Yes, okay, it's a Pac-Man game. But there are more reasons why Eat Girl feels like a game out of time. Tesselode's latest is torn between two eras - deeply inspired by Namco's arcade classic, sure, but equally so from the late-00s wave of strange browser games. It could easily be a forgotten gem of Terry Cavanagh's (of Dicey Dungeons fame), one particularly in conversation with his web platformer Don't Look Back.
Like all the best curiosities on Itch.io, however, it does fulfil one expectation. It made me feel quite uneasy, in the best of ways.
Eat Girl strips Pac Man to its core - navigate a maze, collect dots, avoid monsters - and uses that base to slowly build tougher, weirder puzzles than the classic ever desired to. Developer Tesselode ditches the sole labyrinth for a lonely hub world, one where you slowly unlock bite-size puzzle chambers. Yes, you're doing the same thing you've always done with the pizza-shaped rascal. But there's a carefully-considered progression, carefully layering more mechanics onto those basic actions unto absurdity.
There's something unnervingly hostile about your presence in Eat Girl, though. The first foes most resemble the ghosts of yore, only deeply lethargic - ill, even. They'll chase you again, but there's no passion for the pursuit. Later, foes don't even make the attempt - you're an invasive force, after all. There's an increasing sense, even without words, that you really shouldn't be here. So much of this tone can be handed to the haunting soundscape, one that shifts rapidly from an isolating melancholy overworld into frantic, discordant horror as panic emerges.
You're always building speed in Eat Girl. Yes, this leads to new challenges and fresher hells. But more so, it builds panic, losing control as the momentum builds with the ambience. It's perhaps not as on-the-nose as Don't Look Back's sudden twist (an old game, but one I shan't spoil), but the effect is very much the same. A mechanical means of selling an increasingly dire situation
It would be reductive to say Eat Girl is just a gritty or moody reboot of a classic. I'm not sure it's really saying anything, but Tesselode has created a strangely haunting piece of software. A testament to creating a deeply affecting tone out of surprisingly few parts.
Eat Girl is out now on Itch.io for £4/$5. For my money, it's an interesting curiosity that's well worth the download.