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No One Lives Under the Lighthouse (XS)

By Lee Mehr 16th Jun 2023 | 3,613 views 

Why'd y'spill yer beans?

Reviewer's Note: While avoiding them as much as possible, I'll have to incorporate some SPOILERS for certain critiques.

Picture this: you're traipsing down a long, darkened corridor.  The music is becoming more subdued, the atmosphere more stifling, and then reflexively you turn around to a… JUMP SCARE RIGHT IN YOUR FACE!  Now think of that same build-up in a similar corridor, but instead you turn around roughly 150 degrees and then abruptly smash cut to the next scene.  The former scare is well-trodden in today's age, but it's tough to blame modern developers considering all the gross details they're able to create with a sizable budget.  But Marevo Collective doesn't have such luxuries with the suspiciously-titled No One Lives Under the Lighthouse; instead, this small team practically grinding away in a rusted tool shed had to consistently look for creative workarounds, slight nuances that can still feel impactful in their own ways.  That plays a large part in why this little retro-horror game has stuck with me.

"Previous keeper disappeared," the row man says, "I 'spose 'e ran away on a-boat, left the duty of his the bastard."  A peculiar claim given the prologue had you doing the rhythmic routine of a lighthouse keeper: fill a small pot with oil, wind up the crank for the light to spin, and refill the lamp.  So, was it an in medias res opening or are you now stepping into the boots of someone else?  Although heavily implying the latter, that shade of ambiguousness plays heavily into Lighthouse's greater mystique.

Initially, there's less mystery around Lighthouse's mechanics.  It shares similar walking sim DNA to other retro-horror indies like Paratopic or Chasing Static; unlike them, the "No One" in the title also reveals no conversational detours – discounting your empty mutterings with the seagulls.  But tending to the lighthouse keeps you busy, all the same.  The twist is that each progressing day becomes slightly more difficult.  It starts out simple like finding a misplaced lighthouse key, but incorporates light puzzle-solving such as fixing a damaged crank and rope line.  The stuff between daily checklists is where the game ensorcells you in its atmosphere: mysterious things appearing in your peripheral vision, twisted alterations to the world, and even small gameplay changeups like a 2nd-person chase scene. 

Part of what plays into maintaining its PS1-era vibe is making players tacitly understand the world.  Granted, there isn't a vast landscape with a wide swath of unique interactions; you won't lose track of things on a pastoral island with little more than a lighthouse, two-room house, shed, and small cemetery.  But even such a modest scale wouldn't be enough for some creatives who worry about more forward things. In a more anxious developer, there might be clue pop-ups or immediate directions when it's better to encourage players to learn for themselves.  What's of use in this shed?  What's this chest doing here and why does it have four slots for special medallions?  That design ethos is maintained from slow start to twisted finish.

Of course, the line between "retro" and "archaic" sensibilities can become blurred depending on what's being highlighted.  Unassisted exploration and light puzzle-solving can feel a bit tedious when getting from A to B location is separated by four goddamn loading screens – even if they're approximately a second or two on Series X hardware.  It's less about the miniscule time lost and more about the tedium, especially if you perchance forgot something and need to backtrack.  And despite having customizable inputs, I never found a wholly satisfying control scheme.  There are also those minute-yet-tangible sensations when maneuvering and selecting things that could've been spruced up. 

That retro/archaic line is much cleaner with regards to its… pristinely rough presentation; in essence, Marevo dives headlong into enabling player-decided stark visual contrasts.  Visual filters, hard pixels, and pixel dithering are among the potential options you can play with.  Hell, in wanting to capture low-fi Robert Eggers' The Lighthouse (rough pixilation in Black & White), I was practically straining my eyes when a heavy fog settled in.  Although it's fair to question those visual choices as an option, I can't help but admire fusing that pixelated dinginess with Lovecraft and Cronenberg.  Layering that aesthetic is Ivan Turmenko's wonderfully unsettling soundtrack and sound design as well, complimenting both the desolate and abhorrent.  Some of his gnarled soundscapes will bore straight into your skull.

This roughly-hewn pixelated landscape is uncompromising in other ways.  It doesn't take long for the well-kempt protagonist – with that aura of a late-19th/early-20th century gentleman – to be faced with unsightly horrors.  Most of the tropes are well-worn in the Lovecraftian mythos, but their structure and maturity makes Lighthouse stand out.  "Maturity" is an especially useful term given how ambiguous it gets towards the end.  To remain as discreet on details as possible, I'd say this as a better example of subjective interpretation than Fran Bow.  You can trace themes of duality, Biblical symbolism, and so on, yet it can sometimes feel like Director Vitaliy Zubkov was playing too fast and loose; that said, there's still enough meat for it to encourage multiple playthroughs, perhaps discover extra nuggets or a different ending to give you a nuanced interpretation.

All told, No One Lives Under the Lighthouse ranks among the better examples of the retro-horror indie scene.  However lacking in budget or workforce this crew may be, Marevo Collective overcomes those hurdles with creativity and focus.  The initial doldrums won’t easily sell everyone – especially with some design drawbacks and an $11.99 price point, but it makes way for a succinctly-designed adventure that plunges further and further into insanity.  It also raises an important question: even if your time was brief, what does it say if you're still thinking about it days later?  

Contractor by trade and writer by hobby, Lee's obnoxious criticisms have found a way to be featured across several gaming sites: N4G, VGChartz, Gaming Nexus, DarkStation, and TechRaptor! He started gaming in the mid-90s and has had the privilege in playing many games across a plethora of platforms. Reader warning: each click given to his articles only helps to inflate his Texas-sized ego. Proceed with caution.

VGChartz Verdict


This review is based on a digital copy of No One Lives Under the Lighthouse for the XS

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