There’s something awfully endearing about descending into the bottomless abyss of a hearty Metroidvania that’s oozing with powerful loot, locked doors, and hidden agendas. It’s a concept that’s been driving countless players to scrape the bottom of the barrel and pluck clean for years — decades, even. And so, naturally, I too found myself roaming the seemingly infinite ripples of said barrel around the time Mirari&Co decided to unleash Dark Light into the void.
In a nutshell, Dark Light is, along with countless others born from a similar bloodline, a love letter to Metroid and Castlevania—two powerhouse titles that, if you can believe it, conceived the sub-genre of a traditional side-scroller game just shy of forty years ago. It is, for lack of a better word, a tribute to both of the aforementioned jewels, only with a few additional words and a slightly glossier ink.
For the record, Dark Light isn’t a new game; it’s actually a product that launched back in 2022. With that said, it has just broadened its horizons and latched onto additional platforms, thereby making it relevant once more — and potentially a sight for sore eyes for those who happened to skip out on its offerings when it first touched base with the Steam community two years back. So, if you yourself happen to slot into that demographic, then you ought to give this one some serious consideration before making a final judgment. Not quite convinced? Then let’s press on.
To put you in the picture, Dark Light is a side-scrolling Metroidvania game in which you, a fledgling warrior who’s been sent to plug a hole that’s been conceived by wicked creatures, will plunge into the shadowy depths of the Dark Void. Set in the aftermath of the apocalypse, the story invites you to fill the boots of said elite warrior, also known as a Dark Hunter, to complete an impossible task: to delve into the bottomless pit of the Dark Void and lather a big ol’ bit of paste on its gateway to prevent it from spewing out more monstrosities.
Your journey begins at the faraway corners of an underground network—a safe haven, of sorts, in which the last remaining humans have flocked to in order to escape from the creatures that occupy the Dark Void and its surrounding biomes. Your goal, aside from having to shovel through countless waves of zombies and skeletal beings, is to embrace an open-world setting (completely 2D, just to be clear), and channel your energy into preventing the world from falling into the hands of the Void and its loyal companions.
As far as storylines go, Dark Light isn’t one that you’ll be able to look back on with fond memories, as the vast majority of its lore mostly revolves around text boxes and drawn-out scriptures. It certainly chalks up an interest spin on the post-apocalyptic scene, but whether or not you’ll get to understand it all depends on your natural ability to scan lengthy passages and connect the dots, so to speak. Do that, however, and you’ll come to find that Dark Light, really, has some pretty solid ideas to share with those willing to listen.
A Homage to Metroidvania
In terms of its gameplay mechanics, Dark Light opts for a traditional Metroidvania-like style, similar to what’s featured in—you guessed it—Metroid and Castlevania. A true homage to both, the game chalks up a visually striking 2D world for players to explore at their own free will, and even throws in a 3D map for good measure, too. It’s a little confusing to start, for sure — but an interesting concept, nonetheless, and one that allows players of all backgrounds to get a real taste of the best of both worlds.
Aside from its setting—an archipelago of sunken corridors and underground tunnels—Dark Light also sports a traditional hack-and-slash combat system, and one that’s equally as challenging as it is rewarding. It’s a little shoddy in parts, as action inputs aren’t always recognized by the UI, but for the most part, it does operate as it should, and it does provide a rather tricky set of encounters and learning curves. However, as it doesn’t exactly hold your hand and walk you through the motions, you do have to fiddle around with the mechanics and learn the ins and outs of its design.
Like a huge portion of Metroidvania titles on the market, Dark Light does also feature an enormous selection of abilities and special skills to unlock. To start out, you have a sword and a single firearm—two peashooters for weapons that, if and when the funds become available, can go on to present you with better alternatives. The only catch is, well, you have to collect the local currency by defeating the creatures that shroud the earth—an objective that, if failed, results in the loss of all of your possessions. In other words, if you fall in battle, then it’s back to square one. Bummer.
Scrubbing the Deck
As you progress deeper into the relatively short story, you will eventually have the opportunity to side with one of two factions: Blood Wolves, or Diamond Order Knights. Now, depending on which of the two factions you choose to familiarize yourself with, you’ll have the chance to branch out in each of their respective skill trees—a collection of nodes that’ll allow you to accrue additional skills, and ultimately become more valuable to the human race.
As it’s an open-world game, it can be a little tricky to find your way to the next port of call. Having said that, as it is a traditional side-scrolling game, the most likely routes are either west, or east. Plus, once you’re able to locate a certain point of interest and knuckle in on the next story beat, it does become abundantly clear which course you should steer toward. And for when it doesn’t, well, you can always resort to a nifty fast travel option in the world map to scoot you along your way.
While it isn’t exactly a love letter to Dark Souls, Dark Light can deliver a relatively challenging experience, especially when it comes to losing your inventory upon death. If you’re able to time your attacks correctly, as well as master the art of parrying and dodging, however, then it really isn’t that difficult to crack. Fact is, it can be a little demanding, but only when the controls refuse to cooperate and provide you with safe passage to the next confrontation. It’s mostly nitpicking at this point, but also something that’s worth mentioning.
Dark Light doesn’t exactly fall short when it comes to spinning a compelling yarn for a setting, but it does, however, fall short in other, more technical areas, thereby dampening what could, in all honesty, be an otherwise great piece of art. It isn’t a bad game by any means, but it does, unfortunately, harbor a surprising amount of technical flaws, such as a game-breaking bug that prevents you from inputting an action at a crucial moment, or the occasional timeout that halts your progress. It isn’t enough to distract you from the breadth of the experience, but it does make the general flow come across as a little more laggy than continuous. Aside from that, there isn’t too much to complain about, as it is, at its core, a solid side-scrolling game with a whole lot of heart to remediate its downfalls.
What sells it for me, really, is its art style: a dystopian design that’s both visually pleasing to look at, and not to mention explore and pluck clean of all its crags and crevices, loot and lore. To say that the devs did a good job of capturing the heart of a fascinating underworld would be an understatement, as it is, even at the worst of times, a stunning Metroidvania with copious amounts of detail and depth. The fact that it also provides an enormous collection of skills, weapons, and pick-me-ups to unlock and utilize does also benefit the overall structure of the game.
To cut a long story short, Dark Light has more than enough content to keep those absorbed by the genre at bay. Granted, it isn’t the most mechanically satisfying Metroidvania in the world, but where it lacks in some areas, it certainly makes up for in every other. Swings and roundabouts, I guess.
Dark Light Review (PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Switch & PC)
A Metroidvanian Delight
Dark Light may not sport the most remarkable plot points in the world, but where it lacks in emotional depth, it most certainly makes up for in breathtaking detail and overall appeal.