Eyes in the Dark: The Curious Case of One Victoria Bloom is a side-scrolling action/platformer roguelite developed by Under The Stairs and published by Gearbox Publishing. Victoria Bloom has been invited to visit her grandfather on their family’s ancestral estate, Bloom Manor. But when she arrives she witnesses her grandfather dragged into the shadows by monstrous creatures. Now, armed with a flashlight, slingshot, a pocket watch that resets time, and her courage, she sets out to free her grandfather and discover the secrets of Bloom Manor.
The biggest problem that often holds back the roguelite genre for me is the general lack of story. More often than not the player is given a straightforward task to accomplish with minimal setup and then left without any further narrative to battle baddies endlessly till they achieve their goal. The presence of an actual evolving narrative is what made Hades one of the few examples of the genre I was able to sink my teeth into. While Eyes in the Dark: The Curious Case of One Victoria Bloom never goes that deep into its narrative, it does gift the player with a developing story and a lead character whose personality is grown throughout her adventure.
The first thing that will strike the player upon booting up this game is the wonderful art style. Presented in a crisp black and white, the design of Victoria Bloom’s world looks like it could be from a Tim Burton movie. The quirky design goes wonderfully with the color choice, especially once the player reaches the heart of the gameplay that sees Victoria driving back monsters and the darkness with her trusty flashlight and slingshot.
Going hand in hand with the game’s quirky visual design is Victoria herself. At the start of some games, as well as after boss battles, the player will get little dialogues from the game’s protagonist. These range from musings about the larger secrets of the manor, to her ever-changing thoughts about the boss monsters. These brief moments lend a lighthearted tone to the game. Victoria is written with a wonderful blend of childlike charm and naive determination.
As Eyes in the Dark: The Curious Case of One Victoria Bloom‘s heroine sets out on her mission, the player explores the 2D terrain by driving back the near all-encompassing darkness of Bloom Manor. By shining her flashlight around, Victoria can clear out darkened areas as well as defeat monsters. For longer-range attacks, she can turn to her trusty slingshot.
Throughout the game, attacks are directed by holding down one of the mouse keys and moving the mouse to direct the angle of the attack, while the standard wasd and space bar is used to steer Victoria. If, like me, you lack the dexterity to strike the proper keys on a keyboard without looking at them, Eyes in the Dark: The Curious Case of One Victoria Bloom offers controller support. Played like this, the player triggers Victoria’s flashlight with the right analog stick and fires her slingshot with the left trigger. Due to this control scheme, the default control setup has the jump button mapped to the right trigger. While this makes sense to allow the player to fire the gun while jumping, it takes a lot to get used to it.
While both of Victoria’s weapons begin the game simple enough before long Victoria will be replacing these basic implements with far stranger gadgets. Everything from laser swords and bouncing light projectors to proximity mines and exploding firecrackers will be hers to utilize and upgrade.
And that upgrade system is surprisingly nuanced. Beyond simple damage increases or added elements to attacks, the game goes a step deeper to make items that create combos with each other. Have a flashlight that dazes enemies? Well, you might want the slingshot upgrade that Heals Victoria when it hits a dazed enemy. These sorts of combinations are frequently found in Eyes in the Dark: The Curious Case of One Victoria Bloom and go a long way to rewarding the player for carefully building their combat kits.
Another way in which the gameplay here surprised me was in its level of difficulty. Most roguelites are brutally difficult when they are first begun. With no upgrades yet unlocked, the player is faced with a stiff uphill climb for the first several attempts at the game. Contradictory to this genre norm, this game makes the player feel instantly powerful. The battles are not overwhelming in the early game and the story breaks the full task into smaller, bite-sized pieces for Victoria to tackle early on. This allows the player to get their legs under them before the full mission is set before them. And even then, the game is quite generous in a key commodity most roguelites are extremely miserly with: health.
Rather than attempt to starve the player of health, each of the mansion’s nine areas that Victoria has to clear has a shop in it. Spending sparks that she has accrued through her journey by discovering chests and defeating enemies, Victoria can purchase upgrades, as well as heal. While it is obviously better to not be spending your hard-earned sparks on health, it keeps one bad boss battle or even a random room that got away from you from dooming an entire run. This makes Victoria’s journey through the manor feel less like a marathon and more like a series of sprints. This forgiving nature makes the game a great offering for those who struggle with keeping their focus throughout an entire run (raises hand) or new players who are just trying the genre for the first time.
While I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Eyes in the Dark: The Curious Case of One Victoria Bloom, there were a few hiccups in the game. Though only one that actually has to do with playing the game. Given the black and white presentation of the game, it is often easy for enemy projectiles or even smaller enemies to get lost in the clutter of a packed screen. This can lead to the occasional death if the player isn’t careful with how they approach some of the game’s more crowded combat spaces.
My other gripes about the game are things outside of actually playing the game itself. For example, there is no way to pause a run. If you misjudged how much time you have and are forced to quit, your run is over. Also, the game refused to remember my remapping of the controls. Not a huge problem, but frustrating to have to go into the menu every time I started to have to remap them again.
When all is said and done, Eyes in the Dark: The Curious Case of One Victoria Bloom delivers a fun, laid-back, aesthetically pleasing roguelite experience that rewards players for both precise gameplay and clever use of the game’s upgrade system. For the small price of $15, what’s not to love?
Eyes in the Dark: The Curious Case of One Victoria Bloom is available now on PC.
Eyes in the Dark: The Curious Case of One Victoria Bloom
Eyes in the Dark: The Curious Case of One Victoria Bloom delivers a fun, laid-back, aesthetically pleasing roguelite experience that rewards players for both precise gameplay and clever use of the game’s upgrade system. For the small price of $15, what’s not to love?