Sometimes a great idea needs time to mature. Just because a smart concept isn’t executed all that well, it doesn’t mean there isn’t an excellent game coming a sequel or two down the line. What’s incredible about Unsighted is that first-time indie dev Studio Pixel Punk has created the refined experience of a longstanding franchise in a single hit. It feels like the fan-favourite entry in a series running since 1995, but is also fresh and slick, free from overgrown lore or old-fashioned legacy mechanics. With its 16-bit looks, it’s the game you wanted to play as a kid, and it’s ready to bear the weight of that expectation.

Studio Pixel Punk has ticked some helpful boxes when in comes to describing Unsighted: it’s a roguelite Metroidvania; it’s in a top-down, pixel-art world; it has RPG character progression. The scenario is sci-fi and the story follows post-apocalyptic robots suffering at the hands of humanity. With so many good old boxes ticked, a been-there-done-that response would be understandable, but the core ideas are delivered excellently across the board, and the result is something that feels new.

Unsighted doesn’t need a stand-out gimmick to earn your attention, but it has one of those too: every robot in its world has a limited time left before it expires. Every character you meet has a vital timer on display — a life lived so far, and a tragic or bittersweet finale ticking closer every hour. This time can be extended by giving a robot meteor dust, a rare collectible. There isn’t enough to save everyone, so you will have to make hard decisions each time you play. The story becomes yours, and the side quests and items you reveal will be different depending on which robots survive and which don’t — which ones go “unsighted” too soon.

One last little twist to this setup is that the ticking clock applies to you as well. Alma, your protagonist is a robot with only a couple of hundred hours to live. You could always keep some of the meteor dust for yourself, to improve your odds of saving the day, but only at the expense of some other good robot. Your remaining balance of in-game time is displayed onscreen each time you die and whenever you pause.

The quest is very video game-ish, with a set number of items in handily distinctive destinations that you must retrieve on your adventure. That clarity of structure gives meaning to the pause-screen time bomb, as you have a feel for how far through you must be, and how much time you have spent dying on the same boss only to be reset to the last safe space to try again.

If when you hear “roguelite” you hear “repetition”, and when you hear “Metroidvania” you hear “backtracking: more repetition”, we can happily offer you some reassurance: Unsighted strikes an expert balance with both formats. The roguelite repetition is generous with its character progression on each run, letting each failure feel productive, and each extended blocker primes you to pass the next one more readily. It squares the circle as 16-bit 'badge-of-honour'-style difficulty meets modern expectations of player-friendliness.

In terms of traversing the map, the top-down world allows for more wide-ranging exploration than side-on platforms, and objectives naturally lead you round loops that return to key areas, rather than down corridors you have to retread. These are long-standing ideas, so games really ought to be getting them right by now. Not many pitch them this well.

The concepts are all in place and the presentation is good, but the feel of the gameplay is sublime. The controls are busy – using just about every button on the controller – but they are spread out well and don’t ask for finger gymnastics when action picks up. Everything is sharp and responsive, moving smooth and fast, both handheld and docked, and your character flashes around with some weight and rhythm. Combat feels like a deliberate dance, never tempting you to mash buttons, but not demanding memorised combos and finishers either. Satisfying sounds and HD Rumble make every action connect perfectly, and the atmospheric music sets everything just right.

One title that really springs to mind playing Unsighted is Square’s 1993 SNES classic Secret of Mana. It’s partly because of the chosen-one JRPG story trope and partly because of the beautiful top-down pixel graphics, which occasionally mix side-on elements into the scenery for dramatic vistas. But the most wonderful connection is the option to add another controller and roam the world with a companion. In terms of difficulty, Unsighted is generous here: you just have an extra ally with access to the same item set. Combat is easier and some puzzles are softened. But this approach means you can dip in and out, simply toggling multiplayer in the menu as and when it suits.

Conclusion

Unsighted combines some very familiar ideas: it’s a top-down, roguelite, sci-fi Metroidvania with a strong 16-bit aesthetic. Its time-is-ticking, post-apocalyptic scenario is brought to life by the enchanting palettes of its pixel art, making a world you want to explore, full of characters you want to know. Far from punishing, it leans more on the 'lite' than the 'rogue', letting fun prevail – as it will, thanks to the addictive rhythm of the controls, backed by punchy sounds. The cooperative multiplayer is icing on top of an already well-iced cake. Combining flavours of Super Nintendo classics with modern playability, Unsighted is the game 1995 desperately wanted to make but just didn’t know how.