Eyes in the Dark review: Shadows of the past

Under the Stairs presents a stylized take on roguelite twin-stick shooter gameplay, but is Eyes in the Dark more than a trick of the lights?

Image via Gearbox Publishing

The Bloom family has quite the extensive history, but also a curse that goes with it. When little Victoria arrives at the family mansion at her grandfather’s behest, she makes it there just in time to see him abducted by strange creatures of darkness. Armed only with sources of light, we take up Victoria’s quest to save her grandpa in Eyes in the Dark. It’s a fun roguelite twin-stick shooter with an extremely quirky look to it, even if specks of shadow sometimes creep in to muddle this otherwise dazzling adventure.

Welcome home

Following the aforementioned homecoming, Victoria Bloom takes up a flashlight and slingshot, venturing into the Bloom Manor to take on all kinds of creatures that go bump in the night. Along the way, she comes to discover the nature of her ancestors who each built on to their own little corners of the Bloom Mansion. However, more importantly, it’s a shifting house of randomized rooms where danger lurks in every shadowy corner. That danger? Creatures of darkness that can only be harmed by light.

Much like the flashlight mechanic in Alan Wake, Victoria can direct her flashlight or the various ammo she can find for her slingshot to bathe and burn away the shadowy monsters in a wash of light. As you venture into various sections of the manor, the monsters get heartier and pose a wider variety of threats. Fortunately, like any good roguelite game, you can discover a wide variety of weapons, gadgets, and upgrades to boost Victoria’s abilities to contend with the challenges of the manor. If you lose all your life (innocently portrayed as being too frightened), Victoria is spared by way of a pocket watch her grandpa gave her which brings her back in time to the entrance of the Bloom Mansion to use what she learned and try again in a new randomized setting.

The music and visuals of Eyes in the Dark are an absolute delight. Everything in the game is presented in a stark black and white style. Victoria is well-animated, and the creatures are quiet unsettling, taking on forms like insects, deadly plants, and tentacled horrors to name a few. They’re made even more so by the fact that many of the rooms you explore are buried in darkness with the glowing white eyes of shadow beasts wriggling around within. By shining Victoria’s light into these places, you expose that corner of the room and the creatures therein to be able to battle them effectively. Guiding this journey is quirky and creepy synth soundtrack almost as lighthearted as it is foreboding. Each biome in the mansion features its own track and none of them would be out of place in a modern remake of Zombies Ate My Neighbors.

Put the family history to rest

To overcome Eyes in the Dark, you must explore an increasing amount of the Bloom Mansion’s various biomes in consecutive runs and defeat the Guardian bosses that lurk in each one. To do so effectively, you must find upgrades for Victoria’s flashlight, slingshot, and shoes. That includes bulbs and sling ammo with different effects and damage styles or gadgets that allow you to jump higher or damage enemies when you dodge through them. As you clear different biomes of the mansion, you power up a key that allows you to open the door to one other biome in the mansion. The ensuing biome also grows tougher. In that way, as you experience each biome and figure out how much trouble they give you, prioritizing tough biomes when there are less threats in them early in your run can be key to victory.

That said, you also get plenty of tools to work with here and their quality increases as you go through the manner as well. There are a ton of upgrades that work well together to give you an edge on the foes you might come across. I found I was at my best when I found a flashlight bulb that fired waves that bounced off walls and dazed enemies, slowing them. I combined that with a firefly bomb for my slingshot that would dazzle enemies with a glimmer state and cause them to explode if they were dazed. I then found an upgrade that would shock enemies into staying put if I hit them with flashlight damage while they were under the glimmer state. All of this is to say there are tons of synergies to discover to make your ideal loadout in the game.

Eyes in the Dark keeps you moving forward even when you’re failing too. When you lose, you gain knowledge points, and those points can be used to unlock upgrades at the starting point of the mansion that can be used to strengthen you right from the get-go for future runs. You can unlock new bulbs and slingshot ammo types, different parts of a machine that lets you pick upgrades to start with, and perks to add to those already found throughout the mansion, such as immunity to floor spikes. It should all be considered standard fare to those who’ve put in their time on games like Hades or Dead Cells, but the system is intact and appreciated here nonetheless.

I also have to give a shout out to the in-run storekeeper: a giant crow named Edgar who wants you to collect “shinies” from destroying monsters in exchange for his wares. His insatiable lust for precious shinies and inability to remember Victoria beyond her ability to supply them was a source of many chuckles.

As a roguelite game, Eyes in the Dark’s biggest weakness is its reliance on luck. I had more than few runs where I simply could not get the proper mix of upgrades and gadgets I needed to form any kind of effective offense. When you enter a new biome, you also have to take a perk and a debuff and some of the debuffs are downright mean, making enemies stronger, you weaker, increasing Edgar’s prices, and more. In that way, runs can be outright ruined by a bad set of debuffs or lack of good upgrades. This wouldn’t be such a big deal, but I also think the accrual of knowledge points that would allow you to buy upgrades and offset bad luck is too slow and stingy, with a lot of the more useful purchases requiring quite a few good-quality runs of the Mansion to unlock. If you have a bad run, don’t expect to be able to do much of anything to increase your chances of success.

Light up the family tree

Eyes in the Dark doesn’t exactly reinvent roguelites or twin stick shooters so much as it simply takes good parts of those things and ties it up neatly in a darkly humored style, both charming and creepy. The black and white art style, quirky soundtrack, and unique light-vs-dark elements are quite enjoyable. RNG can and will cut your runs short, and I think its permanent upgrade system is a bit too stingy to keep things moving along, but it’s still quite an amusing roguelite romp that will keep you cutting through the darkness on your way to discovering the mysteries of the Bloom family.

This review is based on a PC digital copy supplied by the publisher. Eyes in the Dark releases on July 14, 2022, on PC.

Senior News Editor

TJ Denzer is a player and writer with a passion for games that has dominated a lifetime. He found his way to the Shacknews roster in late 2019 and has worked his way to Senior News Editor since. Between news coverage, he also aides notably in livestream projects like the indie game-focused Indie-licious, the Shacknews Stimulus Games, and the Shacknews Dump. You can reach him at tj.denzer@shacknews.com and also find him on Twitter @JohnnyChugs.

  • Creepy and charming art style
  • Enjoyable soundtrack
  • Diverse array of weapon & ability upgrades
  • You can make runs easier as you progress
  • Monsters are fantastically bizarre
  • Flashlight twin-stick shooting is quite good
  • Bad luck can ruin a run very easily
  • Currency for easing runs comes too slowly
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