight starts, turning on a cog is a key way to get yourself an advantage for the battle. Finally, there are pets. Adorable dogs have been trapped by unsighted automatons but can be rescued and either delivered to a sanctuary or accompany you as party members. In exchange for food, pets, and the occasional nap, these dogs will fight alongside you and do some pretty solid damage to support you in your struggle. And as far as I have been able to see so far, the pets aren’t in any meaningful danger when they are in your party, so you can have them along without having to worry about whether or not they are going to get hurt.
Now all of this is plenty to manage on its own, but there’s one final aspect of this game that amps up the tension to 11: anima management. Each notable NPC in the game – as well as your own character – only has enough anima to keep them functioning for a certain number of hours. Alma for example has over 300 hours left (about two in-game weeks), while some NPCs you meet in Gear Village may be lucky to have a few days left over. When the allotted amount of in-game time has passed, these characters become unsighted and lose their sentience. These timers start counting down after the prologue and even apply to the characters you haven’t met yet. In other words, the order in which you choose to visit areas and how fast you complete them may decide whether the version of a character that you meet is unsighted or not. An in-game resource does exist to extend this timer, but of course that means making a choice: do you spend it on yourself to preserve your consciousness and complete the game, barter with it for boons that give you an edge in the game, or give it to other characters you want to save?
This aspect of Unsighted is one of the most compelling to me. Naturally I’m worried about having enough time for Alma to actually complete the game, but even if I manage to do it what will it have cost? During my time with the game so far I spent three meteor dust – each of which gives an automaton 24 more hours – in exchange for another permanent syringe to increase my healing ability. When I made the exchange, my mind wandered to an old woman in Gear Village who I knew only had about 50 or so hours remaining. I could have more than doubled the amount of time she had left before losing her mind. Instead I chose to prioritize the mission. Will I regret that decision when I see the old woman turn into a mindless killing machine? Or will her loss be an unfortunate necessity in the battle to save all the automatons? I haven’t watched anyone become unsighted yet and I’m not sure what the game will do at that point. Will I have to fight her? Will I just show up to the village one day and everyone talks about how she is gone? I’m bracing myself for the likely reality that no matter what happens, this game will make sure I feel it.
I should mention for folks who have been into the idea of the game up to this point who are deeply put off by the idea of the specter of time looming ominously over you and your friends, the difficulty settings do allow you to adjust the game to your needs. Explorer difficulty has four settings you can adjust: whether or not the characters are on timers, whether or not the combat is more forgiving, whether or not Alma is invincible, or whether or not Alma has an increased stamina bar at the start. So you can experience the full array of the game’s storytelling and puzzles while toning down the combat and exploring the world at your own pace. While I’m playing at the recommended/dev-intended “action girl” difficulty, I’m glad to see that these options are there for the folks who want to check the game out but need a customized experience.
I’m enjoying Unsighted quite a bit during the early hours. The dungeon puzzles and boss battles have an almost Zelda-like quality but with deeper combat that is quite a bit more challenging. The looming threat of becoming unsighted creates an atmosphere that encourages tough decisions and keeps the pressure on as you explore to quickly find the right path and overcome the intimidating foes. I’m looking forward to experiencing more of the game soon.